If like me, you are becoming increasingly frustrated of being told and hearing that we are currently going through unprecedented and uncertain times, then I guess I am not alone. This statement is not intended to undermine the importance of the situation, rather to express frustration with the potential circumstances we are likely to face in the coming days. With daily suggestions and guidance being provided by governments in the UK and across the globe, some which still requires detail, and some would say, the guidance needs to be firmer, I really feel that we are lost at sea in a directionless boat.
I am not going to harp on about the political aspects and debate surrounding the global pandemic that is COVID-19/Coronavirus, rather I want to talk about the wider impacts with society losing its ability to relax, unwind and take part in social sports. With bars, clubs, gyms, etc recently closed, the events world is also suffering a similar fate. As an organiser of a number of events in South Wales, we have taken an absolute hammering since the turn of the year:
1. Storm Ciara (Postponed Llanelli Half Marathon – rescheduled date affected by Covid-19 and weather)
2. Storm Dennis (Affected Many races across the UK)
3. COVID-19/Coronavirus (stopped events across the UK/the world: Postponed Great Welsh Marathon) and put our flagship event JCP Swansea Half Marathon under review for the time being.
With most, if not all UK races up to end of May 2020 (currently) postponed or cancelled, the UK event and running scene is on its knees. If COVID-19 doesn’t pass, the running sector (and wider events industry) will be decimated. For a single race to go ahead, there is a huge supply chain and to put that into perspective, it will include but not limited to (in no specific order):
- Medical team
- Timing suppliers
- Barrier supplier
- Traffic Management
- Risk Managers
- Critical communications (event radios)
- Cyclists and out-riders
- Toilet supplier
- Tee shirt manufacturer
- Medal manufacturer
- Bib supplier
- Branding and gantries
- PA / Sound company
- Local authorities
- Emergency services
- Water supplier
- Food suppliers
- IT Support (website / app / timing)
- Race registration
- Local/national media
- Event governance
If the event happens to be a road running event, then we will typically deal with:
- Highways Car Parks
- Parks Marina authority
- Licensing Police
- Fire Service Medical/Ambulance
- Governmental departments Trading standards
- Local churches City Centre management teams
- Major supermarkets Wider public
- Utility companies Event Partners
- Press Suppliers
- Local Transport providers
Plus many, many more organisations, gyms, activity centres/companies, members of the public, trade associations, as well as many others.
This does not account for the staff, support teams, meetings, changes, delays, interruptions and day-to-day challenges brought about for closing the roads of a town or city once a year for a few hours, so we can create a safe environment for runners to run safely. This isn’t a ‘poor me’ blog. Rather it is a look at what we, Race Organisers, actually do, so you can enjoy your hobby in race conditions.
2020 will be the 7th year of Front Runner Events and even after facilitating approx. 75000 runners over that period of time, I still get asked ‘is that your full-time job’? Well yes, it is and has been since before the first Swansea Half. Front Runner Events also employs other people (we currently have a team of 5) and the truth is we could do with more staff.
Even if our races were to take place on the same route every year; cities and towns change, developments are built, paths and roads are closed, roads and bridges are refurbished and upgraded, new legislation is introduced, more risks are identified, more planning, new technology, new ways of working, new rules and this list really does go on and on and on…..
Why am I telling you this?
Well, if the truth be told, I think runners, organisers, those who work in events are all suffering from the same problems. We are all caught up in something none of us expected, none of us predicted, none of us started and yet all of us are suffering as a consequence.
As a runner myself, I went for my first 2 runs for about a month last week. I’ve not been injured or couldn’t be arsed, far from it. I have been desperate to get out, but we have been firefighting the impacts mentioned earlier (storms, postponements, etc) since the initial Llanelli Half postponement and trying to find a way to proceed and safeguard our business during these crazy times.
For our events (and all other events) to survive and get through normal economic conditions, we need to take certain actions at key times and work with tee/medal designers, suppliers and others to ensure that your race day goes ahead safely and without a hitch.
That said, events are very dynamic situations and when we bring thousands of people into a city/town and close a large proportion of it down, there will be challenges that will be planned for, but we hope don’t happen. This means, we need good people that we trust and rely on to make bold decisions such as stopping a car entering the course when you are running (This has actually happened).
It means, we can help help you via event comms to get medical support if you have an accident during a race. Things don’t just appear on the day (sorry if that sounds flippant) but we work extremely hard, endure long days and sleepless nights to ensure the time you are running at a closed road event, you are safe.
Think about that? You have a hobby, where other people and companies plan for and take significant, measured and calculated risks to give runners the freedom of a city or town to carry out their hobby safely. We upset our own neighbours, family and friends (those who don’t run anyway) by restricting access to areas of the place in which they live. We do this, because as I have said many times, we have the best job in the world. We have helped approx. 75k runners remain fit and healthy, help with mental wellness and wellbeing, encouraging others to get fit, providing opportunities for those who have thought they would never be able to run a half marathon, the opportunity to do so. We work endlessly and tirelessly to the best of our abilities to consistently deliver a safe and successful event for you, our runners.
Our measure of success is different to yours!
Our primary measure is that everyone gets home safely. That’s it. Nothing more or less. Over the years, we have experienced a variety of circumstances, some of which have been significantly testing at times. As an aside and to give you as little insight, prior to the start of every race we organise, I have a quiet word with myself and ask you all to return safely and cross the finish line. I think this is important, as there are risks for all of us. You trust us to do everything we say we will when you enter our events, and we trust you to train and do everything necessary to cross that finish line as strongly as possible (without pushing yourselves too hard).
