The majority of people will immediately blame someone else for their own incompetence. Some are foolish enough to create an excuse after their egregious mistake and hope the world ignores the glaring screw up. Misspelling a word in book title or movie comes to mind. Just blame the editor if you can’t think on your feet. Cancel a large race, such as Green Bay, and some participants seem to cast a nasty glance toward race organizers. Are race officials to blame or are we, the runners, at fault?

Several years ago the ill-fated Myrtle Beach Marathon canceled the race just hours before the gun was to be fired. Fortunately I gave up on a serious approach to running these large over-commercialized races years ago and thus my wallet was spared the loss. Several running friends however, lost a lot and were really pissed.

"F" Myrtle Beach

Clearly, after receiving the letter below, it should be noted that is was not a flippant decision to cancel the race.

MB cancellation letter


As it turns out the storm abated and runners avoided freezing to death as well as missing out on the chance to ski through downtown. Several hundred runners, in true Pheidippidian fashion, carried on with the race. Rumor has it that medals were awarded as well. A year or so has passed and Myrtle Beach, due to some amazing marketing and positive attitudes, recovered nicely. My own research brought me to the conclusion that it was a city official who ultimately caused the demise of that year’s race.

Anyone who has truthfully completed this distance while actually running/walking the whole way knows it is a blissful distance to run and no explanation is needed. But what about adding heat, humidity and subtracting the availability of water? No, no, this doesn’t change the distance. Although some would attempt to shorten the race in anyway possible. These factors can, however, impact the larger constituency of runners that participate in today’s marathon.

The Mid-pack runners.

The possibility of an undertrained athlete entering a marathon is considerably higher now than it has ever been. The marathon has become one of the largest bucket list items for an aging population. Let’s not forget these runners are coming from the same population that has been labeled as one of the fattest nations. The U.S. has an obesity rate closing in on forty percent. It’s a known fact that fat is an insulator. Essentially fat prevents heat from escaping the body. Thus it is likely to see lesser trained athletes throwing in the towel as early as mile ten. Nearly eighty percent of most marathon runners are in the race for the opportunity to go the distance and award themselves with a medal for having “finished it.”

No heroes in med tents. Just us runners.

Race reports even suggest that some runners will claim a finish time despite the race shutting down the clock and not recording any official times after the race has been halted. This appeared on the Green Bay Marathon website. “Due to hot weather, the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon closed its course at 9:35AM. Those finishing after the course was closed will not receive an official finish time. More information will be posted to the website. Thank you for your understanding.” In the Old West claim jumpers used to be hanged for claiming something that was not theirs to claim. Perhaps this rule should still be in effect for so called ‘time jumpers’ as it might prevent these losers from taking advantage of a race where people are being told to stop. Sadly they still claim a time in a race that was officially ended well before they finished.

Finishers Medal For the 2010 Canceled MB Marathon.

Obesity, undertrained athletes, and these ‘time jumpers’ are a few of the reasons I can’t necessarily blame race officials that cancel a race. I tend to blame the runners who embark on this 26 mile 385 yard experience without being fully prepared for EVERYTHING that can be thrown in their path. Race directors are aware that there are runners who will push through anything short of a broken bone to run a certain time. This “push” has found it’s way even into the ranks of runners who hope to merely finish. If the race decides to leave a course open to runners willing to attempt to finish, you will have all three types headed for the finish line. Leaving the clock on encourages those who may not be fit enough to finish in the current conditions. It also encourages people to “claim” a time in a competition that has been stopped. But, with no officials around to verify, people have been known to claim all types of inaccurate and unverifiable results.

In my opinion, REAL runners continue to push as long as the clock is ticking whether they’re running 2 hours or 7 hours. Leave it up to the individual to admit that they are merely shuffling along. It’s human nature to use excuses when you can’t go on. I broke my leg is a good excuse. The race director stopped the race is another. ‘I died while racing’ works for me as well. But let’s stop with the bullshit excuses that are created just to make you feel better and make others think you could have ran the race faster.

This past weekend Green Bay halted it’s race and yet some runners continued on despite being told to get on a shuttle bus to the finish. Runners in Myrtle Beach took it upon themselves to complete the race anyway.

MB Runners in 2010 who took on the cancelled race.

