Very topical this weekend…race cancellations

Like seemingly half the runners in the UK today I feel victim to Mini-Best From The East and had my race cancelled.  Reading Half Marathon joined the long list of cancelled runs. Unusually they hung on until the last minute cancelling at 6:41am on Twitter for a 10:15am start race, after many had set off.  No email cancellation until 7:48am and no text received by me at any rate.

There isn’t a good time to cancel a race so you feel for them.  Cancel too early (like Bath Half a few weeks ago) and people turn up on race day to run anyway, whilst laughing at your ridiculous early decision.  Cancel too late and people have incurred hotel costs, travel costs etc all to stare at a deserted start area in the snow.  The recent Big Half in London went ahead but in respect of those unable to reach London due to the weather offered a virtual option so posted out the medal to anyone that ran their own run at home.  Big respect for the handling of that.

For the events that have to cancel completely the main issue is how they deal with the issues going forward.

Option 1 – The Bath Half – Offer a full refund.  The organisers may lose some funds but presumably are suitably insured to cover the costs.  Runners get their direct costs back but still out of pocket for fuel, train, hotels etc.  It’s fair and reasonable and insurance within the ‘bigger event’ price tag makes sense.  Runners will return next year.

Option 2 – The small events – Oakley 20 – Send out ‘medals‘. Cancelled on race day at 5:15am email direct to all runners and all over social media as well as texts.  As a small club-run event they would struggle to offer refunds and presumably couldn’t justify the insurance costs.  Instead they donated all food to a local charity and offered to post out or allow collection of the Hoodies (they don’t do medals so this is THE reward for the run). All this was announced promptly. The same thing happened about 5 years ago when also sadly cancelled for snow.

Option 3 – FQ Events MK Winter Half – reschedule– Cancelled in December due to snow.  Within days they had rescheduled for February (the next available date) and everyone given a choice of accepting this or deferring until the next December.  Faultless management.

Option 4 – Reading Half – Annoy Everyone. As stated above, social media cancellation 6:41am. Many who made it there went home. At 12:43 an announcement on social media that if in the area you could collect your medal and goodie bag until 6:30pm on that day.  That was it.  No posting out as “we simply don’t have the facilities to post medals to 15k runners”.  They did have staff to post out 15,000 runners bibs at up to £50 and countless parking permits at £11 each previously.  Seemingly when the letter stuffing isn’t earning them money they have a staffing issue.

As the day progressed there was precious little update on refunds or rescheduling.  Given the traffic management issues and access to the stadium the rescheduling looked unfeasible anyway. Things happen, the right decision for safety was made, let’s have our money back thanks.  Hopefully a big event like Reading, one of the more expensive HM in the UK would have insurance though.  Seems not.

At 4pm all runners received an email that we’d be getting a £40 e-voucher for Sports Direct.  Why this store?  Reading HM is put on by Brasher Leisure Ltd trading as Sweatshop.  Sports Direct is a major shareholder.

They presumably think this is enough to stem the PR disaster on social media.  Is it?  If you’ve paid the final price of close to £50 plus parking at the very ‘reasonable’ price of £11 you’re £60 down.  They’re giving you a £40 voucher, handy if you want something from the store, but how much is it actually costing them?

According to www.thedesigntrust.co.uk retail price is normally around 2.5 to 3 x the trade or whole sale price, depending on the mark up of the retailer.  Giving Sports Direct the benefit of being a high volume, low margin retailer let’s assume it’s as low as 2x.  So that £40 set of running kit could be costing them around £20, possibly even less.  In return for your £60 of hard earned cash they’re giving up around £20 of stock.  That’s not a bad return for them.

Incidents happen, weather is unpredictable but if you’re an RD please sort insurance and pick one of the top 3 options.  Chatting to an actual RD with many years’ experience I was advised insurance is typically less than £1 per entrant so whilst excessive for a £5 fun run for charity, more than feasible for a major event charging £30+.

Unfortunately running is so popular and with so many new entrants keen to enter events that there is little reward for good service or punishment for poor.  Stage such a diabolical event that thousands of participants will vow never to return, safe in the knowledge you’ll be able to refill those spots several times over next year.  Some of the bigger name events in recent years have run out of water, run out of medals, had short courses, baggage queues over 3 hours long, closed access roads leading to event car parks so paying users couldn’t access them, and probably several more disasters along with the usual issues. Are they still going?  Yes.

If you’re looking to book events then check www.racecheck.com for honest reviews by previous participants before parting with cash.

Had a race cancelled and want a refund? 

In theory your credit card or paypal may be able to make a charge back.  There’s some good advice here: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/somethings-gone-wrong-with-a-purchase/getting-your-money-back-if-you-paid-by-card-or-paypal/

If enough people do this the events will eventually have to refund like big grown-ups, or actually sort some insurance.

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That’ll do pig, that’ll do….. sub 3h15 marathon!

Despite logic saying I should be going long and slow this year I’ve got a bit carried away with speed and managed to bag a 1:30 HM and a sub20 parkrun and wondered if I might be in with a chance of sub 3h15.

Although not currently a GFA for me (too young) if London Marathon keeps their same criteria and qualification periods then a <3h15 from 1st January this year would be valid for the 2020 event when I’ll have tripped over into the 41 age catergory.  It would be nice to have that banked away ready to use and avoid the usual ballot disappointment.

