How race cancellations affect charities and what you can do to help

The Chicago Marathon became the latest casualty last week in a long list of canceled marathons in 2020. Anyone who didn’t see it coming was in denial. Although being realistic about it and being extremely disappointed aren’t mutually exclusive. 

Many wondered why they waited so long before making the announcement. The hopeful speculated that maybe they were trying to figure out a way to make it work. The more practical suggested that maybe they needed the city to deny permits before they could put in an insurance claim. Whatever the reason, I believe the delay was a good thing.

The delay in cancelling – 13 weeks out – forced optimistic participants to start their training. And I have to think even just being a month into training is a point where you’re less likely to abandon the goal.  With the marathon – and training organizations like Chicago Area Runners Association and Chicago Endurance Sports – prepared to support 26.2 mile “experiences” and virtual options for their program participants, it can still be done.

The reason this is so important is that marathons mean income for many worthwhile causes. More than 12,000 runners raised an event record $27.1 million through the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Charity Program last year (announcement). The 2019 Boston Marathon also set a fundraising record, raising $38.7 million for 297 nonprofit organizations (announcement).

While these big marathons (New York City as well, who cancelled on June 24) are offering registered participants full refunds, that doesn’t help the charitable causes many of those runners were supporting. Additionally, countless local non-profit organizations hold smaller events to raise awareness and funds for their good work.

I had 24 races on my schedule for 2020. I was able to complete the two in February (including a marathon). As luck would have it, I had yet to register for seven of them. Of the remaining 15, three offered full refunds, four offered virtual options which I took (shirt and/or medals were mailed), four offered deferrals to a future year’s event, and only three cancelled without a refund or other viable option. Another two have yet to announce their plans (Newport-Liberty Half in New Jersey organized by NYCRUNS on Sept. 20 and The Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k in Chicago on November 8).

If the event you registered for offers a refund, fabulous! But please understand that smaller community races – especially those organized primarily to support a non-profit organization (including running clubs!) may cease to exist without the continued collective support of those who signed up to participate this year. Suck it up as a “donation” and go run knowing you bought yourself some good karma.

Two of the races that didn’t offer refunds or other viable options were organized by non-profits. The registration fee for those events was $35 or less. Then there was Rock N Roll. They didn’t communicate with participants until last week. The Rock N Roll Chicago Half was supposed to be this past weekend. There was no refund. There was no virtual option. And it was announced that they wouldn’t be coming back to Chicago in 2021, so no opportunity to defer either. The registration fee for the Half was $75! 

Rock N Roll did however give registrants an opportunity to transfer to one of their other races – for dates and locations that were completely inappropriate given the current global pandemic, current hotspots and travel restrictions. The Rock N Roll Marathon Series is part of The IRONMAN Group, a for-profit organization. According to Comparably their highest paid executive makes $720,000 annually. Nothing to feel good about “donating” your registration fee to there.

Rock N Roll/Ironman does have a non-profit foundation that encourages athletes to raise money for a variety of charities. Although it’s the subsequent fundraising by athletes, not the registration fees, that benefit these charities. With the lack of leadership and planning through this crisis they’ve hurt charities and created bad feelings among athletes – especially here in Chicago.

Thankfully we still have the marathon – albeit virtual this year – by which we can still help struggling charities. 

Those of you who had a marathon in your plans for 2020, no, you will not get to run the course with thousands of others, being cheered on by more! And yes, that’s incredibly disappointing. But if you do the training and you run 26.2 miles, no one can take that away from you! Most importantly, if you were part of a charity team, the reasons for doing it haven’t changed. Perhaps it has become more important than ever.

So, do the training for a healthier you! Do your fundraising for a better community! And run your 26.2 miles so it’s forever recorded in Garmin or Strava or your own personal spreadsheet. 

If you care about someone running for charity, realize their disappointment is valid, support them in their effort to do it anyway, and be as generous as you can to the worthwhile causes who need our support! 

Running for Team Gilda. 2019 Chicago Marathon.

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