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An open letter to the running community from a Canadian race director

The Calgary Marathon's race director penned a letter to runners everywhere regarding the cancellations on the racing calendar

Kirsten Fleming, the race director for the Calgary Marathon, published an open letter to the running community amid the coronavirus outbreak and the many resulting race cancellations. Her letter addresses the backlash that race directors are facing for cancelling their events, even though they were really left with no other choices.

Canadian Running Magazine
Scotiabank Calgary Marathon held on May 28, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta (Photo: Angela Burger/Calgary Marathon)

Postponements and cancellations

Fleming writes that she and many other race directors from across the country have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely for a month, ever since the Tokyo Marathon cancelled its mass participation event. Since then, race directors everywhere have been watching to see what other races do.

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Thousands of runners are without races this spring, and that is, of course, disappointing. The race directors and event organizers are equally disappointed, if not more so. They have, after all, spent months planning the entire event, down to the smallest of details, only to have it all disappear because of something for which no one could have prepared.

Fleming has seen many race directors and crews face attacks online from angry race entrants. In some cases, like with Run Vancouver events, they had no choice but to cancel after the province prohibited any events of more than 250 people. In others, races certainly could go on, but it wouldn’t be the right decision. The more large gatherings that are held, the higher chance there is for COVID-19 to spread. This means that the pandemic will persist even longer, and races will continue to face cancellations. Cancelling an event is the last thing a race director wants to do, but in this case, they have no choice.

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No refunds

Another sensitive topic lately has been that of refunds, which many races are not issuing. Some races have offered participants spots in next year’s events (although, in most cases, entrants will have to pay again), and, for the most part, that is the best compensation runners can expect.

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“There seems to be a myth [that] races are making massive profits,” Fleming writes. “I assure [you] we are not.” Race fees are put towards bibs, medals, event swag, venue rentals, food, permits and much more, and Fleming says “goods are ordered in many cases nine months to a year out, as is the case with service contracts and venue rentals, all of which require non-refundable deposits.” 

The 2020 Calgary half-marathon medal

Even though most races will recover from this year, Fleming says that some won’t, even if they don’t issue refunds. It is a difficult time for everyone—racers and race directors alike.

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“I am asking you, our run community, to be kind and patient with race directors and to understand we are not stealing from you by not refunding. We are doing the best we can under these trying circumstances. No one wants the show to go on more than us.”