Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, July 27, 2014
Copyright, Madeline Bost, 2014
Summer races are at risk when the weather turns bad
On July 15th the Party with Purpose in Hoboken was cancelled due to lightning. In 2013 just over 1,400 people finished the race so we know there were a lot of disappointed people that night.
On that same day further west, the Morris County Strider summer series race at Johanson Field in Boonton Township delayed the start while the same storm was waited out. Only a light rain was falling at 7:15 pm when the starter’s horn went off. All seemed well until around 7:25 when a lightning bolt was seen off in the distance.
Operating by the book the race would have been stopped. But what would have been the point? The racers were scattered all along the course. Stopping the runners would not have made them any safer. As it turned out, no other lightning was seen and the racers finished without incident.
Mark Zenobia of On Your Mark Productions has, by his count, produced over eight hundred events, ranging from races to walks, etc. and he says that of those he has had only four cancelled due to weather.
The Downtown Westfield 5K, also known as the pizza run, came close this past Wednesday. It was hot, and it was miserably humid with a forecast of lightning and thunder storms on the way.
“We were blessed beyond belief,” said Zenobia. “My first goal is to get the set up done, for any race. Westfield is huge. It takes us four hours. The second step is to get the race started on time.”
The next goal is to have all the runners safely back. By 8:05 p.m. the last runner crossed the finish line. No rain had fallen.
Pizza had been distributed so that went well. The only thing left was the awards. The sky was darkening and it was clear that they were running out of luck. A staff member went through the crowds of runners urging parents with baby carriages to begin to move toward their cars. With such a huge throng it was no easy task to move at all.
Looking at the sky, Zenobia said that he tried to zip through the awards ceremony and get it done before the skies opened up.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to do this with a name and a town and your place. Come up and get yours.”
Zenobia made it through the 25 to 29 age division when the lightning and thunder struck.
“We’re done. We’ll get your awards to you,” Zenobia told them, as everyone fled the scene.
At the Lawyers for Kids race two weeks ago in Morris Township there was no lightning, although there was plenty of rain that swamped the site. The race went on. Later someone opined that the race should have been rescheduled. Zenobia explains why that is impossible.
“Are you nuts? Reschedule it?” he asks rhetorically. “Are you going to give me the money to repay all the expense I pre-pay? Get a new date and make sure it’s convenient for everybody?”
In the case of Lawyers for Kids they had a lot of people who didn’t show because of the rain. They didn’t have a huge post, but more than you would have thought, according to Zenobia.
For Downtown Westfield he estimates that there were 250 no-shows. It is a pre-entry only race so there is no post entry. In 2013 2,433 finished the race and last week 2,255, so the numbers were down but not by even two hundred.
In 2008 the Westfield race was cancelled due to lightning, with a twist. Lightning had taken out the power in another part of town. Intersections had no traffic lights. Police officers that were at the race had to get to the intersections to direct traffic.
“That was a disaster,” said Zenobia. “They had to peel off eight of their guys to go somewhere else, for the general population.”
The race would have been cancelled anyway. Once lighting is in an area, an event is required to wait 30 minutes. If lightning strikes again the clock begins a new 30 minute countdown. With sunset occurring a little sooner each day, the wait pushes a race beyond what is reasonable to have everyone finish before dark. Such are the hazards of summer races. Mother Nature has the last say.
A calendar of USATF sanctioned events can be found at www.usatfnj.org or at www.raceforum.com for running and tri and biathlon events.
Contact Madeline Bost at email@example.com.