Race Organization Responsibilities

Yesterday afternoon, I was alerted to a troubling pattern at a particular ultramarathon (more on that later) and that got me thinking as to what I think a race organization is absolutely accountable for and what aspects I think deserve some leeway when they occur at a minimal level in isolation from a generalized failure to follow through by a race organization. Obviously, a totally screwed up race is a totally screwed up race even if it’s death comes by a thousand little mistakes. The following lists of Absolutes and Acceptables are off-the-cuff thoughts to spur conversation rather than dogmatic proclamations. Please be civil in your discussions and try to keep the examples generic (i.e., don’t do as I do and name race names).

Absolute Responsibilities

  • Assessing whether the race can be run safely by the entire field. We all want to run the races we prepare for, but I feel that a race organization has an obligation to make the tough call to postpone, re-route, or cancel a race to avoid putting runners an unanticipated or otherwise unreasonably dangerous situation (i.e., wildfires and freak snowstorms).
  • Adequate water for every runner at every location at which water access has been noted.
  • Food or some type for every runner at every location at which food has been noted.
  • Aid stations set up before the first runner arrives … even if he or she is well ahead of schedule.
  • Marking all intersections and confusing course sections (unless the need to navigate is prominently noted as an aspect of the race).
  • Pay all prize money and vendors in a timely fashion.

Acceptable Lapses

  • Running out of a certain type of food or drink, even if advertized, if other options are available.
  • Sparse course markings by which I mean very infrequent markings, but with all intersections adequately marked. Very sparse course markings are 100% acceptable at races that prominently note the lightly marked nature of the course.
  • Little to no race day coverage/live web updates.
  • Slow posting of race results.
  • Inadequate supply of promised race swag (i.e. shirts, backpacks, belt buckles), when promised swag is later delivered.

Again, I think that there are bounds to the amount of wiggle room a race has regarding “acceptable lapses.”

In addition, I think slight miscalculations regarding food, beverages, swag, etc and well as less than perfect course marking are acceptable and almost to be expected for a first-time event. I’m sure directing a race is a learning process and all we can ask is that all-too-human members of race organizations continue to improve their races year-after-year as they learn from their mistakes. As runners, we should provide ourselves with the means for greater risk tolerance when running inaugural events.

UltraCentric’s Ultra Failure
I am hesitant to call anyone out in public. In fact, I can’t remember ever having done so on iRunFar. Today that changes, hopefully only briefly, as I bring to light a longstanding and ongoing wrong in the ultrarunning community by the UltraCentric races in Texas.

According to Adam Chase, the attorney for Hungarian runner Vozar “Laszlo” Attila, the UltraCentric race director has failed to pay Mr. Attila, the 24-hour champion from 2008 the $4,000 in prize money he is owed. (He ran 146.034 miles.) [As of November 22, 2011, I have confirmed with Mr. Chase that Mr. Attila was paid after the original publication of this article and after nearly three years of non-payment.] The RD has similarly failed to pay the Irish winner of the 2008 48-hour race, Tony Mangan, after the last minute addition of a minimum mileage requirement. (He ran 203.984 miles.) In the case of Mr. Attila, he is a Hungarian who traveled to UltraCentric on his own dime.

In my opinion, Mr. Chase’s accusations are sufficiently reinforced by the email correspondence I’ve been provided, my conversation with him, and his many years as a highly visible and respected member of the trail running community himself. Mr. Chase is representing Mr. Attila pro bono, so I further trust that Mr. Chase’s statements are made out of ongoing respect for the sport and its runner rather than monetary gain. Furthermore, Mr. Chase’s statements are echoed by similar accusations both here on iRunFar and on other running and mountain biking websites that the race director, Robert Tavernini, has repeatedly defrauded prize money winners and failed to pay the race’s vendors in a timely manner over the course of many years. I have never seen a similar string of statements directed against another race director.

I am not alone in my reproach of UltraCentric. Sponsor Hammer Nutrition has temporarily pulled its sponsorship of the events until the matter with Mr. Attila is resolved. Furthermore, the USATF has admonished Mr. Tavernini and withdrawn its sanctioning of the events. I’m all for supporting independent events and for continuing longstanding traditions. (Approaching their 25th running, the 24- and 48-hour events are the oldest such events in the country.) That said, I will not stand idly by while a race organization disrespects members of the ultrarunning community and the companies that assist in putting on such events.

Should Mr. Tavernini provide Mr. Attila and Mr. Mangan with their hard-won winnings, provide an adequate explanation of his failure to do so previously or apologize for not having done so, and demonstrate that he will be operating in a more forthright and honest manner going forward, then I will happy reverse my stance and welcome the race back into the ultrarunning community. Until then, I will not run, cover, or otherwise recognize the UltraCentric races here on iRunFar. You can make your own decisions about the event.

