On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No refunds! NO REFUNDS!!!

NYCRuns, frequently billed (even in their own propaganda) as an NYRR alternative, yesterday announced the Central Park Marathon. Going back to the roots of NYCM, the race will be 5 laps of Central Park (the course cuts across at the 102nd St. transverse and doesn't include Harlem Hill). The date of the race is 24 February - sort of.

Here's what the email announcing the race said (in part - emphasis mine):
Right now - this race is scheduled for Sunday February 24th. However, we reserve the right to move it to a March or early April date if one becomes available... Your registration would automatically transfer to the new date. Our standard no refunds policy will apply in that instance.
In other words, give us $75 toward a race that you may - or may not - actually be able to run. You might be 8 weeks out from the race, or you might have a full training cycle ahead of you. But no refunds! No refunds! NO REFUNDS!!!

Officially, this has crossed a line for me. The rules governing race entries favor race directors, sure, and I know there are sunk costs involved in throwing a race, but this is a new low: asking participants to sign up for a race (cajoling them into it by threatening that the race will sell out early) and then not only reserving the right to change the date but actively seeking to.

By all accounts, NYCRuns throws a great race. They also threw this past weekend's Brooklyn Marathon, which got accolades despite asking participants to run a grueling 9 laps of Prospect Park. That said... there was a slight fiasco surrounding registration for the Brooklyn Marathon. After NYCM was canceled, NYCRuns petitioned the city for permission to expand their field. They started a waitlist - $200 got you a non-refundable place on the waitlist. $100 of that went to charity, and in the instance that the field couldn't be expanded, you could use your remaining $100 as a credit toward future NYCRuns races.

[Ed: I got this wrong. The registration was $125, $50 of which went to charity, per the race director and contrary to what I (mis)remembered.]

In the end, despite saying that they "firmly expect[ed] to get permission to expand the race," despite an email petition that almost sounded threatening in tone ("if you believe in your city... if you believe in growing local business..."), they didn't get permission. More than 200 runners were shut out of the Brooklyn Marathon - with wallets $200 lighter. But, you guys, people signed up so the policy couldn't be that bad. Also, processing refunds is hard, you guys!

How is this even legal?

By the way, mark your calendars: I'm totally throwing a race. It might be this year, it might be next. Entries are limited and it will be awesome. Just give me lots of money!!! Register now!

Update: be sure to read the comments (where NYCRuns' founder responds in the comments) and my next blog post/update, to which he also responded in the comments.


  1. Organizing your own race is the obvious reaction to a market that is not clearing. The race organizers should charge more so they don't have to turn people away.

    Here is another inefficiency I have noticed about races. Race customers are also very happy to pay a high premium to say they donated to charity. The trick is race customers don't seem to care how much actually goes to help the charity, they care more about how much they can say they raised. I would recommend exploiting this inefficiency by charging a very high premium to donate to charities, customers get what they want, you get money, poor people meh.

    A modern day L Ron Hubbard would say "I'm going where the money is, I'm going to organize marathons".

    1. I am happy to offer you free advertising for your upcoming race right here on GoTracyGo.com.

    2. In exchange for a free entry, that is.

    3. this exchange is why i love you both (tracy and paddy).

  2. I was initially excited about NYCRuns' CP marathon, but the more I thought about it last night, the more pissed off I got, for exactly the reasons you wrote about. It is like they know we are all so used to being jerked around by NYRR that this, a relatively minor foul, will be ok. No.

    If I register for a spot in a wintery February marathon, that's what a want, not a reserved right to take my money for nothing. I live here. I know what the weather is like in February. Those of us who would have registered to run that day would go into it with eyes open.

    To be fair, Steve did say they would know more about the date by early December, so I may wait a while and see how it shakes out. For now, there is no way I'm giving them any of my money.

    1. I agree, Tara, but he's already - in less than 24 hours - changed it from "the first week of December" to "mid-December" as to when he'll announce it. Sometimes Steve's casual informality doesn't play as well with the increasing numbers of NYCRuns.

      Of course you can guess one of the reasons I'm annoyed by it: I want to do this race. In February.

    2. ME TOO! Not March. Not April.

  3. I saw this email yesterday and had to read it a few times to make sure I got it right. So bizarre!

  4. I'm disappointed by the inaccuracies Tracey. First of all, you have the information regarding the BKM marathon waitlist incorrect. Second of all, I have not changed anything regarding the date the change might take place. It's also worth noting that the original NYCM course covered the harlem hills.

    Most importantly - despite the fact that you have had access to me for years - you failed to actually ask me any questions. Had you done that, I might have explained why I was doing things this way and you might have learned something about the reality of doing events in the city.

    Before you publicly criticize someone or something (a small business) next time, at least ask a few questions. Otherwise, you do your audience a disservice.

    1. I don't live in the city, so I don't have a dog in the fight. However, your comment intrigues me.

      You say she's wrong about the BKM waitlist. Then she links to a post of yours that says: "I’ve only heard a couple of complaints about the no-refunds policy on the Brooklyn Marathon wait-list and 200 people have taken the plunge."

      So...how is she wrong? Is the information she links to incorrect? Since she's supposedly misleading readers, is there a place where one can get the "correct" information? Because this comment does little to clarify the supposed error. In fact, you make your rationale for doing what she said you did quite clear in this post.

      Also, you as a business owner have every right to make business decisions. You've also got every right to be frustrated by red tape and all the rest. However, you can't really get frustrated by someone pointing out you're collecting fees on an event that has. 1. no refund policies 2. a "soft" date. Ever hear of RAM racing? Google them. The RD there has a history of organizing events, failing to secure permits, canceling events and not giving anyone their money back. You hear stories like that and people get their guard up and ask questions. As I said, I have no dog in the fight but I think a blogger who is part of your community has the right to raise a red flag, especially given horror stories like those. You have every right to defend yourself as a business owner...but that's not what you're doing here. You simply tell a blogger why she shouldn't have spoken her mind. She has a right to do that, just as people have every right to plop down the money to run a race that might be run two months after you are planning it.

      Considering that people paid to be WAITLISTED for the BKM? I don't think one runner's opinion will hurt your bottom line much.

  5. Wait so people that signed up for the BK Marathon waitlist are out$200? When none of them were able to actually get in? That is crazy!

  6. Get a life, Steve. This is an amateur blog operated by an individual runner. People do not come here expecting Bob Woodward style journalistic accuracy. Besides, you failed to detail what, if any part of this post, is inaccurate. Tracy never said you moved the date of the race. She said you might move it and not offer refunds. If this indeed is your plan, she is right and you suck.

  7. angryrunner - I'm familiar with Ram Racing but google us and you will find that there are no similar complaints. I ask that we be judged on our actions - not those of others. We have done nothing to earn that comparison.

    As for the waitlist info -the correct pricing was $125. with $50. going to the parks (that meant based on the cost of the race, we were making less than we were planning on). Most of the people on the waitlist who didn't get in have already signed up for something else. That information was posted on the (now defunct) registration page which linked to the blog and in emails. The blog was meant to explain the reasoning a bit better - most got it.

    As a business owner - I think it is my right and responsibility to respond to thing like this - even if they aren't well read and amateurish. I think this kind of transparency and availability is really important. People's chief complaint with NYRR is communication, particularly on the issues important to them. I feel response is important.

    Then there are people like Mike. We won't respond to trolls.