Every once in awhile I start to think about the races that I’ve signed up for and wonder how seriously the race administration takes the idea of “Risk Management” into consideration when organizing their event. Then I wonder, how many other runners ponder the same thought.. and what does it really mean to them? It goes without saying that some races put an exponential amount of added effort into keeping their runners safe as opposed to some races that tell you “You’re on your own.” So I wanted to take a moment to open the curtains a bit here, in the hopes that as we all move forward, with safety in mind, we can better chose which races we want to participate in based on a races Risk Management plan.

In preparing for this post, I e-mailed a hand full of race directors asking them A.) Do you have a Risk Management plan for your race B1.) Why Not? B2.) Can I see It? C.) Why Not?
Let me give you some of the answers to the above questions.. “Yes we have a risk management plan and no you cannot see it.” “No we don’t have a risk management plan.. it’s not necessary.” “You can’t see it because it’s not necessary or required of us to show it to you.”

My goal here is not to throw any races under the bus.. so I’m not going to name names. But I was surprised by some of the answers I got to these questions. Please note that some Race Directors said that they DO indeed have a RM plan and they’d love to share it with us, though they’ve yet to get back to me on it because they lead rather busy lives.. I assume.

But imagine… you pay an entry fee to a race and part of what you’re paying for.. is not so much guaranteed safety, but I’ve always been under the assumption that part of my entry fees goes towards the overall “plan” for the race itself. Part of this plan for the race, is this risk management piece.. and as a race customer.. someone who is actually going to be out there.. someone who you are trying to protect,.. should be at liberty to see these documents no?

So.. some of you may be asking, “What does a Risk Management Plan Outline?” Well, here it is:
(From RRCA Website)
Course Design
Entry Forms, Pre-Race Information and Packet Pick-Up
Start Line
Traffic Control
Spectator Control
Participant control
Water Stations
Medical Assistance
Finish Area
Special Considerations for Children’s Events

Any road-race in America that is sanctioned by USA Track and Field or the Road Runners Club of America is required to have a Risk Management Plan in place that outlines their plans for the above topics/sections. The details that are outlined within these sections pertain to the safety or all participants. These documents are then used to help INSURE the race (Ie: Insurance Policies.)After searching through the American Ultrarunning Association Website, (The AUA is the closest thing ultra-running has to a sanctioning body), there is no mention anywhere of any such copy-cat policy that Ultra’s must adhere to in order to insure the race or maintain the safety of participants.

So then I think about some races that I’ve done.. like Massanutten. You sign off in their Waiver that, there is NO MEDICAL STAFF at the race, and you are entirely on your own. If you break a leg out there.. the race provides no medical assistance and you have to figure your own way to the hospital. I find it hard to imagine how a waiver such as this would hold up in court. Every state is different in terms of how the legal process treats waivers and protects racers or races. But it’s something to consider…

Then there are races like the Vermont 100, where at every single aid station, they have some form of medical personell present, every body has a Two Way/CB Radio for course communications and keeping runners safe and healthy is their number one priority. Now.. thise could be viewed as apples and oranges.. sure I admit that. But for the purpose of this post.. Which race would you rather run when you keep your idea of “safety” in mind? The race that has you sign your health, well being and life away? Or the one that has constant tabs on where you are at all times?

I’ll provide you with another example.. In 2009 I ran Massanutten and there was a horrific thunderstorm that overtook the course. The race continued, there wasn’t even a kink, we ran through it all.. there was never any talk about closing the course for a short time or keeping runners stationary at aid stations until the storm passed. Nothing. That same summer, at the Vermont 100, a horrific Thunderstorm came rolling in (not as bad as the Massanutten storm) and it was the talk of the race. Rumor’s echoed across the course that race and local officials were considering shutting the race down until the storm passed due to safety concerns.

Take the Peaks Death Race for example. The race waiver is all of three words: I May Die
Competitors then sign their name on the dotted line. Does race staff actually think that such a document will hold up in court? Are races really to assume that they “may die” on the course? What if someone actually does die out there? I thinkthe more appropriate waiver in this instancr should have a competitor signing, “I acknowledge that death is a real possibility during the course of this race and in the event of my untimely death neither myself nor anyone who represents me may sue Peak Races.” Read this language and opposed to “I May Die” and tell me which one you think would have a snowballs throw in hell of holding up in court.

So this makes me wonder.. does MMT have a Risk Management plan and what’s in it? What does their insurance cover and how are the runners voided from the plan? What does the VT100 have in place for Risk Management and is it a document that others races can take cues from? I personally think it’s time that Ultra-Running had an official governing body to start getting a handle on the overflow of races dotting the country. Not to put the reigns on, or to create a form of dictatorship over races that were built on renegade trail-runner ways… but as a way to ensure the safety of runners and to promote the safety and positive promotion of our sport as a progressive, forward-thinking, community.

