LOLZLetter 69 | How is the Pandemic Affecting Races?

Interviews with 3 Race Directors Plus a Giveaway

Welcome

This week's newsletter is slightly different.  It’s also about three times as long!

I decided to interview three race directors, including Eric and Sheila Eagan from Trails Rochester, Jerry Frostick from J&A Racing, and Ken Culbertson from Run the Vineyards.  Like most race directors, each has had to cancel or turn in-person events into virtual races.

It's an honor and a privilege to know each of these race directors. Once races come back, I highly suggest any of them. You won't have a bad experience. 

As a runner, we want to know when races w be back, but also, what kind of impact is the pandemic having on running races. What will the future look like? We know in the grand scheme of things, running races and sporting events are not the "biggest deal," but we can still be sad.  It's ok to be down about canceled races but also remember people are facing the biggest battles of their life. 

One thing that became clear is race directors do it because they love it and the sport, not because they want to "get rich." Race directors aren't trying to pull one over on runners. They are trying to keep us safe and healthy.

With the rise of virtual races, in-person events are now competing with virtual races. So consider signing up for your favorite in-person turned virtual event and support your local race directors.


This week’s sponsor, Solpri, is having a huge sale. You can try their All Natural Anti Chafe Balm for $3.95 (including shipping).

As a small business, Solpri is trying to get it in the hands of more runners. This anti-chafe product is something I use every run. Because it only contains four ingredients, I don’t worry about breakouts or chafing.

They are limiting it to the first 50 people. You won’t get a better deal, so if you were curious about trying it, I highly suggest it!


Now Hear from the Race Directors: 

First up are Eric and Sheila Eagan from www.trailsroc.org and www.trailmethods.com.

While I no longer live in upstate New York, Eric has been a great friend for years. He puts together great trail races and it's been an honor getting to know him throughout the years. 

Which races have you had to cancel? So far, The Race For The Rock and Many On The Genny. 

When do you feel races might be back? I think some will happen in the fall, especially the trail races that use fewer resources and can spread out with the smaller fields.

When, as a race director, do you feel comfortable putting on a race? For us, it will be a combination of things. 1. Approval from our government AND agreement from those in the medical community that state it is safe.

Have you lost a significant amount of money due to canceled races? We operate as a not-for-profit (trailsroc) and not one runner requested a refund. The loss for Many On The Genny will be large. We have already paid for mugs, medals, other swag, permit application fees, course markings, etc.

It will make 2021 a challenge because we are going to defer runners and offer refunds for some. So the logistics into 2021 and the tax implications in 2020 will be complicated.

Do you see this loss affecting races in 2021? Absolutely. Some will likely fold. Some may charge more. Some may end up with a lot of confusion over deferrals, waitlist, etc. We will also have policy changes and the way events are managed will likely change. Aid stations, registrations, payouts, etc. will all need to be revamped.

Have you gone to virtual races? We hosted a separate virtual run and we raised $17,000 for our three local running shops. (Holy smokes!!!!)

What is one thing you wish runners knew about races (or your specific races)? The money goes out early to put on an event. Permit fees are often permit "application" fees. We can't get those back. To get large orders in time for swag, it needs to be ordered in advance and it can never be sent back or refunded. We donate 100% of our proceeds. Not donating this year will impact trail organizations and first responder programs that we help fund.

Finally, I am just asking for a little understanding from runners. Not many folks make a living off of putting on races; most of us do it because we love running and want to share special locations with others. Please don't threaten litigation for a $25 or even $100 fee. The money spent will be more than you could win back and it will likely mean the race does not happen in the future.


Next up Jerry Frostick with J&A Racing:

Jerry and wife Amy have owned J&A Racing for 19 years. They are both long time runners/triathletes and got into this industry when they opened Final Kick Sports, a running/triathlon store in 1996. They took over the Shamrock Marathon in 2000 when there were 3,000 runners. The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon weekend has grown to entertain approximately 25,000 participants annually. Thru the years, we have added six other theme filled events. (Hollie's add: I've run almost every race and truly enjoyed every experience...I don't even live in VA anymore LOL). 

