The Anguish Of The Last-Minute Race Cancellation

AJWs Taproom[Update 1:45 p.m. Mountain Time on October 2: Forty-eight hours after having his permit revoked and having to cancel the Grindstone 100 Mile due to weather, Race Director Clark Zealand and his team successfully re-scheduled the race to take place next weekend, on October 9th through 11th. Working with the hosts at the Boy Scout camp, his volunteer corps, and the United States Forest Service, Clark succeeded in turning around a very disappointing situation for many. In my humble opinion, he is a tremendous model to us all.]

On Wednesday afternoon around 2:00 p.m., after pulling into our local Gander Mountain Outfitters to pick up some supplies for the aid station I was helping organize at the Grindstone 100 Mile, my phone pinged with an ominous announcement: the United States Forest Service had just revoked race director Clark Zealand’s race permit. The race, scheduled to begin in just over two days, had been abruptly cancelled.

Now I have no reason to quibble with the decision of the forest service as I am sure they have ample reason to cancel the permit given the weather conditions and bad long-range forecast. Additionally, I understand that there are many factors which play in to such a decision. However, I cannot help but share in the anguish of dealing with such a cancellation as a runner.

I have had this happen to me several times. The two most notable occasions were Western States in 2008 and Coyote Two Moon in 2011. In the case of the former, I was notified on the Wednesday preceding the race while I was packing my car and in the case of the latter it was when I ran into the 67-mile aid station and was told, “Race is canceled.” It is never easy to stomach.

All that being said, we all need to understand that last-minute race cancellations are inevitable in certain circumstances. As we choose our races, we know clearly that the potential for such cancellations, particularly on public lands in volatile weather conditions, is always possible. But that still doesn’t make it easy on the stomach. Just in the last 24 hours, I know of disappointed Grindstone runners who have faced the hardship of nonrefundable hotel rooms and airline tickets as well as the gut-wrenching realization that, as one of the few East Coast 100s that they can use for qualification, they are potentially losing out on their last opportunity to complete a qualifying race for Western States and Hardrock.

However, at the time of this writing, it should be noted that all is not lost. The tireless Clark Zealand and his team have been working around the clock to salvage the event and potentially re-schedule it for the following weekend. Working with their loyal volunteers, the Boy Scout camp that hosts the start/finish, and the forest service, Clark is doing everything in his power to bring the race to the people. Obviously, given all the circumstances it is an uphill battle but Clark, rather than simply saying “Sorry folks, nothing I can do, see you next year,” is putting the rest of his life on hold to endeavor to get this done. For me, as a long-time ultrarunner and beneficiary of selfless race directors across the country, I am in awe of Clark’s tenacity, loyalty, and discipline.

So to Clark and your team….

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Devils Backbone Brewing Company 16 Point Double IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week has to come from Virginia and should rightfully be one of Clark’s favorites. From Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nellysford, Virginia, this week’s Beer of the Week is their powerful 16 Point Double IPA. The big brother of their award-winning 8 Point IPA, 16 Point is a beast of a DIPA worthy of the positive attitude and tireless work ethic of Clark Zealand.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you signed up for a race that was canceled last minute or during it for extreme weather or other emergent circumstances? If so, what was your reaction and what did you do instead?
  • Were you supposed to run Grindstone this weekend?

There is one comment

  1. Steve_Hawkins

    I can sympathize as someone who was shut of Grindstone in 2013 due to the government shutdown. That was particularly hard to take, because it was caused by human incompetence (Congress) instead of Mother Nature. The experience just made me redouble my effort to run strong in 2014. Grindstone is a first class event, Clark does a great job, and I'll be back in 2016 for another Hardrock qualifier.

    P.S. If Clark pulls it off next weekend that would be a Herculean effort, I just can't imagine how that is even possible.

  2. whynotrunner

    I still remember the feeling of showing up to the starting line of PCTR's 2011 Santa Cruz Mountains 50k. It was set to be my first ultra and I was so excited. With no communication or explanation, we hundreds of runners, and a couple of sponsors with tents, stood around at the starting line with no course markings and an absolute no-show by the RDs. I couldn't believe it!

  3. iThinkBeer

    Within a period of a year, I entered eight different races. Four of them got cancelled due to bad weather mid-ways or last minute (Zane Grey 50M 2014, Jemez 50M 2014, Mogollon Monster 100M 2014 and Quad Rock 50M 2015). In other three I still got unexpectedly hailed on, snowed on, blasted by thunder storm, you name it, probably being inches away from yet another race called off.
    Race cancellations suck, but it's part of life. Just shrug your shoulders, move on.

  4. @taraweraultra

    From my side of the fence, we've had to re-route the Tarawera Ultra twice – for reasons totally outside our control. The first time was extreme fire risk (runners advised on Monday before the race) and the second time was on Friday evening, 12 hours before race start (hurricane about to hit). It is unbelievably stressful for the RD to go through this sort of experience. We feel such a weight of responsibility to put on the best possible race for all of our runners and their supporters. Race cancellations are part of running ways in wilderness areas – they will always happen.

    Well done Clark!!

  5. KickingStones

    I've been on the receiving end of the bad news both times for Grindstone. In 2013 it was not quite last minute but it was still close to the race. This year I was packing the car to head to Virginia when I decided to check my email and simply saw…..2015 Cancellation in the subject line of an email from Clark. Needless to say, having seen the way Clark handled the situation in 2013 and once again this year, AJW hit it on the head when you talk about a person to take lessons from. Clark Zealand was put in a no win situation 2 of the last 3 years and did the best he could to keep everyone informed and came up with the best possible solution. Thanks to equally great people around me including family, friends and an understanding boss, I'm extremely thankful to be heading to Virginia this weekend. I get to run an amazing race put on by a group of first class volunteers who take the lead from one of the best race directors you'll find.

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