Lord know’s I’ve run MMT twice and LOVED it.. I accepted the challenges of being “on my own” and took that into consideration all through the race. I’ve run Vermont 4 times.. and love that race equally as much as MMT (though.. perhaps not more)… and have always felt accounted for, cared for and thought of with safety in mind from step one. I’ve run many more races where there was never a waiver to sign, there was no mention of medical staff or first aid of any kind at aid stations.. hell.. you could hardly call them races. But I know that it’s only going to take ONE fatality for someone’s rump to be in a sling because a lazy RD wasn’t prepared with a Risk Management plan… Food for thought.. choose wisely.. Run Safe this year!



6 thoughts

  1. Hey Sherpa John – interesting piece. But ultra running is not road running. There is a huge difference in race organization and expectations among racers. I think of ultra running as more like mountaineering – you know and MUST accept the risks. Backcountry rescue is also highly controversial and it's not uncommon for someone to be stuck with their own rescue bill.

    But you're also right that the race scene is exploding and the lines are becoming blurred. So many more folks are taking to the trails, short distances mostly though.

    It would be interesting to look at stats as far as injury and court cases in running in N.A. Are they skewed toward road? Short distances?


  2. Dirty Girl,
    Thanks for chiming in here. I think it's important that our sport opens up a dialogue about this. I want to be clear that… I'm NOT condoning or supporting the regulation of Race Risk Management by some kind of Governing Party… many insurance companies are doing that all ready (hence, no headphones)…

    But I AM supporting races taking a closer look at their policies to cover themselves in the event of serious injury or death.

    I agree with you 100%… Ultra-Running(UR) is NOT Road Running(RR)… (thank god)… however, there is no doubt that there is a large influx of runners entering UR from the RR scene and with it comes the increase in expectations and what I'm sure many of the RR's feel is going on “under the surface.”

    Think about it this way… Many of our rules and traditions in UR are unwritten and simply “known” by those of us who have taken the time to embrace the community and it's quirks. How many incoming RR's are doing this? My guess is not many… seeing as the influx of these runners are coming here from articles in Road Running Magazines and Books they've read.

    Think about Leadville last year.. 800 runners up from less than 600 the year before. You can probably thank Born To Run for the increase… but in the end.. how many of those additional 200 runners are privy to the unwritten rules and intricacies of UR?

    Food for thought…


  3. I've seen two cases posted for discussion last week about athletes(and/or their families) that are suing. One case involves a biker that partook in a new road race. The injured individual is suing, despite signing a waiver, with claims of the RDs putting on an unsafe race.

    From other similar cases I've seen in the Cdn media I see the weakness of a waiver – scary from an RD standpoint.

    I would think that in either of the races you mention in your post here, if someone was seriously injured and felt justice was due, they would sue all involved with that race, despite best efforts in implementing a risk mgmt plan. I think it's more about the state of our society today.

    Can you imagine a governing body for the ultra world? Possibly – with the announcement of this new grand championships in the fall and world championships (& associated funding and certification of courses) and plain old growth of trail/ultra races. But of course – it's such a time-intensive pursuit that that alone may prohibit the masses from pursuing it.

    I do wonder what is going to happen to the race scene as both trail and road races are growing like crazy.


  4. I can see the concern that you bring up. I think people need to be more GD responsible for themselves! I WISH i lived in a land where when you signed a waiver that said i might die, it would hold up, but that certainly isn't the US.

    The last thing I need is my race fee's going up even more (see your own blog regarding rise in entry fees) to cover expanded legal fees and documentation that lawyers are going to need to put together to cover the not only the RD's, but the landowners asses if some Jerk or said Jerk's family sees a payday.

    I hate to say it, but it'll just take one greedy fool to strike the fear in many landowners hearts and several of our runs will disappear.


  5. I am a race director and event producer looking at creating some new endurance events. The paradoxes are enough to drive you crazy. I really care for the safety of the participants. However we continually hear vitriolic comments about how expensive races are. So which is it? Does the participant want a professionally run event or does he/she want cheap? What cost for managing risk does the participant want to accept. Should the race provide at the participants expense a SPOT device in case of emergency?
    I am an event producer because I was a participant first. Assuming risk should be inherent in any athletic endeavor. As athletes we must be the ones to take this responsibility and take it on as a community. We must be the ones to regulate otherwise regulation will be imposed and local events will disappear and only the participants with money will be able to compete. This is a really big issue and as athletes we must be willing to take the lead in this debate and not expect the event producers to respond to unreasonable expectations which could ultimately kill our sports.


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