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.