These risks are also spread elsewhere into our events and I guess this next section could be deemed, contentious. We charge for our events. Runners pay a fee and we deliver a safe event where you typically get a bespoke medal, tee shirt, water and a snack bar. When you enter our races (regardless of point in time) we spend that fee in advance of the race. That list of partners/contractors at the start of this blog all require payment. Some require payment months in advance, and some require payment weeks in advance, but all will require paying. In addition to this, we have overheads; rent, staffing and associated costs, training, subscriptions (ICO, Purple Guide amongst others), VAT and another long list of other costs needed to deliver our events to the standard you expect. If you were to consider the entry fee against the long list of costs, it would be interesting to see how much you would allocate to each service/contractor, if you wanted to guarantee your safety.
But you don’t just get race day road closures, barriers, toilets and the post finish line goodies. You also get the social media and email updates, you get the training advice through-out the year, you get kept abreast of other things we and our event partners do, plus other things.
You also get us via email and via phone 5 days a week, 52 weeks of the year (as we do monitor and manage social media all year round). So, we actually do a lot with your money, to ensure that we deliver a service that we are proud of and can maintain to keep you informed.
What we experienced postponing Llanelli Half was our first instance of such an occurrence. Our terms and conditions state in the event of instances beyond our control, we do not refund race fees. We and all organisers are always asked, why is that fair? Well, I am not going to debate the fairness argument, what I will do, is explain my opinion.
We offer something, that culminates in a very rewarding and satisfying day that helps people remain active, keep fit, gives them a challenge and allows them to test themselves against themselves (beating previous times) or challenging against others (strangers, family, friends, colleagues, etc) or just completing the distance. This, as I hope I have demonstrated requires a herculean effort from our small team, contractors, suppliers, partners and the like to deliver an event that we are all proud of.
Due to the unusual nature of what we do, we spend the majority of monies in advance of the event as I have explained. In addition to this, we obtain a variety of insurances to protect us and you. We obtain, cancellation*, public liability insurances to again protect us all. As I said at the start of this, none of us expected this outbreak. However, insurers learn, learn quickly and implement their learning as fast as a blink of an eye. We did have cancellation insurance for the Great Welsh, but because of COVID-19, there is no cover. Absolutely no cover. I am not aware of a single event company that has successfully claimed because of this outbreak. I am sure there will be a small, fortunate few, but in the main, the cover we bought was invalidated because of this disease.
Is this fair?
Again, I am not going to debate the fairness argument. But in my opinion, we are faced with extreme and challenging circumstances that go way beyond what any of us can comprehend. Insurance companies, like us, provide a service. We pay in advance, but we pay in the hope that should anything happen that results in a cancelled event, we are covered, and we can review our T’s & C’s and perhaps offer something back. This is an incredibly difficult balance, and I think, whilst we are all p*ssed off and becoming increasingly frustrated with how the current situation is affecting us all, we are also feeling it in other areas of our lives.
We have received some very offensive correspondence in relation to what we try and do and offer as alternatives to postponements. People wouldn’t speak to us face to face the way we have been treated and I have had to remind one individual that there are people on the receiving end of such offensive correspondence and comments.
If we were to pay out regardless of insurance, we go under. This isn’t because we are at financial risk, it’s because of the associated cashflow of an event management company. If
we don’t pay out, we lose your faith and support. We go under, so will some of those within our supply chain. If we lose your support, that hurts us. We love what we do, we love the positivity of what we do, we love it. I love it. I also like learning from the feedback, negative, constructive or whatever. We listen to you guys, we learn from you guys; you tell us something, we look at everything that comes to us. We are not perfect, we do not profess to be, but we do, do a good job.
We want to be here for a long time to come. We want to continue helping us help you retain your fitness, smash your pb’s, build our community, which is an awesome community that welcomes and helps each other so much. Social media shows me on a daily basis that there are people helping others at various stages of their running journey, sharing help, advice and guidance. We share and are part of an amazing community.
Yes, it has its issues (none more so than what I have already mentioned), yes it also has its frustrations; injuries, niggles, event clashes, life getting in the way of training and so on. It also helps us to stay fit, stay sane, find and keep friends, become part of a group, club, whatever, with people who want to simply put one leg in front of the other at varying speeds and over varying distances.
Now, add in concerts, theatre shows, sports events, movies, holidays! We all enjoy these activities in one way or another. We will have lost so many opportunities because of the spread of COVID-19. These circumstances are not of our making, we are not responsible, but we are all affected. We are all suffering from an ever-changing world and environment that is literally changing minute-by-minute
We are a great community!
We are supportive and we do help each other. I think, this is a time when we all pull together, we all find ways of helping each other, we look at home workouts, sprints, fartlek (Google it if you don’t know what it is), find short laps/routes you can continue to run and maintain your fitness and health. This is of prime importance, we need to come out of this as fit, as hungry and ready to spread our running wings and go again once this period has passed.
I am unsure whether releasing this blog will be wise, but I do pride myself on being an honest race director and event organiser. Will I get grief for some of my thoughts, probably? We are all different and interpret things differently based on our views and beliefs. Will I get support, probably for the exact same reasons I will get grief?
I wrote this to illustrate that your hobby is our livelihood. It is the livelihood of the hundreds of people that it takes to put on our events. I want us all to come out of this safely and to return to racing and running, whenever that may be. In fact, I am now going to have my quiet, little word with myself and ask you all to return safely but this time, to the start line.
Thank you for reading, feel free to leave me your thoughts now that you’ve read mine.
Llanelli Half Marathon
Great Welsh Marathon / Great Welsh Half Marathon
JCP Swansea Half Marathon
Event Director: Cardiff Met Cardiff 10K