  • MSP Big Blue 5k (mid-April)- 2,500 participants

  • ADP Corporate 5k (May 27)- 2,500 participants

  • Crawlin Crab 1/2 Marathon & 5k (1st weekend in Oct)- 1500 5k Sat, 2000 1/2 Marathon Sunday

  • Old Point Wicked 10k and Monster Mile (end of Oct)- 5,500 participants

  • Chartway Norfolk Harbor 1/2 Marathon and We Promise 5k (weekend before Thanksgiving)- 2,000 5k on Saturday, 2,200 1/2 Marathon Sunday.

  • Bayport Surf N Santa 5 Miler (Dec 13-14)- 5,000 participants

In 2020, they were forced to cancel the Yuengling Shamrock weekend one week before the event due to Covid-19. They have canceled the MSP Big Blue 5k (made it virtual) and have tentatively moved ADP Corporate 5k to Sept 2.

When asked, Jerry believes they will have races in the fall of 2020, but thinks the early fall races will have a different look and feel.

How does J&A Plan to accommodate a "New Racing Normal"? As a race director, we are working on implementing safety precautions to reduce the spread of viruses, and to ease participants, volunteers, and the spectator's concerns. I will feel comfortable putting on events as soon as the government deems it safe.  I have been in constant contact with all our local government agencies, and they are hopeful and excited that we will be welcoming participants to their cities soon.

Some of these precautions include:

  • Reduce start corral size to a max of 250 participants, more room between corrals,

  • ALL volunteers will wear gloves and buffs

  • We will still have traditional water stops but also adding “refilling” stations where you can fill your own hydration pack and offering personal reusable cups for purchase ($2.00 normally $10) in registration that you can carry.

  • All finish line swag (except medals) will be pre-packaged in 1 bag and handed out to reduce multiple contact points. Numerous portable hand sanitizer stations at water stops porta-potties and post-race party.

  • We are also exploring providing buffs (to be used as a face mask) for all participants.

  • Expo’s packet pick up and registration will also have a different feel, and Amy and her team are working on ways to reduce touchpoints and overcrowding.

As a small business, we have taken a HUGE financial hit. It also goes much deeper than just the loss of income. Putting on fun, safe events is a big part of who Amy and I are. Our experiences have allowed us to support many charities that we believe in and be a positive influence in our community. Because of this, we have had to lay off 2 of our eight employees. Our staff and their families are like family and they did nothing wrong. We are trying to do anything and everything to keep the remaining staff and weather this storm. Shamrock is such a huge part of our year. It provides 70-80% of our annual income. We have started offering virtual runs to try and keep people motivated, generate some income and raise some $$ for charities.

We started the I Heart Mother’s Day Virtual 5k May 10 (Funds are donating funds to 1st Responders Children’s Fund). We also and have something planned for each month through the summer.  (Hollie's add: I Heart Mother’s Day will be my first virtual race back).

What effect will this have on races in 2021? We will have to wait and see. I believe that we will get through this. The running community is strong. Because of the Stay at Home order, I think more people, more families, are getting out and running and walking. I hope that this will help create another running boom. I believe a year from now, there will be something else that we as a nation will be dealing with. We have to continue to be active, stay positive, be good to others and embrace what we have every day.

What I wish every runner knew (I believe the ones that know us do) is how much Amy & I love what we do. This has been by far the most challenging thing we have ever had to deal with. Not only has this affected our livelihood, but our lifestyle as well. Putting on events like we do doesn’t just happen. Amy and I discuss it 24 hours a day, seven days a week (that is not always good).

We have a dedicated staff that works tirelessly to make sure every detail is covered. We have tremendous support from cities, police, traffic, medical professionals and communities. We have built relationships with thousands of volunteers and try to make them feel as important as the participants. This is what we love. We both feel racing is MUCH easier than putting on a race.

