PRESS RELEASE 3/20/20
2020 ZUMBRO ENDURANCE RUN CANCELLATION DUE TO THE COVID-19 (NOVEL CORONAVIRUS) PANDEMIC AND STATUS UPDATE REGARDING ALL OTHER ROCKSTEADY RUNNING RACES; SUPERIOR SPRING TRAIL RACE, AFTON TRAIL RUN, ENDLESS SUMMER TRAIL RUN SERIES AND SUPERIOR FALL TRAIL RACE. WRITTEN BY RACE DIRECTOR JOHN STORKAMP
As is customary with many of the communications that I put out, the following communication is very comprehensive and quite long. It likely breaks many of the rules of “effective messaging” but this is the only way I know how to do it, so bear with me. This communication will take you at least 10 minutes to read and I ask that you all do so – if now is not a good time, set it aside until you have the time, but please read it.
The 2020 Zumbro Endurance Run has been canceled. For this I feel so incredibly sorry. For those Zumbro entrants that were also affected by either, or both, the 2018 and 2019 Zumbro blizzard(s), I feel even worse. Even though I had absolutely no choice but to come to this decision and get this communication out – it has been really really hard to hit send.
At this time all other Rocksteady Running events including the Superior Spring Trail Race, Afton Trail Run, Endless Summer Trail Run Series and Superior Fall Trail Race are still scheduled and we are continuing to make preparations for those events. That said, given the current information available, we believe it is also possible that we may be required to cancel the Superior Spring Trail Race (May 16) and the first edition of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series, the Lebanon 10K (May 20) as well. We hope that it does not come to this. We also hope that come Summer we will be in the clear to proceed with our remaining events as normal or at least with social distancing and hygiene modifications, but it is way too early to make any accurate predictions about any of this. Until further notice, we have suspended registration for the Endless Summer Trail Run Series and the Afton Trail Run – registration for both the Superior Spring and Fall Trail Races is closed as registration was held via lottery for these two events in January.
Please read on for specific information regarding the cancellation of the Zumbro Endurance Run keeping in mind that very similar protocol will be implemented should any of our other races be cancelled.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 (Novel Coronoavirus) as a pandemic. On the morning of March 13, we released a statement putting participants and volunteers on notice that Zumbro was subject to cancellation, and that we were continuing to monitor the situation. Later that day / on the afternoon of March 13, the state of Minnesota declared a state of emergency and issued guidance to limit gatherings in Minnesota to fewer than 250 people. On March 15, the National Centers for Disease Control issued guidance to limit gatherings to fewer than 50 people for the next 8 weeks. On March 16, the White House issued guidance that for the next 15 days (taking us to about April 1), all events of 10 people or more should be cancelled or held virtually. All the while, local, regional, national and worldwide businesses, organizations and institutions have been closing shop, canceling events, postponing classes etc. – many by mandate, some electively. As you can see from this timeline, the rapidly evolving nature of this global health crisis has required us to monitor events in real time and make big decisions in short order. While the initial guidance lacked specificity, we felt comfortable taking a wait and see approach. Now that specific recommendations and mandates have been made by the state and federal government, and the implications of this crisis become more evident on a day by day basis, the only option available to us, not to mention the only socially responsible decision, is to cancel the Zumbro Endurance Run.
In accordance with our registration policy, the Zumbro Endurance Run will not be rescheduled for a later date, and we will not be issuing refunds, deferrals, or credit to future events. Rescheduling and / or issuing refunds, deferrals or credit would be both logistically prohibitive and financially punitive, if not devastating to our organization. There are early season, upfront and non-refundable costs associated with all of our events as well as a baseline cost of operation / overhead. We have always maintained an explicit no refund policy in order to ensure the future viability of the races and ultimately our organization in the event of cancellation – regardless of the reason. Races operate on very thin margins and there simply is no “war chest”.
In the coming weeks we will be taking the following actions:
1.) We will use registration funds to pay remaining bills for this year’s race, cover overhead and ensure the long term viability of Zumbro in order to safeguard it in hopes that it can continue to be run in the future. A lot of good has come from our events, and there is a lot of tradition here, going as far back as the early 1990’s for some of our races. It is our position that these races are worth investing in, fighting for and saving.
2.) We will mail all registered runners their t-shirts. You will find that the artwork this year is a depiction of beauty, hope, joy and positivity – something that we will all need an abundance of in the coming weeks and months. In lieu of Zumbro, we encourage you to go out and do an epic / fun run on your own somewhere and use your favorite social media channels to share the experience with your friends, family and fellow runners.
