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 am fully aware and appreciate that the forfeiture of your individual entry fee is not without impact to your personal finances. 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 Zumbro 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, unambiguous boundaries. These are really tough times, and we all have to be ready for tough love, tough decisions and to make and accept tough sacrifices – running related sacrifices being just the tip of the iceberg in this new reality. Personally I am signed up for four trail / ultra races this year and one big-city marathon. Should any of these races 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 not be attending. Should any of these races attempt to refund my money, I will refuse it or donate it back to them, and if that is not possible, I will donate to a relief organization. I already spent this money, I will eat Ramen for a week if I really have to, I want to see the events and community I love around for years to come and would hate to see any of my fellow race directors carry more than their fair share of the burden as ultimately they are providing a service for our community of runners.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
– If you would like to, you can learn more about Rocksteady Running below
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 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 the work. 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”. 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, 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 material 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. 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.