Why Are So Many Races Getting Cancelled Lately?

In recent years, hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of runners have paid registration fees and reserved flights and hotel rooms for races that never actually made it this far. (Photo by Dru Bloomfield/flickr)

In recent years, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of runners have paid registration fees and reserved flights and hotel rooms for races that never made it this far. (Photo by Dru Bloomfield/flickr)

Colleen Hendry was furious when she showed up to the Fly Girl 5K Run in Providence, Rhode Island and found no race anywhere.

“We thought something wasn’t right because we didn’t get any event emails the week or days before,” Hendry recalls. “Full on scam! Fake company got away with our money!”

A few hundred miles south, Lauren Keller couldn’t believe it when she got an email from the city of Charleston, W.Va., saying that the company Dirty Girl Mud Run had failed to pay the deposits for using city buses or restoring the grounds at the park. That race? Canceled.

“I was very annoyed,” Keller says. “Not just with the race being canceled – it happens. What annoyed me was the complete lack of communication after their refusal to refund. That kind of dishonesty is what upsets me, and it’s what runs wary people off from real fundraisers and fun events.”

Hendry and Keller are not alone. Every year dozens of races are canceled across the nation for reasons ranging from weather and natural disasters to low participation and, well, mystery.

Amy Willmon Dillon was told she would get a refund for the Mount Lemmon Marathon in Arizona which was supposed to be on April 27. “The RD canceled the race about one month earlier for no specific reason, via email. He said he was going to give refunds, but he did not! So, basically the guy stole everyone’s race entries and skipped town,” Dillon recalls.

Dillon ended up getting a refund from the fraud department of MasterCard, but she says “most people were never refunded.”

With social media in the mix, race directors aren’t getting off easy when they cancel races. Even the Better Business Bureau has weighed in urging runners to check out the company’s BBB Business Review before signing up.

Color Mania 5K, the company which canceled numerous races in the Electric Foam 5K series had an F rating with BBB before filing for bankruptcy in June.

The Myrtle Beach Electric Foam 5K was rescheduled twice and finally canceled. A May race in Dallas and a June 7 race in Columbus, Ohio, were canceled due to “unforeseen circumstances” and low registrant numbers, according to the race website.

The Salt Lake City Better Business Bureau has given Run or Dye, a color run company, a grade of “F” with more than 170 complaints.

Runners cross the finish line at a Run or Dye race in Green Bay, Wis., in September 2013. The series received an "F" rating from the Salt Lake City Better Business Bureau. (Photo © Wayne Gauger | Dreamstime.com)

Runners cross the finish line at a Run or Dye race in Green Bay, Wis., in September 2013. The series received an “F” rating from the Salt Lake City Better Business Bureau. (Photo © Wayne Gauger | Dreamstime.com)

A Run or Dye event in Daytona Beach was canceled before a race day set for September after more than 700 people signed up, according to communications director Katy Langton. But even after the race was canceled, sign ups were still advertised and accepted online.

Still, Langton said the company’s strict no-refund policy is on the website and stated, “Like most live events, we don’t offer refunds on registrations.”

But sometimes, the cancellation is out of the race director’s control.

Steve Nearman had to reschedule the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in the fall of 2013 when the government shut down just days before the race. The first eight miles of the race were on National Park Land – off limits during the shutdown.

“Our decision to postpone mid-week was very difficult, very complex, very strategic, very frustrating and very sad,” Nearman said. “It truly breaks our hearts that we are forced to postpone but we feel fortunate that we found a weekend that works for all six of our jurisdictions and that all our government officials are tremendously supportive of our race and of our participants.”

Nearman says refunding after a race cancellation is tricky business.

“It all comes down to each individual race. Most people do sign waivers that say they won’t get a refund – but it comes down to how ethical an organizer thinks that is,” he says. But money, Nearman says, is often spent well before the race takes place on things like permits, medals and shirts. “I’ve already put my permits in for my October 2015 race,” he notes.

Weather is another race-stopper. Lightning, torrential rain, ice and fire are hard to argue with.

The Dallas Marathon was canceled in 2013 because of ice.

“I’m a local and could not have gotten there safely,” would-be runner Kelley Smith says. The race offered no refund, but the money went to Scottish Rite and a discount was offered for this year’s race.

“There was no way they could safely hold that race,” Smith says. “All my running friends were bummed, but definitely understood.”

Several women run through the mud at a Dirty Girl Mud Run event near Atlanta, Ga., in 2012. (Photo © Russ Ensley | Dreamstime.com)

Several women run through the mud at a Dirty Girl Mud Run event near Atlanta, Ga., in 2012. The series canceled its event in West Virginia unexpectedly this July. (Photo © Russ Ensley | Dreamstime.com)

Sarah Presley has had two races canceled on her. The Inaugural Pasadena Marathon was canceled the morning of the race in 2009 due to air conditions caused by a fire. Runners were not given any type of refund.

“I was upset, but I understood,” Presley says. “The race has already spent tons of money putting the event on. The insurance didn’t cover fire. They couldn’t afford to offer a refund.”

The second race Presley missed out on was the Pasadena Rock ‘n’ Roll 2014 which falls into a category of a many race cancellations: Not enough runners registered.

Competitor Group, which owns the Rock ’n’ Roll Race series, canceled four half marathons in Cleveland, Providence, R.I.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Pasadena, Calif., thanks to sharp drops in participation.

Unlike other cancellation horror stories, Rock ’n’ Roll offered a complete entry fee refunds and transfers.

“Unfortunately we were not able to gain the necessary momentum to operate this event to your satisfaction or to ours,” organizers wrote to participants. “We are truly sorry and hope to see you at another finish line down the road.”

Most runners understand that some cancellations are unavoidable, but for those out to scam – beware. A runner scorn is a runner that goes to social media and the police.

Jacque Grass contacted City Hall and the local police department when the city announced USRA Half Marathon organizers had never contacted them to put on the event. The organizer posted that the event was postponed and no one heard from him again.

Grass says: “I don’t want anyone else to train hard and get screwed over.”

1 comment… add one
  • Tim November 5, 2014, 12:20 pm

    I think there could be a solution if jurisdictions would adopt some kind of uniform contract that RDs would be required to conform to before approvals are obtained. They would include the posting of a bond equal to the projected gross income of the race. An independent arbitrator would determine if the bond is refunded in the event o f a cancelation. After all some cancellations are legitimate — fire — some not so much — not enough people showed up for us to make a profit. The arbitrator would determine how much of the bond would be refunded to the RD and how much to the runners. That number could still include no refunds to runners. In the case of a RnR cancelling because of low sign up, the bond would insure that the cost of the race not covered by registrations and sponsors (make no mistake, sponsors pay a large part of RnR’s budget) would come out of the bond and like any other business, they might have to take a loss, but the race would go on. Then you can cancel NEXT year.

    And if you try to run a race without posting a bond, you go to jail Mr/Ms RD.

    And those no refund clauses would change to “a full or partial refund may be offered upon the judgement of an independent auditor.”

    Bonds would not necessarily come out of the RD’s pocket either. I see a new line of insurance products here.

    Of course it would never work. It protects the consumer and it makes too much sense.

Leave a Comment

MENU