3.) We will make a financial donation to the Zumbro Bottoms Management Unit or to organizations that work within the unit or for specific initiatives that will benefit the unit. This crisis will certainly have long-term downstream impacts on funding of our trail / natural resources as county, state and federal dollars are diverted to fight the pandemic.
4.) As / when social distancing guidelines allow, we will still perform trail work / tree clearing in the Zumbro Bottoms Management Unit as a gesture of goodwill towards our partners at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the equestrian / horseback riding community who make the greatest use of this area throughout the year.
5.) After all other costs are accounted for, should any funds still remain, we will make a donation to local hospital, health or medical organizations and / or local food-shelf and / or non-profit organizations providing relief to those directly affected by the pandemic – whichever would create the most benefit for the citizens who live near Zumbro Bottoms Management Unit. Again, the long-term downstream effects on individuals and families will be great due to either the illness itself or due to the downturn of the economy.
I understand and appreciate that the forfeiture of your individual entry fee is not without financial impact. Additionally, as trail / ultrarunners ourselves, we can empathize with the disappointment of not being able to participate in a race that you have trained so hard for. Rocksteady Running’s mission is to “provide experiences that facilitate connection”. As such, our priority is to ensure the long-term viability, sustainability and ability to hold our races going forward in order to continue to fulfill this mission in the years and decades to come. This means keeping Rocksteady Running and the trail-systems and public lands where our races are held viable and whole. We thank you for your individual sacrifice to the greater good, our trail running community and our trail partners. If the reality of the no refund policy that you agreed to when signing up for Superior is ultimately a “bridge too far” for you, we encourage you to use this experience to help inform and guide your race registration decisions in the future. We will continue to communicate clearly, operate transparently and for our own protection and dignity, keep clear and unambiguous boundaries. Personally, I am signed up for four trail / ultra races this year and one big-city marathon. One race already canceled with no refunds, and I simply left them a note of support, encouragement and appreciation on their Facebook page. I want that race to be there next year so I can run it again as it is one of my favorite events. Should any of the other races I am signed up for attempt to proceed during a time (where based on guidance from the scientific community and government) it is not appropriate to do so, I will choose not to attend. Should any of these races attempt to refund my money, I will politely decline or donate it back to them. Why? Because I already spent this money and I want to see the events and community I love, around for years to come. I would hate to see any of my fellow race organizations / directors carry more than their fair share of the burden as ultimately they are providing a service for our community of runners.
ALL OF THAT SAID… Our refund policy never considered or imagined a global health pandemic where we would need to cancel multiple events in a single year – some well in advance of the event date. This has only reaffirmed the cold, hard reality of the absolute necessity of our no refund policy – without it, the races would cease to exist, Rocksteady would go out of “business”, and personally we would go bankrupt. Please know that it is very difficult for us to have to stick with these policies knowing that everyone is being touched by this crisis in some way. Having to talk about money during these times is not fun. Serving and providing a positive experience for people is in our DNA – it is at the absolute core of what we do – you don’t direct races otherwise. If you are under financial duress due to the loss of a job or reduction in hours we strongly urge you to file for unemployment benefits if you are eligible, if you are in the USA, please stay informed regarding the one-time cash payout of $1200 per person. Finally, stay apprised of any additional support available to you from Federal and State governments. If you are still struggling, or for some reason you are not eligible for the assistance, we want to help. For anyone that is hurting and in need, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheri and I will write you a check for 25% of your entry fee (less the portion that our registration provider UltraSignup keeps), and we will stick it in an envelope and mail it to you. If funds allow, we will also be extending this to any other cancellations this year. We realize that this is not a lot of money, but also realize that any little bit may help right now. Additionally, if you are food insecure, we have lots of pre-purchased race food here we could send you (until it is gone); soup, peanut butter, jelly, etc. We can only do a limited number of these, but we will do our absolute best to help any of you that are in need. Please only take advantage of this if you are truly in need. If you don’t need it, please let others that are in need take advantage of it.
Please keep in mind that year in and year out; we cover the race expenses, cover overhead, pay two “employees” (Cheri and I) for the time we put in during race season, and then hold on to enough for startup capital for the following year. We repeat that cycle every year. We really hope to be able to hold the races next year and in the years to come, but we are already on track to start 2021 in the red – if we go too far into the red, the races are in jeopardy of not happening. Finally, please know that all races are different, some may be able to do more than us and some less – each race and each organization is different in how they are structured, which informs how they are able to respond during this crisis – so please take it easy on the race organizations and directors of the races that you love running. I have never met anyone that directed races for the wrong reasons, the only reason you do this is because you love running and you love serving people. If you would like to learn more about the nuts and bolts of all of this, please see the FAQ at the very end of this / below my signature.
