Monday April 8th 2019 12:45PM CST
Sitting and typing this email on what is going to be a 70 degree and dry day here in the Twin Cities feels incredibly surreal. But here goes…
The National Weather Service (NWS) is tracking a storm that has the potential of producing heavy snow and blizzard conditions throughout a significant portion of Minnesota this week. The NWS has been careful to note that the exact track of the storm is still uncertain. The NWS is presently unsure of how much precipitation we will get and how much will fall as rain versus snow. The storm is forecast to hit mid to late week, just in advance of the 2019 Zumbro Endurance Run.
We as trail and ultrarunners embrace challenging running conditions and as Minnesotans, we do not usually shy away from challenging driving conditions. However, there are a myriad of unique factors that we must take into consideration when making the decision as to whether or not it is safe to proceed with a large race like the Zumbro Endurance Run in light of potential hazardous conditions. These factors include, but are not limited to: the remote location and environment of where the event takes place, the nature of the minimum-maintenance roads leading into and out of the event site, the restrictions and configuration of available event parking, the impact on emergency response times and how these are all informed by the overall scale of the event – number of runners, crews, pacers, spectators and volunteers.
We are monitoring the weather and will be marking the race course on Wednesday as normal. By mid-week we will provide an update regarding the status of the race and any changes that must be made at that time. We will contact runners and volunteers via email, as well as post updated information on the Zumbro Endurance Run website HERE https://www.zumbroendurancerun.com/news-and-updates/
Please know that we will do our absolute best to have the race. However, we will only do so if it can be done in a way that does not put any runner, pacer, crew, spectator, family member or volunteer at increased risk due to hazardous weather conditions. As always, thank you for your support and understanding.
For those of you that would like additional insight about the factors that inform our decision making process, please read on below my signature.
Race Director & Fellow Trail / Ultrarunner
Zumbro Endurance Run
The following are the reasons / scenarios that could force an alteration or cancellation of the Zumbro Endurance Run. Any single reason listed, or combination thereof, could lead to an alteration or cancellation of the race.
Significant ice, snow and wind creating dangerous driving conditions:
The snowstorm that forced the cancellation of the 2018 edition of the Zumbro 17 mile race was in fact a blizzard; with deep snow, high winds, white-out conditions and glare ice on the roads. There were nearly 900 motor vehicle accidents in Minnesota on that Saturday alone. Should the conditions this year approximate the 2018 conditions during the time-frames in which our participants and volunteers would be traveling to the race, we would have no choice but to cancel. As you approach the Zumbro Bottoms Management Unit, the highly exposed / un-tree-lined state highways turn to county roads; these turn to township roads, which turn to farm / minimum-maintenance roads that have abnormally steep gradients with tight twists and turns. The primary factor in last year’s decision to cancel were blizzard conditions which significantly impaired driving on outstate roads and even more significantly impaired driving on the roads within a couple of miles of the race site. Infact, 4 wheel drive vehicles were unable to get up some of the hills near the race site and countless vehicles ended up in ditches. The roads closest to the race site get plowed last – we have no control over that priority determination.
Significant accumulating snowfall occurring at the race site:
Should we get accumulating snowfall in excess of a few inches, we would have a situation where cars could not park without getting stuck. If they were able to get parked, they would likely be unable to get out. Part of the determining factor here is how much snow falls and how heavy and how wet that snow is. Parking for the race takes place in a very large, open, grass field / campground area as opposed to a parking lot. This area cannot be plowed as this would cause significant turf damage on what is now unfrozen ground. This was one of several factors that forced the cancellation of the 2018 edition of the 17 mile race.
Impacts on emergency response, ability and times:
Significant Winter conditions would limit the ability of local emergency services to get in and out of the area should we have an emergency. Furthermore, any kind of significant Winter conditions on the race course itself would limit our ability to quickly access significant portions of the trails in the event of an emergency and needed extraction of a racer, crew, volunteer or aid station volunteer.
It takes a lot of volunteers to produce an event of this scope / scale (we presently have sufficient volunteers signed up). While it may seem reasonable to let runners travel and run at their own risk, if we do not end up having enough volunteers make it to the race due to weather / conditions, we would not have the staff to safely execute the race. This was a very real issue that we ran into in 2018 since the blizzard did not hit until after the start of the 100 and 50 mile races, and volunteers scheduled for Saturday could not make it in to the area.
Margins for contingencies due to unforeseen conditions:
The above is a list of lessons learned, largely from the 2018 event and informed by our collective experience producing races for quite some time. We also need to take into account, with all our decisions, the possibility of things happening that we did not expect or anticipate and will have to react in real time to any unforeseen conditions that may arise.
With the ability to quickly reach the vast majority of our participants via email, our website and social media, we feel that we can wait until the last possible minute practical, to make any decisions. This gives us the absolute best possible chance of holding the race as scheduled, which is obviously what we all want. As we know, the weather folks can be wrong, and we sure hope that they are this time. We feel that waiting as long as possible to make any final determinations in this instance is especially important since the track of and the net effect of this storm is at this time so uncertain. To be sure, with just a dusting of snow and some rain, the race can proceed – we have had that several times in years past. That said, our experience of having to cancel the 17 mile race in 2018 led us to create and implement this protocol should we ever face a similar situation.
While Zumbro has always been a challenging race for runners to run and for us as organizers to produce, we all did so from 2009 to 2017 without having to navigate these issues. The events of 2018 changed that, and while we hoped that it was a fluke or would only prove to be an issue once a decade, here we are again. Please know that we will do our absolute best to have the race, but will only do so if it can be done in a way that does not put any runner, pacer, crew, spectator, family member or volunteer at risk due to hazardous weather conditions. As always, thank you for your support and understanding.
Race Director & Fellow Trail / Ultrarunner