When I would race, I was just concerned about me. Now it is like inviting 25,000 people to your wedding. You want EVERYONE to have an awesome time. In 19 years of putting on events, we have never claimed to “know everything.” What we do claim is that “we care.”


 Lastly, Ken Culbertson of Good Day for a Run

If you like running through a Vineyard and enjoying a fun after-party, Ken's Run the Vineyards are for you. One year, I won a local bottle of wine! While we don't know where we will be in July, Ken has a new race on Long Island on July 11. If races are happening and I'm still living locally, I want to run!

The Run, the Vineyards Series, is the biggest event (22 races), specifically Run the Vineyards 5 Miler at Heritage Vineyards. There have already been 6 races postponed or turned into a virtual race.

When do you think races will happen again? I am optimistic that smaller-scale races like ours (200-800 participants) will be back in June. I will put on a race when I am told we can by the government. As long as we are allowed to, I will make our race happen. If our runners are not comfortable, we will offer them a race credit for a future run. We are not the authorities; we are "event planners" and will plan events to take place if the "authorities" permit us to.  

The Spring Market is our “Christmas” market.  So spring racing for us is like the Holiday season. We have lost LOTS of money - Approx $100,000 in revenue so far. This is not profit and revenue to keep our races around. We count on revenues to keep the business operating consistently for marketing, payroll, rent expenses, and much more.

We were looking to employ new people this year and expand into new markets. That will not happen right now. We have added 3 Virtual Races as of now..1 new, and one as an existing run that "turned virtual" the GDFAR Scavenger Run was a free event meant to give our runners something to do during the pandemic... It was a huge success as our clients are starving for activities!

We are happy with the results! Plus, the Scavenger Run promoted many Small Businesses, as they donated around $1,000 worth of prizes (combined). We made them "In-Kind" sponsors and recognized them for their generous contributions. We are also doing a Mother's Day Run (in place of one of our normal races).

The only thing that will offer some money support is Virtual Races. Some people are signing up for them, which generates a little bit of revenue to cover expenses.

We are excited to come back and provide our participants with what they are looking for. Run the Vineyards events are 2-3 hour experience focused on the after-party experience just as much as the running experience. We can run virtually, but it’s hard to have a party virtually. 

Thank you to Eric and Sheila, Jerry, and Ken for being so open and honest about racing and what future races will look like.

If you are looking for a way to help support any of these race directors or your favorite races, I highly suggest signing up for a virtual race from an established race. You are helping a race survive 2020 and provide a quality event again in 2021 or even in the fall!


Plus a Giveaway!

Finally, J&A is offering one lucky reader a free entry into their I <3 Mom Virtual 5k. You can live anywhere and there are a lot of prizes associated.  Plus, you get a medal, bib, and will be entered to win $100 to rabbit apparel. 

Just share the newsletter on your platform of choice and tag, myself and J&A. Bonus entry if you share something you love about your mom! 

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What is Keeping Me Entertained this Week?

Podcast: Ironwomen Podcast Small Fish, Big Pond - Nicole Falcaro: I've loved the Ironwomen podcasts lately. Nicole is a good friend and total badass pro triathlete (also she loves NJ diners too, so we all know that means she's awesome). 

Shalane Flanagan adopted a newborn and is now a mom. Congrats and what joyful news!

New Shoes for Runners: I'm biased, but I appreciate Charlie asking me to contribute to the post.

Atreyu Running Shoes Review A new brand of shoe with plenty of cushion and lightweight! 


Finally, don’t forget sponsor Solpri is having a huge sale. You can try their All Natural Anti Chafe Balm for $3.95 (including shipping).


This was by far one of my favorite newsletters (do I say that every week)? I appreciate the honesty and openness of the race directors. Now more than ever, we need to support local businesses, so we all make it through this together.

Whether that’s a local restaurant, running store, product, or race.

Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!

If you enjoyed the newsletter, I appreciate you sharing.

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