Time to land this plane…
In looking into the origins of the phrase, “Desperate times call for desperate measures” both Hippocrates and Erasmus have similar mottos. Hippocrates seems to have understood long before our current societal solution of social-distancing that “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable”. Erasmus stated: “Malo nodo malus quaerendus cuneus: A tough and harsh knot, is not to be attempted to be cut by a fine tool; it can only be overcome by the application of a strong wedge. Great difficulties or diseases are not ordinarily subdued, but by powerful remedies, which may not be applied, perhaps, without some degree of danger.”
As we have all witnessed, there is an abundance of both good information and misinformation out there and it is not always easy to decipher one from the other. Organizationally, we believe in science and place the findings and guidance of the scientific community along with the guidance from local, state and federal government first. Our thoughts and prayers are for the health and safety of our frontline medical professionals and of course with our most vulnerable citizens who are ultimately composed of our family, friends, neighbors and fellow runners. May we each show love, compassion and grace to our fellow human beings both during these extremely difficult times and always.
Race Director – Rocksteady Running /
Zumbro, Superior(S), Afton, Superior(F), ESTRS
You can reach me at: email@example.com
If you would like to, you can learn more about Rocksteady Running below. Additionally we have provided a FAQ with some additional information.
Sources for reliable and trustworthy COVID-19 information:
World Health Organization https://www.who.int/
National Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/
Minnesota Department of Health https://www.health.state.mn.us/
University of Minnesota http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19
About Rocksteady Running:
Even though we have pretty good sized events, we feel incredibly fortunate to know the vast majority of our participants, and we are blessed to call so many of you friends. Some of these trail / ultrarunning friendships that we have made are closing in on two decades! For those that do not know us, we thought that during this worldwide health crisis (COVID-19) it would be a good time to introduce ourselves and give you a little bit of background about us.
Rocksteady Running was formed on January 1, 2012 by myself (John Storkmp) and my wife Cheri Storkamp as a way to pull together several of Minnesota’s existing / legacy trail and ultrarunning races; including the Zumbro Endurance Run (founded 2009), Superior Spring Trail Race (founded 2003), Afton Trail Run (founded 1994), Superior Fall Trail Race (founded 1991) and the Endless Summer Trail Run Series (founded 2012). We do not do this alone, we are supported by several trusted advisors, many what I would call “full-time volunteers” and an army of race-weekend volunteers throughout the year – Rocksteady Running is truly a community effort.
I started running marathons in 1996 at the age of 16. In 2003, I started training for my first ultra and in 2004 completed my first ultra, I have since gone on to run 125 races at the marathon distance and beyond – the point is, that I, like you, love to run. I started volunteering at trail and ultra races shortly after I started running them and in 2008 took over as the race director of the Afton Trail Run from a close friend of mine. Afton State Park, more or less in my backyard and a park that I have been visiting since I was a kid. I took on this commitment while raising my daughter Emma with my wife Cheri, as I pursued a demanding career in commercial construction project management. Within a few years of taking over that first race, ultrarunning entered a period of exceptional growth. With this growth came increased expectations; not just from runners, but from the permitting agencies, local communities, the insurance companies, and so on. This in turn required increased time, attention, responsibility and expertise on the part of race directors and race organizations. Folks like me, who had demanding full time careers, were raising families, doing our own running and racing, were on overload trying to direct a single event and the burnout rate was high. Several of my mentors who had been directing the races I was volunteering at were a year or two beyond ready to give up their directorship to focus on their careers, families and quite frankly restore their sanity. We tried to find directors for several races, but pickings were slim for the exact reasons the current directors were wanting to get out. Cheri and I decided to take a leap of faith, but this would require me leaving a good paying career with vacation, bonuses and benefits in order to have enough time during race season to commit to the events while still maintaining some modicum of sanity. We turned our lives upside down, moved out of our home and in with my parents, I started working as a freelance graphic and web designer and within a year had started directing all of the races that we do today. Cheri was more or less the sole breadwinner for us, we lived off of her income, we completely exhausted our retirement and savings. We often wondered what the hell we were doing – believe me, there were many “dark nights of the soul”! These were stressful times, but it was rewarding. As a former project manager, working on large and complex projects, I was well suited for organizing races. We got to work with so many extraordinary volunteers, and met and hosted so many great runners from all over the world. More young and diverse people started coming into the sport. We increased our philanthropic giving and rolled up our sleeves, doing a lot of work on the trails where we raced, and beyond. Our local trail and ultra community continued to grow and flourish in really wonderful ways.
