In Support of the Race Director During Crisis

An essay about supporting race directors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By on March 19, 2020 | Comments

AJW's Taproom[Editor’s Note: Difficult times call for special measures. We’re running an extra edition of AJW’s Taproom this month, and on a Thursday.]

As the world continues to struggle to limit the spread of COVID-19, more and more trail races and ultramarathons are being canceled or postponed, some as far out now as June. In the midst of all of these abrupt changes, runners are understandably reacting with a mix of sadness, frustration, anger, and disbelief. Caught in the crosshairs of these highly emotional reactions are the race directors of these canceled or postponed events who, I have to believe, have agonized over these decisions each and every time. As a long-time participant in the sport with literally dozens of RDs I call friends, I ask that disappointed runners consider the following:

The porta-potty company, banquet-tent company, rental-truck company, and ice company will not provide refunds, the t-shirt maker won’t take their shirts back, the forest-service and parks people won’t give permit money back, and the Boy Scouts camp where the start/finish line takes place will most certainly keep their money whether the place is used or not. To put it bluntly, if your race is canceled, whatever you do, don’t ask for a refund! The truth is, your entry fee has likely been spent already.

Next, please understand that many trail races and ultramarathons are non-profit ventures. In fact, a large number of them are ‘negative profit.’ Sure, there are a few events with larger staffs and large budgets, but even those operate on a shoestring and are the race equivalent of a family that lives paycheck to paycheck. The people I know who are trail-ultra race directors do it because they love the sport, the community, and the environment. They are not doing it to make a truck load of money and, if we want the sport to continue to thrive, we need these selfless leaders to keep fighting the good fight, even just to break even.

Furthermore, what many athletes may not realize, particularly those who are new to the sport, is that just as small businesses are facing existential crises under the current circumstances, ultrarunning events are as well. Cancellations and their accompanying financial burdens of such actions will likely spell the end of many events, forever. I think we can all agree that such circumstances would have a detrimental impact on the sport we love so much.

Finally, in the current COVID-19 pandemic circumstances in particular, remember that race directors are regular people like you and me. They likely have ‘real’ jobs, some of which may not be paying right now. They probably have loved ones who are part of the vulnerable population and they are caring for them. In fact, they may even be in the vulnerable population themselves. They may be managing kids home from school. They also, very likely, have worked huge days over the last couple weeks to try to find a way to make their events happen. In short, these folks are like the rest of us ultra types, gritty, persistent, disciplined, and focused. As a result, nobody is more upset than them that their race is canceled.

And so, my friends, before you fire off that angry email or social-media post, consider the context, the circumstances, and the purpose. And maybe, just maybe, send or post a thank-you note, maybe even handwritten, and maybe with a modest check inside to let them know they are appreciated. After all, we really are all in this together.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer Beverage of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week is not actually a beer at all. Rather, it’s orange juice–with the pulp. I don’t know about the rest of you but, with the possible exception of ginger ale and maybe chicken soup, nothing says comfort and recovery like orange juice.  As many of us shelter in place and hunker down, let’s do so with a nice cold glass of liquid sunshine. Orange juice!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have a race director you’d like to thank or commend for their effort amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanied race cancellations? Leave a comment!
  • Are you a race director working through cancellations? Can you share what the process has been like for you?

Rainshadow Running RD James Varner (left) and Extreme Ultrarunning RD David Horton. Photo courtesy of David Horton.

Algonquin Ultras RD Trent Swanson (left). Photo courtesy of Taylor Maltz.

Trans Atlas Marathon and Ultra Trail Morocco Eco Sahara RD Mohamad Ahansal. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Western States 100 RD Craig Thornley. Photo: Derrick Lytle

Run It Fast RD Joshua Holmes (left). Photo courtesy of Marylou Corino.

Golden Gate Dirty 30 and Silverton Ultra Dirty RD Megan Finnesy (left). Photo: Kelly Bailey Newlon

The Aravaipa Running family. Photo courtesy of Jamil Coury.

The Mad Moose Events family. Photo courtesy of Mad Moose Events.

Centurion Running RD James Elson (right). Photo courtesy of Marissa Harris.

Madeira Island Ultra-Trail RD Sidónio Freitas (right). Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Run the Red and Sinks Canyon Rough and Tumble RD Gabe Joyes (right). Photo: Greg Mionske

Hardrock 100 RD Dale Garland. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

High Lonesome 100 Mile RD Caleb Efta (left). Photo: Kristin Zosel

Buffalo Run Adventures RD Jim Skaggs (center). Photo courtesy of Jim Skaggs.

Miwok 100k RD Tia Bodington. Photo courtesy of Tia Bodington.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.