What do race directors/organizers owe runners who register for their events? When things fall apart, what sort of accountability should race organizers be expected to assume?So I want to expand on this, and ask: Should race organizers make decisions "for the safety of runners?
Should race organizers make decisions to protect runners from themselves? Let's assume that race directors (RD) are properly prepared with adequate resources for the conditions, should race directors close courses for the health and safety of the runners?
News & Updates
Extreme heat causes Cellcom Green Bay Marathon to Close Course
Sunday, May 20, 2012Due to the extreme heat on Sunday at 9:25 a.m. the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon’s medical director made the decision to shut down the course for the safety of the runners and volunteers. Within ten minutes of this decision all water station and timing personnel were notified of this decision. At 9:35 a.m. the finish line was shut down. Participants who crossed the finish line after that time will not receive official results.
“Our medical resources were being heavily utilized and we reached a point that the safest decision was to shut the race down,” said Dr. Jeremy Metzler, medical director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. “Runner safety is our first priority and we had to make that call for our runners.
When the race was shut down, the marathon implemented its contingency plan and deployed shuttles to all the water stations to pick-up runners on the course.
“Despite the closed course and the urging of public safety, our operations team and volunteers, some runners chose to stay on the course,” said Sean Ryan, race director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. “We would like to thank the community members, medical staff and volunteers who stayed on the course to provide water and support to these runners.”
A total of 3,622 individuals finished the half marathon before the shutdown. Only ten elite marathon finishers received official finisher results based on gun time, not chip time, per USATF guidelines regarding marathon prize money.
There's been lots of discussion on this issue recently. Many runners agree that sometimes RDs have to make decisions that are difficult and close the course for the sake of public safety. Others contend that the course should not be closed, and those who choose to run should be allowed to continue, and if they finish they should receive an official finishing time.
I'm with the second group on this.
First, Let me clearly state that I am not a libertarian (I believe that those who need help should receive help) but I do subscribe to the view (presented by John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty") that we should suffer fools, perhaps not gladly, but allow them to do the things we may deem stupid nonetheless. J.S. Mill argued that each of us should be permitted to do what we wish as long as we do not harm another. May we harm ourselves? Sure. May we suffer the consequence of our unwise decisions? Sure.
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart MillNow this may sound overly "legalistic" and official, but Mill applies it to all aspects of life. The theory basically rests on the belief that each of us are happiest when we are permitted to pursue our own good (interests, desires, dreams, goals) in our own way. We don't want to be told, and made to do, something "for our own good". There are some necessary conditions (for Mill and for me) that must be met: This applies only to mature, rational human beings capable of caring for themselves. This implies that one needs to be able to weigh the risks and benefits of an action and can then rationally determine whether the action is worth it.
Concerning Green Bay, stories are flying around, fast and furious, about runners collapsing from the heat. These stories are used to illustrate why it's obvious that the RD did what he had to do and that we need to be protected from ourselves. But I don't see how the stories themselves illustrate that. Shouldn't we be allowed to take responsibility for our own choices?
One of the problems, as I see it, is cultural: People seem to think that they will always be safe and/or taken care of and therefore there are no risks.
I'll give a couple examples:
Example #1: Many years ago my husband and I spent a couple weeks in Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park. Camp 4 is a rustic 'climber's' camp located near the start of the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls. This hike and trail is fairly long and arduous for the uninitiated. What we saw everyday were families embarking on a day's long hike, sans water, food, clothing for possible weather changes, etc. They took off in flip-flops and tank tops. Every single day that we were there, there was a 'rescue' where Rangers had to go retrieve an unprepared hiker.
Example #2: In Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors love to go see and take pictures of the elk. What you end up seeing are mothers holding their babies standing 15 feet from a huge bull elk for the sake of a picture. People! That's crazy.
So why does this happen? I believe it's because we don't really grasp the risks we face. I like to call it the "Disneyfacation" of recreation and athletic pursuits. We believe that everyone can do anything and if it's an organized event, or a park, or a trail, then it's gotta be safe. We believe everything is 'safe'. It's all just like a trip to Disneyland! Just last night I had a guy laugh at me when I somewhat jokingly pointed out to another climber that he was "gonna die" if he continued doing something (stupid) that he was about to do because he wasn't paying attention. The other climber laughed at my remark, and said 'you can't die in the gym". Ummmm. Yes you CAN!
Our culture has tried to make everything seem safe. But the fact remains that some things are inherently dangerous to some degree because we will never be able to control all the variables in all situations. We are lying to ourselves if we believe that everything is safe. Add to that the fact that people are sometimes stupid and you have a bad situation. Instead of trying to protect ourselves from dangerous situations we should work to instill a degree of respect and understand of what we are getting ourselves into.
In 2009 I ran a very hot marathon and I didn't do it well! Part of the problem rested with the RD's negligence (inadequate fluids, given the conditions, at aid stations). But it was also my fault. I didn't drink enough. I didn't have a clue how much I needed to drink or what to drink. And, I ended up hobbling the last 6 miles, every muscle in my body cramping with every step and breath. But here's the thing: I learned SO much from that experience. I did things right at Boston this year because of the lessons I learned during that horrible marathon. Granted I survived to use the lessons learned, but the fact remains that even in organized events I need to understand that I am responsible for the choices I make.
Many argue that the RDs job is to make sure everyone is safe. Is that the RDs job IF the RD has fulfilled his/her responsibilities? Where does my choice, my liberty, my individual sovereignty come in? Should I be permitted to do something stupid if I decide that , for me, it's worth it? I understand why RDs do it. You want your race to have a positive reputation - with fun and PRs not suffering and death. But that is a different issue then whether it's an RD's job (duty?) to make sure we don't do something stupid.
I'm sure these situations will only continue as more people take on challenges that perhaps they are ill prepared for.
"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." ~ John Stuart Mill