On June 1, 2014, the Minneapolis Marathon was cancelled. At first, the race was postponed for an hour because of the risk of thunderstorms. However, as a second round of storms approached, the race was cancelled (the storms never actually hit the area). The race stated:

“Since, we could not guarantee the safety of our 6,000 runners, 500 volunteers and event staff with this weather coming – even for the shorter distance of the half marathon – we chose to cancel.”

Initially, marathon officials stated that no refunds would be issued. However, a couple of days later, fairly significant discounts were offered on the 2015 race (or several other possible races).

Last minute cancellations are no longer unusual. The NYC Marathon’s cancellation in 2012 is probably the most well-known, but races have been cancelled in Memphis (snow), Dallas (ice and cold), Myrtle Beach (snow and ice), Green Bay (heat and humidity), Sheffield (UK) (water shortage), etc.

Runners often train for marathons for twelve weeks or longer. There are dozens of hours of training leading up to one big day.

What should race directors do? Let runners brave the cold and snow? Allow runners to go out and suffer in the heat?

One extreme example of a race not being cancelled was recently in the news (again). In 2011, the Kimberley Ultramarathon, a 100km race was held in Australia. A grass fire had already been burning for several days in El Questro Wilderness Park, but during the race, the wind whipped up and several runners were trapped in a flaming gorge. Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson suffered severe burns over the majority of their bodies, while two male competitors had burns on approximately twenty percent of their bodies. Racing the Planet, which still puts on races, denied fault, despite a parliamentary committee finding they did not take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the runners. Regardless, Kate Sanderson reached a settlement with the company last year and Turia Pitt recently reached a reported $10 million settlement.

What do you think?

Do you think about the risks of a race when you sign a waiver?

Have you ever been signed up for a race that was cancelled?

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19 Responses to Cancelled.

  1. I did have a race cancelled once because of a ‘Nor Easter. No one was happy, but everyone understood. This is fun, a hobby. Putting runners and volunteers at risk so the race can go on no matter what does not make sense.
    If the conditions are bad, or will turn bad in the middle of a race, organizers need to do the responsible thing. We also need to keep in mind that sometimes authorities make these decisions and organizers have to comply.
    I never think about the waiver when I sign it. Do any of us read any waiver we sign? I know I could lose my money if the race is cancelled or if I don’t show up. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Lightning strikes, fire, floods – not a risk I want to take.

    • Jason says:

      I tend to agree with you, although I wonder if I’d feel differently if I just finished a 12-week training cycle. I guess the important thing is to keep it all in perspective!

      • Yes. as I always say – live to run another day. My kids have had soccer games cancelled due to lightening. My mother made me get out of the lake when a storm rolled in.
        I would feel disappointed after a 12 week cycle, no doubt. Race organizers should have a contingency for “Acts of God” so that runners don’t feel compelled to go out no matter what. also to keep them from feeling so dissapointed.
        I know there are a lot of sunk costs for a race that organizers cannot get back, but some sort of a refund or discount on the next race would help.

  2. atwinthing33 says:

    I have never had a race cancellation but the first year of the gettysburg half marathon there was a huge storm. It was in October around the 20th…even for upstate ny it was a lot of snow. I remember practicing in the hotel so I would not be out in the storm. It was a bit iffy and I had family with me and the drive was about 5 hours. They postponed the race for an hour and it went on as planned…I think some people chose not to go and it was icy on the bridge but they did have excellent support staff…I think that if there is a fire, it is crazy not to cancel. I would like to continue to run, not have third degree burns or injuries. If it needs to be postponed or cancelled, so be it…a lot of races offer the insurance policy on active now…I think maybe it is worth the extra $5….you just never know…having said that, I am glad I am done with my races far away because it would suck to go for a 10 hour drive and not be able to run….

  3. In my very first triathlon, a sprint, we got pulled off the course when I was 3/4 of the way through the bike leg because of a bad thunderstorm. It really was severe. Limbs and trees were blown down all over the area, but it only lasted 45 minutes or so. Some folks complained that the directors didn’t just halt the race and then start again once the storm blew through. The race directors explained that they only had the park for a few hours and there was no way to arrange for a break like that and give the park back to the city before the arranged for time. So I really do understand the directors’ dilema.