I was running in a marathon in similar heat and humidity in Vermont. I was not comfortable and yet I continued to push. Seize the moment. Take thr day for what it is and run for all your worth. You have the ability today. What spoiled self-indulgent jackass uses tomorrow as an excuse for slacking off today? The open sun on the course, temperatures well into the 80′s and water stops as far apart as 4 miles provided just another set of challenges that made getting to the finish line that much more rewarding. IT’S A DAMN MARATHON. If I didn’t want to experience this race on this day, I should have never started. I watched the forecast. I heard the warnings.

Broken!

I could have easily whined about the RD not canceling the race. But I thought back to my struggle at Boston this year just 48 hours after I ran a hot marathon in Rhode Island. I was thrilled that the B.A.A. did not cancel the race. I signed up for the race and I opted to attempt to race two marathons in three days. Throw heat and hills at me and toss a damn monkey on my back. Load me up with your piss-poor excuses and talk about all the things you could do, should do and would do at the next race after sandbagging today’s race but I’ll pissed as hell if you tell me I CAN’T DO it today. Apparently only 2,160 runners took up the B.A.A. on their deferment option to not race that day. Apparently that day was the day they could not do it. Less than 10% of the field and I’ll take a stab and suggest that the majority were charity entries who did not qualify with a time in the first place. I digress.

THIS effort to race and finish in spite of what some might call unprecedented conditions is EXACTLY the mentality that race organizers are prepared to handle. They don’t expect people to toss in the towel and give up. If I wanted to jog 26.2 miles I could stay home and save a buck or two. Race directors know that I am just one nut in a bushel of nuts from sub 3 pace to sub 8 pace that will tackle a charging elephant if it meant the difference between finishing and not finishing. Common sense may say that we should step off the course. Race directors and medical directors, thankfully, make the smart call for us.

Unfortunately we have become a fat and litigious society. Signing a race waiver DOES NOT mean you are free to roam and cause mayhem while running a race. That little piece of paper doesn’t protect the race. If anything, it obligates the race to do exactly what Green Bay did when the situation arises. Races still have the ultimate responsibility for each of the participants. You may be one of those runners who race directors really love. You pay your money and either walk/jog the course with ample water or you talk smack about crushing the course and then give up at the first sign of breaking a sweat. If so, I do believe you’re the type of runner who could complete any race regardless of conditions. You are not out there to compete against anything or anyone. To each his own. Either way you are not the person for whom race organizers have to make the hard decision. Races probably wouldn’t be canceled if they were comprised of people who wimp out or just do the race for the ‘social aspect’ of running. Perhaps that should be a box on the registration form.

Further, let’s thank the folks at Boston for not canceling the marathon. Let’s thank David Durfee at the Shires of Vermont Marathon for letting us poor souls finish. Let’s also thank the folks at Green Bay for making a smart decision for those of us who wouldn’t stop to think about personal safety. Although we’d take a dump in plain sight of hundreds of on-lookers. We showed up to race the clock, the competition or both. I try to think about mile splits and my ‘water-cup to mouth-timing’ at aide stations. I can’t be bothered with the freaking wet bulb globe temperature. I made my decision to race in the given conditions when I toed the line and I’m gonna give it hell until I stop the clock, the race stops the clock or God stops my personal clock. I’m thankful that there are smarter men than me, like Sean Ryan at Green Bay, to know that I would truly try to discover what I can’t do by attempting to do it and not just flap my damn lips.

I am not going to tell you to test your limits or advise you that you can do the impossible and then go out and shit-can my own race due to a somewhat warmer than normal day. I’d be a hypocrite if I did. It is difficult for me to listen to a race director who wants to shut down a race where I am giving it an earnest effort. I would be mad as hell if they shut down the race. However, after cooling off a bit, I think I would see that the race officials probably had the greater good of the majority of runners in mind and I would accept that decision and respect it. If I am told by officials, volunteers, or police officers that the race was canceled and I should get on a shuttle or proceed to the nearest medical tent then that is what I would do. It’s not necessarily about you or me.

I have finished several races prior to the race officials stopping the clock. I have seen other runners cross the finish line after the official clock was stopped. I have witnessed runners who ignored the black flags on the course and get carted off with signs of severe heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I have crossed a finish line and been carted off to the hospital. Happy to do it again if the situation presents itself and the race officials give me the chance. Who’s to say I won’t be in a different category next time. Hopefully there will be a race director or trained medical staff around to persuade me to make the smart decision or at least put the AED to good use again.

If you sign up for a race prepare for the worst scenario. That sometimes means that the race might be canceled. There are many runners out there similar to myself who will not toss in the towel due to having dirt under our fingernail thus we should again thank race organizers who recognize that the competitive nature of runners is alive and well. (And for shutting the race down before we kill ourselves.)

