After days of not being able to respond to would-be racers in the wake of the cancellation of the Two Town Half Marathon and 5k, Surf City is speaking up.
Organizers decided to cancel the event after the town entered a state of emergency Oct. 4, for both the safety of participants as well as to prepare for Hurricane Matthew as it approached.
While most racers registered were not upset about the cancellation — understanding weather is uncontrollable — a large number took to social media to voice their opinions about the town’s efforts to communicate after the announcement and the lack of a refund or entrance into a comparable race.
Racers were informed that the event was not going to be rescheduled and were given the option to transfer to the town’s Nov. 5 5k Glow Run.
While some were OK with the race transfer, others said a half marathon and 5k are not equivalent and the new race was not an option for them due to scheduling issues.
Town Manager Larry Bergman said their staff, after announcing the cancellation, went into storm-preparation mode and was not intentionally ignoring racers.
“I think we’ve gone pretty far to try and make people feel better about the cancellation,” Bergman said. “Given normal circumstances we’d have gotten to them a lot quicker but the state of emergency shifted our focus.”
Earlier this week, the town issued a packet of information to racers explaining multiple refund options, as well as a new waiver to the Glow 5k all racers were being offered as an option.
All racers were offered three refund options: transfer to the Nov. 5 race free of charge; or pick up their race T-shirt, medal and swag bag; or have their T-shirt, medal and swag mailed to them. Half marathoners were offered a fourth option of receiving 50 percent of their fees back.
The new packet didn’t answer Matthew Beere’s No. 1 burning question: Why not a full refund?
“I traveled at least three hours and running in their 5k in November after driving another three hours wasn’t going to be beneficial to me,” he said.
A full refund wasn’t an option because some of the funds for expenses, like T-shirts and medals, had already been spent in preparation for the event, Bergman said.
The event was to benefit the Pretty in Pink Foundation, which provides financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients in North Carolina. Bergman explained that a majority of the funds brought in prior to the event, including registration fees, were going directly to the nonprofit, and couldn’t be given back to racers.
“We laid out a lot of options (for refunds),” Bergman said. “It was such a late cancellation, not what we expected obviously, tied with the fact that it was a charity fundraiser. We get that people spent a lot of time preparing. A lot of the funds had already spent. Shirts being one of the pretty big expenses.”
For Beere, getting a t-shirt and medal for a race he didn’t run didn’t cut it, a sentiment several racers agreed with.
“I have no desire to wear a T-shirt or medal I didn’t earn,” he said. “The way (Surf City) handled it was poor. I was excited for the smaller town race and it was in an area I’d never been before. It was just not a very good experience.”
While Bergman understood frustrations, cancelling the race was out of the town’s control.
An Army of staff and volunteers had put a lot of effort into the planning and coordinating the event, as well as the sponsors and donors that were helping to make the event lucraive for Pretty in Pink, making it difficult to cancel the event.
“Overall this is an event that we were excited about and didn’t want to cancel it,” Bergman said. “In this case when we cancelled, our focus is on how can we try to improve things and show those that have raised concerns and aren’t happy, we hear them and we’ve done something in response.”
Some racers didn’t appreciate that the waiver wording was also changed to say no refund would be given for any reason. Bergman explained that the waiver was changed by staff as a way to clarify the document for future races.
“We were not trying to switch anything out, we just realized there were things that were not as clear for everyone, so we asked, ‘What can we do to clarify it?’” he said.
Bergman added that not all feedback has been negative, that some racers have decided to run the race on their own time; including one participant who had his mother drive him to Surf City to run the race anyway.
“These are the things we want to do to make the best of the situation,” he said. “At this point that is what the town can, and should do. We got some positive feedback, and we appreciate all participants understanding, even if they aren’t happy about it.”