  4. I do think long and hard about a marathon race. Is it in a bad time of the year, is a possibility it will be rainy, windy, etc? For marathons that is a big deal…even goal half marathons. For 5ks and 10ks…you can find them more often. Personally safety is so important in my opinion and they should be cancelled if it’s not safe.

  5. pauldburton says:

    If a runner wants to risk their own safety going out in storms (as I will do) that is one thing, but event organisers have a greater responsibility.

  6. I think it’s smart to cancel when people are in danger. In 2012, Jesse and I did the North Face Endurance Challenge on a Saturday, and it had been pouring rain and the trails were wiped out (they even re-routed the race) and cancelled the short distance races on Sunday because it was too dangerous. Someone had broken a leg on Saturday and so many others had slipped and hurt themselves.

  7. bgddyjim says:

    I think those two who settled should be banned from racing forever. After all, how can their safety be guaranteed, ever?

    • Jason says:

      The reason they were able to settle is because the parliamentary hearing found the race never received the proper permits and members of the park service testified they would not have allowed the race because of the fires that were already burning in the area. Pretty much the same legal standard as the U.S. – you waive your rights except for gross negligence, which this was (or may have been)

      • bgddyjim says:

        That’s not the way I read it (I posted a link to the story)… No race organizer would send a few hundred people jogging into a fire on purpose (which would constitute gross negligence). The parliamentary hearing was the government saying it wasn’t the government’s fault – that doesn’t exactly surprise me, even a little bit. The way I read it, the government dragged its collective feet and blamed it on the organizer. That makes a lot more sense than an organizer saying, “hey, let’s make this race really interesting, shall we”?

  8. bgddyjim says:

    Hey, just for the heck of it I checked up on the story… The organizers checked with the government, were brushed off and given the okay to run the race. The wrong party was made to pay but you can’t fight City Hall so they went after the next deepest pockets: RaceThePlanet. The story is horrific for sure, but it sounds like the wrong party was made to pay. All I’m saying is that I’d never think to sue the organizer of a bike ride if I got clipped by a car on the road, the risk comes with the hobby.

    • Jason says:

      although they weren’t made to pay – they could have gone to court instead of settling. fwiw, I think the govt did pay each woman $450k

  9. I think race directors should try really hard to reschedule the race for a few days earlier/later, or even change the time by a couple of hours. Usually cancellations are because of weather, so a few days tweak can be the solution. I know this is not easy to do logistically, especially when closing roads, etc., but to me this is the solution they should try for. Otherwise, cancellation is an acceptable choice, running in the snow/extreme heat is not an option for most, and definitely risky.

  10. I am actually training for my first race now, so I have never had one cancelled on me, but I can understand why people would be really disappointed after all that training. But, the organisers can’t risk the safety issues I guess.

  11. osarah26 says:

    I almost had a race cancelled due to a snowstorm last year- it started snowing hit we ran anyway. It was just a bit dangerous during the first mile where ice on the sidewalks forced us to dodge cars and run in the road. I think race directors should have an inclement weather plan. I agree that sometimes a race just has to be called off due to safety reasons, but they should have a plan in place to reschedule or change the course.

  12. Actually, when I was reading through the Spartan Race waiver, I got kind of scared lol! I understand that there may be risks to my overall health and what not but I somehow prefer not to think about them 🙂 I see waivers as race organizers trying to protect themselves against any legal obligations. xoxo

    PS. Haven’t had a race cancelled yet (not that much experience, I guess lol!) But I guess I wouldn’t mind it if the conditions where hazardous.

  13. As difficult as it is to accept that a race you have spent weeks truing for will not happen, safety always is priority. I cannot imagine the emotions I would feel if I trained hard for a race just to have it cancelled hours before the start. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened to me (yet).

  14. I’ve only ever had smaller races cancelled never any of my goal races (knock on wood). I mean, I think about it when I sign up and what it could possibly be like but you truly never know what will happen. It’s so hard to think about training long and hard for a marathon and having it be cancelled. I mean, the mixture of emotions—angry that you put in the work and can’t run, but yes it’s a good thing the race is smart enough to put runners safety first. Double edged sword.

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