Not the Reading Half Marathon 2018

18/03/2018

Well….. snow still seemed determined on disrupting races up & down the UK & The Sage Reading Half was no different

It was early in the week when the Met Office issued a Yellow Snow Warning ⚠️

I love that expression always reminds me of the adage don’t eat yellow snow ⛄️

Anyway, as soon as this happened the UKA issued advice that all races in the effected area should cancel.

I was keeping an eye on this obviously & races were cancelling straight away. I felt especially bad for the already rescheduled Newport Half who had postponed due to snow only a few weeks prior, only to be faced with further cancellation.

Reading however pressed on with the organisation & even the day before the race were putting out tweets that it was going ahead.

You’ll note the reply there from Russell & I have to say I shared his concerns, everything was pointing to adverse weather & it seemed every other race was listening so I couldn’t understand why Reading felt they were immune & belligerently pressing on.

I was working a late shift finishing at 1am so going to bed with the information the race was on I set my alarm for 06:30 to leave around 7:30.

I woke up & checked social media, no news but it wasn’t long, probably 06:40 before the inevitable cancellation news was received. If I’d known that days ago or even a day prior I could have got some extra sleep.

Now I will say first & foremost that I take no issue at all with a race cancelling for reasons of safety. There’s no fun at all in slips, trips, sprains & strains with emergency vehicles that can’t access anyone, volunteers & spectators stood on the course getting hypothermia etc. You get the point.

However the handling of such a decision is always criticised by disappointed runners & I don’t exclude myself from that.

My view is the races are damned if they do and damned if they don’t but there is a lesser of two evils.

Option 1 call it off early

So the races that took the early earning have some pros in what they do. They can get started on planning a contingency rather than setting up a race that ultimately won’t go ahead. They may be able to delay the delivery of drinks, goody bags, portaloos etc, & defer the race to another week. I get it’s not as straight forward as that & it’s probably a massive headache but when you’re customers are paying you £40-£50 to run they expect to get what they paid for so races in my view have a duty to do something. The MK Winter Half did this with much success cancelling December & going ahead in February. They offered their runners the option of the rerun, or to defer to the following year. With an amount of deferrals they then reopened entries to get more runners & I’m sure this helped cover their reschedule costs so they don’t need to pass that onto the runners.

The cons of this are that if you call early & the bad weather never arrives you’ll have a load of unhappy customers complaining & moaning that it could have gone ahead & if you waited you could have gone ahead. So in this scenario they can’t win. There’s also the Newport effect that a second cancellation is awful for them.

Option 2 – wait it out & decide on the day

The pros to this are if the weather never turns bad you can go ahead & everyone is happy but the cons…. I better take a breath.

Well they’re massive. When planning for races runners often book hotels & travel & sometimes these can be cancelled at no cost given enough notice. If a race calls it late on the day then runners might already be in the hotel & now they’ve got to pay for the hotel that they really don’t need if they’re not racing, they might be driving alone & unable to read the last minute cancellation social media posts & arrive anyway wasting time/fuel possibly driving in bad weather conditions. People such as me sacrificing sleep to get to a race.

My experience is a certain amount of people who don’t get the message & turn up to find it cancelled run it anyway so you now have a group running in possibly dangerous conditions with high injury risk, completely unsupported with no marshals, medical teams etc.

The race team have spent all their time, energy & resources in setting out the race & now it won’t go ahead at the last minute. They’re all now exhausted, deflated, disappointed & have an absolute barrage of angry emails, social media posts to deal with.

Which is best?

It’s got to be the call to cancel early. People can start cancelling travel, hotels, avoiding further cost. The organisers can put energy into their contingency plan. This might be a rescheduled race appeasing customers. People aren’t left in limbo all week. No one risks getting hurt & it’s just the sensible thing to do when the UKA tell you it is.

Readings response

I have to say I’m disappointed in how Reading responded. The word CANCELLED with no explanation caused concern, not postponed but cancelled & yes that’s it. No rescheduled race just completely cancelled.

When runners enquired about a refund they were ignored & it transpires that in the terms & conditions a no refunds clause was present. This isn’t on in my view. At £40-£50 to enter the race they can at least buy some event insurance so that in the event of cancellation they can offer a full refund to their customers & make a claim for lost costs. Music concerts manage this for when Adele loses her voice for example.

Now you might say that the insurance wouldn’t cover everything & the race would be at a loss. I make no bones about it Reading Half is a business, it’s organised by Sweatshop a business, & in business there is profit & loss. For the three prior years I’ve run that race it’s gone through without a hitch & they will undoubtedly have turned a profit, so come on Reading suck up the loss & don’t pass it on to your customers. Other races manage to do it.

I read many tweets from people being supportive & also people most upset but the PR machine behind their social media focussed on the positive & ignored the negative.

Later on in the day they said runners could come & collect their medals from the race HQ. Reading is a good hours drive for me & I was back in work at 3pm. This last second token offer wasn’t really thought out & to be honest is a medal for a race you didn’t run any good anyway? I’m lucky a good friend Fiona in Reading picked up my medal for me.

It’s tricky for them to re-schedule this race as it has a stadium finish, a stadium in use for a football club on a regular basis & I imagine it’s a one shot deal there with a booked time slot so maybe a rescheduled run is not an option? I can only guess.

There have been no offers to post the medal to those further afield either. It was only a couple of weeks prior that bad weather nearly de-railed London’s Big Half, but it went ahead & they accepted some might not be able to travel from further afield In affected areas. They quickly set up a free group on Strava, got the word out to join that group & if you ran the half virtually you’d be mailed your medal. So you earned the medal & weren’t put out by the race demanding you travel somewhere to get it. Good customer service, why couldn’t reading follow suit?

What has finally come out is that all participants will receive a £40 voucher to spend at Sports Direct. It’s Sports Direct who own Sweatshop & Sweatshop who organise the race so essentially they’re giving you a voucher for their shop & probably hope you’ll spend over & above so they make money off you again.

I ran anyway at home & you can see the video by clicking the image

If nothing else comes from this I think the beast from the east has highlighted that some races are relying on good weather & if they cancel that’s tough luck. That can’t be the way forward as your customers won’t want to come back. You need a contingency planned in advance of what you will do in a cancellation. This has to include insurance to refund, I’d rather pay an extra £1 on my entry fee than lose £40-£50 on a race I never got to run. Or absent insurance have a plan B contingency date agree with all stakeholders.

This was the first year the race was sponsored by Sage, all I can is this never happened under Vitality ?

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