Fast forward… we eventually got back on our feet, moved back into our home; we had been renting it out in order to scrape by. Races as business is basically not a thing, there are a few exceptions to that rule around the country, but very few. And while we do receive compensation for the time that we put in during race season, race directing is not our full time gig. In all honesty, having done so much volunteering in the trail / ultra world previously, it actually took me a few years to be OK with this, to value myself and my time enough to say, “this is OK” and to not put myself last. Self-esteem can be a funny thing, but as I have aged I have (mostly) gotten a handle on it! I continue to do graphic and web design, and I work other odd jobs as well – Cheri does contracting work as an accountant as needed. Having come from the (actual) business world, it is not lost on me that the “business model” of races is so terribly flawed, it is almost laughable when viewed under that lens. But the paradox is that this is what saves it, it takes buy-in from everyone, this is where the magic lies, it is what you feel when you come, it is why people want to be a part of it, it’s why we want to be a part of it. Among race organizers, volunteers, or runners in the trail / ultrarunning community, it is rare to find anyone here for the wrong reasons – it is all just too hard to do with superficial intent. There are no superficial rewards. Whether it is directing, volunteering or running – it takes dedication and it takes pain. The struggle is real, but it is a labor of love for Cheri and I because it is a beacon of authenticity in a world filled with so many false prophets and idols. Even though it is a labor of love, we still hold ourselves to the absolute highest standards and always strive to conduct ourselves professionally and operate transparently. At the same time we are under no illusion, we know that at some point, before we get too much older (I am 40, Cheri 46) we will have to set what we love free and hand the reins of these races over to someone else so we can finish out our careers somewhere, build up some savings and hopefully retire some day – once we do so, maybe we can direct a little race again – it gets in your blood.
In the meantime and until that day, through good times and bad, we continue to pour our hearts and our souls into this. When it is bad, it is a stark and sometimes scary reminder of all of the personal risk that we take on to do this, but when it is good, it is the grandest of projects. We love doing this with our friends and family. We are only able to do this because of the grace that others continually show us; our family, our friends, our volunteers and our runners. There are countless people that sacrifice so much, give so much of their time to make this all possible – we are not the only ones who have sacrificed, and anytime we think about giving up, we think of these people. Like our mission statement imparts, we are here to “create experiences that facilitate connection”, and while we have to put those in-person connections on hold for a little while right now, we will all connect again when the time is appropriate. We thank you all for your continued support. Finally, on a personal level, aside from running and racing, we extend the invitation to all of our runners and volunteers – if there is something that Cheri and I can do to help you and your family during these extraordinary times, please reach out, we are here for you, just as you have been there for us.
Why does Rocksteady Running have a no refund, no discount and no deferral policy?
Rocksteady Running has a no refund policy for race registrations. This policy is published in several places on our race websites. Runners are required to review and agree to this policy before they are able to complete registration. This policy applies when a runner is personally no longer able to attend a scheduled race and it also applies when a race has to be canceled. If a runner is not comfortable with this policy, they can always forgo registering and are free to seek out other races with different policies. Examples of reasons that we may need to cancel a race include, but are not limited to; safety concerns, trail condition concerns or natural disaster – in the current case, the reason is a world-wide pandemic. We have seen the argument (elsewhere / not directed at us) that races should abandon this policy given the unique and unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19. Antithetical to this argument, unique and unforeseen circumstances are the exact reasons that we have a no refund policy in the first place. The current situation only reaffirms the need for it. When a race is canceled it means that something has gone very wrong, but even so, we still need to be able to cover event specific costs, overhead, race director compensation and still have enough funding left over at the end of the year for startup for the following year. Without this policy we would not be able to continue hosting races in the future. Rocksteady Running produces nine races a year. Several of these races are large, complex, and require an incredible amount of full-time effort to organize. These races involve specific costs such as permits, venues, insurance, promotion, rental trucks, medical services, tenting, toilets, sanitation, aid station food and supplies, t-shirts, medals, timing services, bib numbers, timing chips, volunteer lodging, post-race meals / parties, other vendors, philanthropic initiatives and more. We do save on some of these costs if an event is cancelled early enough but many things are designed, contracted, ordered, created, produced and purchased well in advance of an event. There is also a significant ongoing baseline cost of operation which in business terms is called overhead that we are responsible for paying every month. Some of these overhead items include warehouse / equipment storage, work space, offsite storage, office space, business insurance, health insurance, taxes, legal and accounting fees, websites, vehicle expenses, office supplies and equipment, race equipment upkeep, new equipment, philanthropic initiatives and more. RSR compensates Race Directors John and Cheri for nearly a full year’s worth of hours that are packed into an 8 month period (they take on other unrelated work for the balance of the year). When an unexpected event causes the cancellation of a race, RSR loses sponsorship dollars, tourism grants, and vendor participation and sponsorship. Furthermore, we lose the opportunity to sell merchandise. These things account for a significant portion of Rocksteady’s income. Race registration fees alone do not cover all of our race / operational costs – we rely on the aforementioned income sources in order to operate. We have always tried to offer the most accessible experience possible to the community – as such, we have always maintained entry fees as low as possible in relation to our costs. Note that I say “as low as possible in relation to our costs”. We are not trying to say, for instance, that $95 for a 50K is not a lot of money. That is a lot of money to us, and we know it is to many of you as well. So, in determining the registration fees, we cover overhead, then event specific costs, and try to have just enough left over for the following year for startup. If an unexpected event causes us to cancel a race, a refund simply does not work because we have already lost revenue and our costs do not stop; bills for the cost of operation are due every month and there is always the next race coming up that needs to be paid for. These same dynamics that dictate our no refund policy also apply to deferrals and discounts. If we defer or discount everyone for next year, there would be no new, or greatly reduced, revenue to cover next year’s expenses.