Call for Comments
What do you think are acceptable and completely unacceptable failures on the part of a race organization? Do we need trail and ultrarunning race sanctioning such as USATF does for road races? (For more on trail race sanctioning by the American Trail Running Association, check out my article in the latest issue of Trail Runner Magazine.)

Again, please keep these comments civil, constructive, and, preferably, without the use of race names. (Yes, I realize the hypocrisy in this request.) Inflammatory anonymous comments will be deleted.

Significant Edits
9/30/11 12 p.m. – Identified Adam Chase as an information source.
11/22/11 10 a.m. – Removed call for boycott and final substantive paragraph calling for avoidance of Mr. Tavernini’s other business ventures. Note added to reflect payment of Mr. Attila after the original publication of this article. Added note to further explain the issue of Mr. Mangan’s non-payment. Revised the sentence beginning “Furthermore, Mr. Chase’s” to remove ambiguity.

There are 40 comments

    1. Bryon Powell

      Thanks for sharing these finds. They are the first I've seen them. Someone had informed me of public comments of this nature a few days ago, but, unfortunately, misdirected me to the UltraCentric Facebook page where I could not find this substantiation.

      Re the payment of Mr. Attila

      I'm pleased to learn that Mr. Attila has apparently been paid. I have contacted Mr. Chase, Mr. Attila's attorney, to confirm that payment has been made and I will revise the original article once Mr. Chase confirms that payment has been made. This would be one of the outcomes I hoped would occur when originally writing the article.

      From all the information I was previously provided, it was reasonably clear that Mr. Attila was not paid for more than two years and Mr. Chase's attempts to resolve the situation were ignored for more than nine months. I will be thrilled if Mr. Attila has now been paid. Such payment will "resolve" one "issue," but it would go too far to say it would "negate" nearly three years of non-payment.

      Re the nonpayment of Mr. Mangan

      It's quite possible that Mr. Mangan has no legal claim to the 48-hour prize money offered at the 2008 UltraCentric races. The issue with Mr. Mangan revolves around integrity. To begin, Mr. Mangan claims he was not notified of the minimum mileage requirements: Tony's Blog and newspaper. That's a matter of he said/she said that I care not to get in the middle of. What's more at issue here is whether such requirements as found in the linked screenshot you provide were published in on the UltraCentric website in a reasonably timely manner. With but a few minutes of research I'm fairly confident that the minimum mileage requirements were not posted as late as six weeks prior to the race. I'll presume that runners were allowed to signup more than six weeks in advance for 24- and 48-hour races and, knowing a fair number of ultrarunners, suspect that a majority of participants did so. While a race director can change many of the rule, requirements, or conditions of a race up until the gun or even during the race, fairness and good taste would dictate that inducements meant to draw top runners (to quote the current website, "The hope for world class performances in The Ultra Centric 48 Hour remains by continuing to offer prize money for notorious results.") would not be modified significantly after being initially offered and, if there were some modified, that timely notice to relevant participants would be insured.

      I don't doubt the veracity of the screenshot posted on the NTTR Facebook page, but without an associated date it is meaningless. I know the minimum mileage requirements were posted at some point and were still up as of December 4, 2008. However, the minimum mileage requirements were still not posted as of October 4, 2008 and we still don't know when they were posted. On the mountain bike side of things, it was reported that the minimum mileage requirements were posted "a day or two before the race."

      What Now

      Once it's been confirmed that Mr. Attila has been paid, I'll remove my call to boycott the race and remove my final paragraph prior to the article's call for comments.

      On the other hand, I will personally avoid UltraCentric, including any coverage of the event, until such time as the community receives an adequate explanation or apology regarding the late institution of the minimum mileage requirements in 2008.

      Nota Bene

      When making comments of this nature, it's most effective to do so with attribution rather than anonymously and all the more so given that the location of the IP address registered with this comment is beyond coincidence.

    2. Adam W. Chase

      I can confirm that my client, Vozar Attila, did get paid… THREE YEARS AFTER HE WON the race in question. To say that the RD is now off the hook and a good guy for doing so would be a big stretch, at best.

      He only paid up because of the pressure that was put on him by USATF and a key sponsor both of whom were upset by the fact that his race was not up to their standards, especially with respect to the nonpayment of prize moneys. Just because someone utters "uncle" only to stop from having their arm broken doesn't mean they are in the clear or that you can now be chummy with them. I'm pleased my client saw some justice but the fact that the RD told me months ago that all moneys were paid and that he had never received the correspondence from me that I had sent for many months demanding that he remedy the situation was an outright lie. Moreover, he had the audacity to write to my law partners saying I was wasting my firm's time and he then accused me of harassing him. That type of behavior doesn't garner a lot of esteem.

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