Marathon wannabes get a run for their money

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 00:00

The organisers of the New York Marathon announce the options available to those denied a run last November

New York Road Runners announced that runners registered for the 2012 race could either get a full refund or entry into the race in one of the next three years.

Runners who decide to run one of the marathons by 2015 will still have to pay a new entry fee, but at 2012 rates. A limited number of runners can opt for a spot in the New York City Half Marathon in March as an alternative. They, too, will have to pay a new entry fee.

Runners will be sent emails on Thursday with more information and will have until January 25th to choose an option. Runners who won entry to the 2012 marathon through an approved charity will receive the same options as other runners.

The fundraising they did to qualify for the race will entitle them to pick from the three options.

Travel costs

Mary Woodenbridge, chief executive of Road Runners, said she expected more runners from overseas to request refunds given the cost of travelling to New York. Road Runners wanted runners to have a mix of choices, so it gave them an option of running in one of three races.

“Even though it was extraordinary circumstances, we had to figure out how to overcome the no-refund policy,” Woodenbridge says.

“We were monitoring emails and people wanted to come again, but not this year. What we’re able to achieve was to give people options and to ensure refunds would be part of this.”

About 47,000 people were expected to run the annual race on November 4th before Mayor Michael R Bloomberg and Road Runners relented in response to mounting pressure and cancelled the event two days before it was to be run.

That left thousands of runners questioning why the race had not been cancelled immediately after the storm and wondering what would happen to their entry fees, which cost more than $300 (€229) for international runners.

High demand

Road Runners initially said all runners would have automatic entry into the following year’s race. But given the intense demand for spots in the marathon – the world’s largest – few new entrants would be able to join.

Road Runners, which generates about half of its revenue from the marathon, also left unanswered whether runners who chose to run this year would have their entry fee from last year applied toward this year’s race, or whether they would have to pay an additional fee.

Road Runners could not answer those questions until it knew how much money it would receive from its insurance company to cover losses stemming from the cancellation.

That settlement has now been reached, although Ms Woodenbridge said the money would not cover all of the club’s losses. But the delays angered some of the group’s members and running enthusiasts, who have expressed their frustration online and in emails to the organisation, and their reaction to the new refund policy has been mixed.

“You’re not really calling this a resolution are you?” Ryan Light wrote on Road Runners’ Marathon Facebook, one of hundreds that poured in after the announcement was made.

Resolution

Others were more accepting of the resolution, adding that they hoped a portion of their fees were donated to storm victims. Many said they planned to run this year, or in 2014, or lamented the costs of travel plans.

Others said they were eager to take the refund and sign up for a marathon elsewhere.

“I think that the solution is good in light of the circumstances,” Gregor Vidler wrote on the Marathon’s Facebook page. “I hope that we can dispense with all of the negativity and get back to what is really important: running.”

Ms Woodenbridge has also had to mend relations with sponsors of the race. As a nonprofit, Road Runners does not have a large financial cushion, and it no doubt wanted to avoid paying refunds.

As a result, some partners, like ABC and ESPN, which were going to broadcast the race, are likely to have their contracts extended for an additional year at no cost.

The larger question is how much the fiasco surrounding the cancellation of the race, which included planned protests, online petitions and attacks by local politicians, damaged the Road Runners brand. The club is now in talks with ING, the Dutch bank that is the title sponsor of the race.

If the bank decides to end its affiliation with the race, Road Runners could be forced to scramble for a new lead sponsor.

“NYRR and ING have a long and valued partnership, and ING remains title sponsor of the marathon through 2013,” the company said in a statement after a media report that it might not renew its five-year deal next year. “We are jointly discussing potential options for 2014 and beyond.”

Ms Woodenbridge also said she would consider holding an extra race in Staten Island to raise money for relief efforts there.


bodyandsole@irishtimes.com