Why does Rocksteady Running have a no reschedule policy?
Rocksteady Running produces nine races each year. Each race takes months of pre-planning. Each race is coordinated with local, county, state and federal agencies in addition to lodging partners, suppliers, contractors, vendors and more. For each race, we consider the best and most appropriate time of the year for that race to be held while balancing other uses of the area / resource, such as other forms of recreation, other events, hunting, logging etc. Heck, one of our event dates is dictated by when the turtle nesting season is! Operationally, within the Rocksteady Running calendar there are no opportunities to reschedule a race as our events span Spring to Fall, taking place every few weeks. Additionally, there are only two employees to execute the pre-planning of each event. Furthermore, there are a significant number of other trail / ultra events in our region throughout the year, and we do not want to double up dates and potentially hurt another race by siphoning off their participants. Besides, many of our runners and volunteers like to run these other races as well. Finally, our races would not be possible without an army of volunteers at each race. Our volunteers do so much for us. We have to be very careful to not overtax our volunteer pool. And many of our volunteers volunteer at other races, and the current Minnesota race calendar is very full.
Why can some races / organizations offer full refunds / rollovers to next year or discounts while others cannot?
Each race organization is different. Some races are one-off races organized by one or several individuals. Oftentime, these organizers have outside work / full time employment not associated with their race. These races are oftentimes not as complicated / involved and often have very little overhead outside of race-specific costs. (That is actually how we started and operated for many years: with one race and working outside, full-time jobs. We did this until the races and the demands of those races grew to the point where we couldn’t manage them along with our full-time careers without one or the other suffering.) In this scenario, where the organizer has a non-race income source, all of the hours to plan and execute the race are donated by the individuals (this is super good of them!), and essentially the events are subsidised by their “free labor” and their full-time employment. Even a simple race can require upwards of 20 hours a week of a race director’s time starting months out from a race. And within weeks of and just after a race, those numbers can jump upwards of 40 hours a week. Most of the races we direct were done like this at one point or another. One of the downsides of this is that these race directors carry a very heavy load and are subject to burnout – their personal relationships, families and jobs can suffer as a result. Another reason some organizations may be able to offer full refunds, deferrals or discounts is that they may have a larger organization with more income, may have higher entry fees, other significant income sources that subsidize their events, have major title sponsors that pay for a large portion of the event, or are willing to go into debt and put themselves and their organization at risk. And with the above, some organizations do have residual profit left at the end of the year to create a warchest. Also, some organizations have less overhead than others and some do not offer as many amenities at their race. Regardless of the way an organization decides to structure itself and manage its affairs, it is our belief that it is an organization’s prerogative to operate however they see fit as long as they communicate their policies upfront and clearly. In this way, participants can make an informed decision when deciding which races they choose to register for and run.
Why aren’t you offering a virtual race option:
While we have several great platforms available to us to deploy and manage virtual races, due to the nature of COVID-19, we do not feel comfortable facilitating a virtual race at this time. While we do encourage folks to get out and get enough socially-distanced running / exercise each day to lift their spirits and stay healthy, we personally feel that virtual races (especially in the ultra world) encourage runners to be out for longer-than-necessary periods of time, increasing likelihood of exposure to others, and if running ultra-distances, compromising their own immune systems. As we all know, running marathons and ultras is not bad for you, but most folks end up fatigued and compromised after an ultra effort. If ever there was a time for a pause on racing and pushing ourselves in this way, we believe now is that time.