What is beyond dangerous?

To Cancel or not to cancel that is the question!!!!

Do you remember when weekends were called Saturday and Sunday? but in this day and age, they seem to be called Ciara, Doris, Dennis and even Jorge as named by the Spanish Met Office (And I thought Brexit meant we could name our own storms!!)

When we organise an event, its done anything from 9 to 12 months in advance, At this early stage all you can hope for is that the weather is going to be kind, for the sake of the competitors and marshals.
However, it’s not really until about 7 days before the event that you start to get a genuine idea for what the conditions are going to be like and it’s within this week that I start to become a bit of a Derek Brockway type character.

The unfortunate thing is that 7 days before means, the competitors are already booked up, they have trained, organised time off work, childcare, transport, accommodation and anything else! Whilst the organisers have got all the logistics in place like, merchandise, food, the staffing, medical cover, buses and numerous other things already to go and many paid for. So, the questions are

1. What is it that warrant’s the drastic measures to call an event off?
2. When do you make that call?
3. How do you make it right?
4. What do you learn from it!!!!

If you take the recent Ras Dewi Sant Coast Path Marathon that we had to postpone, these are the things that are deliberated and processed to make such a call.

1. What is it that warrant’s the drastic measures to call an event off?

The bottom line is

When it becomes obvious that the event is going to be dangerous beyond what was intended

What is danger?

You could say

“One Man’s danger is another Woman’s pastime”

“Danger is in the eye of the behold”

and I could carry on making up these adapted quotes, but in real speak and the simplest formula!

You have a Coast Path Marathon/Half/10K an event that poses a physical challenge and presents an element of risk in good to poor weather conditions. However, with the right athlete preparation, briefing, awareness and support from the event organiser this is a manageable risk.

You then add in excess ground water, mud, slippery surfaces, extremely high winds, and below freezing temperatures, Met office weather warnings and then the risk becomes potentially dangerous and unmanageable.

It’s easy to use the words and say it’s dangerous or unsafe but the weather and distances alone don’t make it beyond dangerous. Yes, these conditions can make it an extreme challenge and a real test of character and ability, but contingencies can be put in place to negate many of the dangers. But add in the fact that the course is on the Coast Path, is a mass entry of mixed ability and then the event suddenly becomes beyond dangerous!

However, saying all of that “danger is in the eye of the beholder” If this event was for elite athletes in a world championship or a small experienced group on a guided hike it may well still be on.
Yes there are other considerations other than safety that come into play, like enjoyment, difficulty to complete, marshal’s welfare and travelling to the location due to adverse weather. As important as these reasons are, personally I don’t think its wise for us to second guess people’s emotions and logistics and then call off an event off, you will never be able to cover everything or please everyone.

But in these circumstances, I would say extra measures would and should be taken to negate the issues as much as you can and give everyone a fighting chance. However, when its deemed beyond dangerous due to circumstances outside of your control, you have very little option.

I’m not a quick runner these days or any day for that matter, but dressed appropriately and not worried about racing or time, I hiked around the half course at the time the event should have been on just to see what it was like, was it the right call and also to challenge myself. Watch the video to make up your own mind of was this for you? And is it what you’d signed up for?

2. When do you make that call?

A catch 22, too soon and you run the risk of the weather being fine, and getting criticised for overreacting, too late and people are already on route and you’re criticised for not giving enough notice!! And unfortunately, on both accounts you’d have to take and accept this criticism on the chin!

The right time to make the call is once it becomes obvious that the event is going to be dangerous beyond. Easier said and done! Take Ras Dewi Sant, once the 7 day forecast was out, we knew it was going to be challenging, We knew fatigue and coldness would play a part. To combat this, we moved aid stations and marshals about to ensure they weren’t over exposed. We brought in more marshals to make sure at least every 4.5 miles there was a check point for the runners to aim for, That there was warm clothing at these spots for runners and an extra pick up service, we brought in extra first aiders, and a 4 x 4 ambulance and paramedics. We also changed the courses to take out the wettest and most exposed areas

Come Thursday morning we checked the weather and it was still good to go. Yes it would have been difficult but not beyond dangerous, So we went out and started putting the signage up on the course, about 3 hrs later we returned to our vehicle, checked the weather and could see, the forecast had changed to 27hrs of continuous rain leading up until 6am on the day of the event and wind gusts of 65mph!!! plus the Met Office had issued a Yellow warning for Wind and Rain with coastal areas bearing the brunt of the wind.

It was there and then the call was made. As on the balance of probabilities it was unlikely to get significantly better in the next 48hrs. Now is that to late or to early. Maybe to early for those who live a stone throw from St Davids and had nothing planned for the weekend and then to late for those who had booked hotels and buses.

3. How do you make it right?

This is important and difficult to please all. Because we are all different, we all have different reactions to such things and what is expected from the organisers. Experience tells us that 99% of people are extremely understanding if not disappointed as well. We have also learnt the important thing is that you need to make your terms and conditions clear at the start.

You also need to be able to communicate in a timely manner with competitors. And even though you have systems in place for this, it’s not always straight forward, but there are always those that don’t receive the emails or are not on social media, minor issues easy to resolve!!!

Personally, to try and make things right we look to reschedule the event ASAP, offer deferrals to the following year if they can’t make the new date, or to transfer to another event. Again, most are happy with this, but not all!

In regards to communication all we ask is for people to be mindful that we have 100’s of emails in a short period so please bear with us.

4. What do you learn from it!!!!

You gave to learn from every experience good or bad, but we tend to learn the most from the bad! As already touched on you must,

Review your process and decision making
Review your communication
Review your terms and conditions

And as for Ras Dewi Sant we are reviewing the date of 2021!!! There’s a old saying that the definition of madness is keep doing the same thing and getting the same results!

And this was a conversation we had over a few beers on Saturday with a fair few people. Some were saying the first 4 years were great, they love it, it’s the start of the season and around the St Davids Day Celebrations. Whilst others were saying the last 3 years have seen two postponements and the weather appears to be more unsettled, why not move it to April?

Our view is you can be unlucky with the weather anytime of the year, but change is a serious consideration, we will see how the 25th April go and make the call!!!

Beyond Dangerous!


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