I believe there are three inevitable situations in endurance sports. At some point, the odds are one of these will happen to you:
  • your race or event will be canceled.
  • you will not start a race.
  • you will not finish a race.
2015 could be subtitled "The Year of the Canceled Race." Severe repeated winter storms in New England have left streets covered with three to six-foot tall mounds of snow. Many side streets are still down to one lane. In many areas, it's simply not safe to run outside as the roads have lots of ice and snow. Or, the clear pavement is so narrow that it's too much of a risk of being hit by a car.

A number of major races have either canceled or postponed due to the road and weather conditions, including Massachusetts races such as the Martha's Vineyard 20 Miler, the Hyannis Marathon and Half Marathon, Half at the Hamptons, and the Old Fashioned 10 Miler.

Race cancellation notice from the 2015 Hyannis Marathon

It's not just New England races that have been affected by this year's heavy precipitation and record cold. Both the Sedona Marathon and the Cowtown Marathon had to cancel their marathon distance races and moved all participants to the half marathon because of course conditions.

The decision to cancel a race is not made lightly, whether the cancellation is due to winter weather, thunderstorms, or extreme heat. Race directors work with local and regional police, rescue personnel, and government officials to determine if the roads or weather and temperature conditions are safe for race participants. Local safety and law enforcement officials also have to consider the safety of the volunteers, course marshals and local residents.

For example, unpaid volunteers would not be safe standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures for hours. Plows cannot safely clear roads if there are hundreds of runners on them. If a catastrophic event occurs, such as numerous participants facing hypothermia or heat stroke, nearby rescue crews or hospitals may not be able to handle an extreme influx of patients. In some cases, the sheer number of people heading on the roads to the race site in bad weather can dramatically raise the risk of accidents.

Some races try to reschedule their canceled event for a later date. Not every event can do this for many reasons, including conflicting events on other weekends and the logistics of securing enough volunteers and support for a new race date.

So what can you do when your race is canceled due to weather conditions?

Immediately cancel or change hotel, rental car or flight reservations. If you have not already left for your trip, contact your travel companies and cancel all reservations. Some people self-cancel their race and travel plans before the race makes an announcement out of concern for their own ability to safely get to an event.

Sometimes, your race is canceled after you are already on site. Many participants of the 2013 St. Jude Marathon were already in Memphis when the race was canceled due to ice storms. Participants made the best of the situation, and visited local tourist sites instead.

It is not realistic to expect that the race organizer will compensate you for your travel for a canceled event, no more than you would expect a theater to pay for your gas if you traveled out for a show and it was canceled when you got there.

Don't get worked up over something we cannot control or change. Weather can change dramatically from year to year. In 2014, I wore shorts for the Hyannis Half Marathon. This year, I was at home, shoveling snow. When we sign up for a race in advance, we take the very small risk that the race will not go on as planned. I can't control the weather; I can only control how I respond to the event not being held.

Stop saying you trained for nothing. When your race was canceled, you did not magically lose the ability to run 10, 13.1, 20 or 26 miles. You're not the same person today that you were weeks or months ago before you started your training.

While it is very disappointing that your goal event won't take place, it may be possible to sign up or transfer to another event held on a another weekend so you can complete your event. There will always be another race.

Look for alternative races. When the Hyannis Marathon was canceled, two race organizers immediately stepped up and offered discounts to participants. The Shoreline Sharks of Connecticut, organizers of the Savin Rock Half and Full Marathon held in March, offered a discount with proof of registration. Eident Racing, organizers of the Providence Road Races, also extended a discount for their May marathon and half marathon. If you have trained for a specific type of course (such as flat and fast), try to find a similar event.

Don't expect a full refund. Most of the costs involved in producing a race happen long before you go to the start line. Permits are secured. Deposits are made for vendors and suppliers. Print and online advertisements are paid for. The race bibs, shirts, medals and awards are produced.

Also, many races benefit local or regional charities that rely on the donations generated every year. While it is disappointing to have your race canceled, think of the charities that would be severely impacted by the loss of support from the event if a full refund was issued instead.

Give the race directors a chance to send out messages about packet pickup, medals, and other race-related questions. I bet they have been working non-stop, fielding questions from hundreds to even thousands of people, dealing with media interviews and communications, sending out email and website updates, with little to no sleep.

Don't take it out on the volunteers. They have nothing to do with the decision and are just trying to help you.

Do your miles anyway. If you can't find another race, do your own event, whether it's on a treadmill or an unofficial fun run (when road conditions are safe).