Races have entry requirements for a reason, especially the longer or gnarlier ones. The criteria are not always black and white. At the most extreme end, the RDs can find themselves in the difficult position of being the gatekeeper of people’s dreams. How should they balance the responsibility of safety against the more discretionary role of facilitating people’s goals?
A few days ago I found myself locked in a battle with myself: to type or not to type? It was almost physically challenging for me to refrain from dashing off one of a number of responses that sprang to mind when I read a Facebook post in a popular trail-running group attacking one of Melbourne’s most respected race directors.
The post angered me for a number of reasons. Firstly, the plaintif had failed to meet a minimum standard that is actually quite clearly stated on the website of the race in question – I just checked it out myself, and there are specific races you can finish within cutoff, or the even more accessible general qualification of finishing a marathon under 4h30 (barely a weekend goes by when a marathon doesn’t happen somewhere – just show up and run it!).
If for some reason you can’t meet one of the quals, there is then also a provision for submitting some other evidence you believe should qualify you, that is obviously going to be more subjective and would require specific consideration by the RD. Ironically, this extra effort on the part of the RD – and it IS extra effort, as they would need to do some investigation into the specific activity being claimed to understand it’s profile and technicality – is probably what has opened them up to this criticism, when they could have just left the entry criteria as black and white and firmly closed the door on any special consideration.
Now, the prospective entrant was clearly quite inexperienced, so they can be forgiven somewhat for lack of context, but the crux of their post was that they had then finished another, completely different race on completely different terrain and were triumphally holding this up as evidence that the RD who excluded them was somehow in error!
The reason I was so affronted by this attack was the complete lack of perspective. For one, the race they were trying to get into wasn’t particularly remote or requiring any special support – if they were that set on doing it, the runner could arguably show up on any weekend and run it themselves with a pack and a bladder of water.
Secondly, if they wanted to get in that badly, as hinted above, they could have turned up to a Sri Chimnoy marathon in the months beforehand and run a sub-4h30.
Thirdly, to get in to the race next year, having missed out this time, it was a fairly simple matter of obtaining one of a number of highly achievable qualifications in the meantime – hardly the end of the world.
The reason this is touching such a nerve with me right now is that I’m currently awaiting the verdict on this year’s campaign to get into an event that is arguably the pinnacle of ultramarathon racing in Australia. This is interstate and not something I could show up and do on my own, as I would need special permits.
This race doesn’t have a nice, black and white set of entry criteria, where I can enter a specified race, finish within cutoff, and then just pay my entry fee. There IS a set of minimum criteria advised, but with the field limited to fifty runners, there is then a very grey set of considerations applied above and beyond that, to determine who will be invited to run. These considerations include priority for previous entrants, implying that, regressively, it is harder each year for new runners to enter.
Last year I applied, having met the minimum criteria but knowing that I had done so in a very marginal fashion, so I knew it was an extreme longshot and was unsurprised when I was rejected. Helpfully, the feedback from the race organisers suggested using harder races as qualifiers in the future, which helped me plan this year.
This year I was fortunate enough to finish the very tough hundred-miler recommended by the race organisers, and indeed to finish it in a pretty good time. In addition to this, my secondary qualifying races could also be considered fairly respectable. Had I tried to enter the race three or four years ago with these qualifications, it’s almost certain I’d have been a shoo-in (based on what I know of qualifying races run by some of the entrants in those years).
However, on balance I know the odds still favour a rejection over an invitation to race. Anecdotally, I’ve heard applications are up even higher this year, and I’m aware of a number of runners who’ve previously finished, or attempted it, who have declared their intent to return. Also, although I offered to crew for a fellow Victorian runner last year, I was not required and so cannot claim the bonus consideration of having supported the race in the past.
But I’m not going to attack the organisers when I get rejected. For one thing, they are not running a public service and have every right to use their discretion on who should run. Although I’m also a race director, I can’t claim to know what it’s like for them, as my own race is both less constrained, in terms of number of runners, and happens to be a much easier course with a very generous cutoff, so rarely am I in the position of considering a rejection, but I certainly know what the weight of responsibility feels like when you’re the one in charge of one of these events.
The added aggravation of disgruntled wannabes, such as myself, attacking them on social media is exactly the type of cumulative hassle that probably makes the race director question each year if they’re going to continue holding the event in the future (I don’t know if they do, I’m just speculating based on my own experience).
The last thing I want is for people to stop putting on awesome running races in Australia.