RUN MORE!

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10 Responses to The Soft Underbelly Of Runners

  1. Blaine Moore says:

    I had to cancel a race that I put on once. Actually, I had to cancel it multiple times – the storms kept coming. We would cancel, postpone a few weeks, cancel, postpone a few weeks, cancel…it was a nightmare. Each time, we had no choice in the matter. Our permit was pulled, and we did a good job communicating with everybody. In fact, as far as I know, only one person showed up to any of the 3 dates it didn’t happen that year, and that guy was there for the first one and thought he’d register day of when registration had been closed for about a month. I don’t think any level of media attention would have let him know it wasn’t going on, heheh.

    Thankfully, folks didn’t show up anyway, since the town specifically asked us to discourage that (the last time this race had been cancelled was in the 80s and a few people braved getting hit by a snow plow anyway which made them less than happy.)

    Thankfully, we had beautiful weather this year. And hey, having to cancel 2 years out of 30 for a race in February in Maine ain’t too bad.

    It’s hard to train for a race and then have it cancelled last minute though. Definitely tempting to run anyway, especially for those of us that do train for the worst and aren’t afraid to venture the elements. Hopefully I luck out and never have to worry about it (from the runners side) again (from the directors side.)

  2. Marlin Yoder says:

    Couldn’t they have some kind of option to officially shut down the course, but still keep the timing going so that if someone finished they would have an official time, if look at the 2007 Chicago results, you can find finishing times over 6 hours. Maybe then they aren’t legally liable? Of course in this day and age when I can win a lawsuit because hot coffee burned my crotch, I suppose nothing prevents you from being liable.

    I ran Cleveland on Sunday and when I was about 4 miles from the end when they went to “red”, and I gotta say, it encouraged me to kick it up a notch, just in case a cancellation would be forthcoming.

    • Marlin, this is why RDs cancels races. Because guys like you and me (and hundreds of others) refuse to throw in the towel and just shuffle to the finish line. If they didn’t black flag GB I’m sure real runners would have tried to crush the clock despite the heat and a few would have paid a large price for attempting it. The medical staff was already at maximum capacity. If the number of ailing runners would have continued to grow, a few would probably not have made it to Monday. Then again we won’t ever know. I do like the way you think even though most race organizers hate us for thinking that way. RUN MORE!

  3. Gary says:

    The guy with the Myrtle Beach shirt is a stud! SEXY!

  4. MJ hit on the real problem. Some people will sue if problems occur. More problems will occur on days with exceptional weather. So towns and RDs have to CYA on those days.

    HOWEVER, I’m not leaving the course if it’s cancelled mid-race. If there were no race, I’d be running anyhow (or if it’s REALLY bad, I wouldn’t have started, though I’ve never seen weather that bad). If something happens, I’m not suing anyone (unless I get run over by a sag wagon). They’re public roads. The RD can’t force me off. Of course, I am an idiot. But a well-trained, experienced idiot.h

    And HOWEVER, when a race is cancelled, operators owe runners something. A refund, or a free pass or discount to next year’s race. Forcing all the risk on the runners isn’t fair, and it’s not good business.

  5. Brilliant minds think alike ;)

    “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.” ~ John Stuart

  6. First I want to apologize for the tone of my earlier comment. But it was a visceral reaction to your jab at charity runners (you already know how I feel). And honestly, as soon as I read that I shut down and really didn’t read the rest of the post.

    Second, I appreciate MUCH of what you said here and totally agree with what you said in the second half of your post. The first half kinda had me confused and wondering what you were getting at (which also led me to the freak-out).

    “In my opinion, REAL runners continue to push as long as the clock is ticking whether they’re running 2 hours or 7 hours.”

    “I’m thankful that there are smarter men than me, like Sean Ryan at Green Bay, to know that I would truly try to discover what I can’t do by attempting to do it and not just flap my damn lips.”

  7. Linda V says:

    Those folks in the medical tent look like they are having a rockin’ good time! Especially the one on his back… what a cutie!

  8. Meri says:

    Wow. Great post! Every time I hear someone whine about a race closing, I shrug my shoulders and try to change the topic or offer a few words of condolence, such as “yeah, it sucks.”

    Having served as a volunteer at many races, on foot and in a van, the runners who got in the most trouble weren’t the least experienced ones, but the ones with enough experience to “know better.”

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Chuck Engle

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