If a Race Is Short, Do Runners Deserve Refunds?

Organizers are responsible for ensuring the event is the correct distance and helping runners follow the complete route.

By: Dave McGillivray, for Runner's World

Kalee asks: On Sunday I ran a race that was supposed to be a 10K, but the racecourse ended up being more than a mile short. (It was about 4.75 miles.) Apparently, there was supposed to be some sort of dogleg, but the course had no signs and everyone I was running around followed the same route. Afterward, every single person I saw was like, “Huh? That was not 10K.” The entrance fee was $80, and I had looked forward to this for months as a goal for getting back in shape after my second baby. How often does this happen, and when it does, do runners deserve a refund?

It’s very unfortunate that some folks went the wrong way on the course, including you! I don’t believe it happens that often but when it does, it can really sting, whether you run shorter or longer than what you expected and trained to run. I’m curious whether the race had a lead vehicle or bicyclist to at least point the leaders the correct way or whether everyone missed the turn.

Some people say, “Runners are responsible for knowing the course,” but even as a race director, I don’t agree. I believe race management is responsible for marking the course well enough to guide ALL the runners through it without incident. Whether you use volunteers, signs, cones, or chalk on the road, runners should be able to follow the course without confusion. Plus, going off course can be dangerous if no one is expecting runners on a road where there is a lot of traffic and no support.

As for getting a refund, I suppose it first comes down to who might be at fault—the race, the runner, or both. If it were my race and I failed to provide that direction, I would feel somewhat responsible as I did not deliver on what my customer purchased. Whether it is a complimentary entry to another one of my races or a discount on next year’s race, some gesture of goodwill would seem to be appropriate. And, I would be sure that this mistake never happened again in this race.

One more note: Designing a racecourse can be very complex and can take months to get approved. Race directors don’t always get what they want. As such, sometimes we have to add “doglegs” or run-down roads we’d rather not include. Doglegs can be both a blessing and a curse. They can help accomplish getting the total distance you need, but if not managed properly, runners can easily miss the turn and cut the course. As such, race management must be sure to have dependable personnel at this location to avoid what happened to you.

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Dave McGillivray is president of DMSE, Inc., and has been Race Director at the Boston Marathon since 2001.