I booked an Enigma Running marathon for mid-March with a view to sneaking under the magic digits.  As the event drew nearer the RD advised that due to various permit/course issues it unfortunately wouldn’t be a qualifying course for a GFA time for London.  Bum.

Checking what few weekends were left and the need to devote April to running long (I probably need to train at some point for a 100 miler….) meant I needed a fast course for March.  The choice was clear.  Back to Dorney Lake for a Running Miles event where I’ve been before and was my PB for some time.  The downside was little time to train so had to hope I had it in me.

The week leading up to the marathon and The Beast From The East hit.  If you’re reading this anytime other than March 2018 you’ll likely have forgotten what it even was but the cold snap and heavy prolonged snow once again brought the country to a standstill.  Snowy paths and icy conditions meant I was on enforced taper mode whether I liked it or not, and just hoped the marathon would go ahead or I’d be a miserable caged runner to live with.

Fortunately most of the snow had melted come Sunday so I set off early to make the journey down.  Having arrived after the race had set off last time, I uncharacteristically turned up early and made the most of the free coffee whilst waiting and frequented the ample portaloos (these are just one of the many reasons I prefer small friendly events).

Doing a short warm up run I had another uncharacteristic moment when my right hamstring started to object.  I get the odd calf twinge but generally my legs are bomb proof.  It didn’t seem to loosen off and I set off at the start wondering if it would cause issues.

The Dorney Lake course is fast and flat along the side of the rowing lake.  Each out and back lap is 2.62 miles so an easy 10 loops to bring you in for the marathon.

Resisting the urge to keep with the big boys I settled in at around 7:10 pace, a bit quick but keen to get moving.  Halfway came in under 1h33 and I felt fine and although hamstring wasn’t quite right it seemed to be playing along.  The sun was out, the weather perfect and I was keeping on top of fluids and taking dextrose tablets in place of vomit-inducting gels.  I had brief thoughts of pushing the pace and aiming for a sub 3h05 as I felt so strong but wisely saw reason and held back.

Gradually the inevitable happened and my ambitious early pace took it’s toll.  The great part of the out and back course is you pass runners the whole time so can cheer each other on and take your mind off how much your legs ache.  Mental sums seemed to say if I could keep below 7:30 pace I’d be on for around 3h10.   Sounded easy at first but then as the miles passed increasingly hard and hamstring started to tighten.  With a turning circle like a supertanker I felt each turn at the end of the laps to be a laborious exercise for me whilst other runners seemed to skip around like new born lambs.  Time to crank the music up and get on with it, concentrate on the bloke in front and try and stick with him.

Surprisingly I started to reel the runner in front, also uncharacteristic to find a runner with worse pacing than me.  With a couple of laps left I passed him and started to re-evaluate my times.  The 7:30 was proving impossible but as long as I kept below 8:00 that should see me come in the brink of 3:15.  Easy.  Except it felt hard.  Having missed out a sub 1h30 HM by seconds last month due to lack of commitment I tried to focus.  Then came what felt like onset of cramp in my right leg.  I experienced it badly at Milton Keynes marathon where a brilliant 24 miles preceded a painful, spasm induced 2 mile shuffle to the finish and caused me to miss the 3h30 PB target by minutes.  This is all in my head.  It’s not hot.  I’ve kept hydrated.  Ignore it.

If you’ve read the excellent Guardian article by Kate Carter on finally breaking 3hr at the Sevilla marathon she talks of the mental decision with a few miles to go of backing off and having to do it all again day, or deciding to double down, accept the pain and get it done.  So I took her advice and pushed as hard as my iffy hamstring would allow.   Could I finally heave 85kg of mid-life crisis man over the line in 3h15?

On the final lap I went for it,  hoping to unleash some hitherto untapped reserve of pace, an echo of Mo Farah in the final stages of a 10,000m.  Here it comes, hold on, shield your eyes from the blur.  Despite our almost identical physique (cough cough) apparently I’m not Mo.  My reserves asked what I was playing at and my 25th mile pace started with an 8 rather than a 7.  It was slipping away.

OK so THIS was the point at which I needed to push, that last final push was a test run obviously.  The course was coming up long on Garmin, doubtless due to my ENORMOUS blundering turning circles and usual GPS errors.  I would definitely hit 26.2 miles under 3h15, would I manage nearer 26.5?  Nothing left but to empty yourself, knowing it’s going to be a painful walk to the car at the end.

The finish tents came into view, a couple of minutes in hand, don’t let it slip.  Brain goes off on a stream of unbidden thoughts and calculations.  How far is the tent?  Is that ¼ mile?  It looks like ¼ mile.  ¼ of 8 is 2 minutes.  I have 2 minutes left to run.  I have 2 minutes left on my watch.  This is tight.  Maybe they’re closer.  I hope they’re closer.

Evidently my estimation of distance is as bad as my pacing and I cross the line in 3h13m47s and a surprise 3rd place.  Everything hurts.  But it’ll do.  Sub 3h15.  Not bad for a fat lad.

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So what does a GFA time feel like?  Pretty good.  I’m hopeful that come April 2020 I’ll be running the streets of London again.  Just need to wait and cross fingers they don’t drop the required time or change the qualification window in the meantime.