March/April 2020 Issue 429

The Latest in Road Running for Race Directors and Industry Professionals


Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and 5K Run-Walk:
Inside a Large Race Cancellation

Timeline of Events and Deliberations of Race Organizers Grappling with the Decision to Cancel

By Rob Wolfe

What follows is an inside look at timelines for both the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the Credit Union Cherry Blossom's (CUCB) deliberations over the virus’ impact on the event leading up to the decision to cancel on March 13. World events are shown in italics and blue font; CUCB events in medium font.

As background, Cherry Blossom, Inc. (CBI) is a 501(c)(3) corporation that owns and stages the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and 5K Run-Walk. The event conducts a lottery in December to fill its fields of 16,000 in the 10 mile and 2,000 in the 5K Run-Walk. Approximately 28,000 apply for spots through the lottery. The entry fees are $48 for the 10 mile and $38 for the 5K Run-Walk. Individuals who volunteer for the race receive a guaranteed entry (which is transferrable) into the following year's race in exchange for volunteering. The stated race policies are no refunds and no deferrals after a one-month transfer period during February. The 2020 race date was April 5, 2020.


DEC. 31 - Chinese authorities treated dozens of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause.

JAN. 11 - China reports its first death.

JAN. 20 - Other countries, including the United States, confirm cases.

JAN. 23 - Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million, is cut off by Chinese authorities.

JAN. 30 - The W.H.O. declares a global health emergency. U.S. State Department warns travelers to avoid China.

JAN. 31 - The Trump administration restricts travel from China
                213 people had died and nearly 9,800 had been infected worldwide.

FEB. 2 - The first coronavirus death is reported outside China.

FEB. 5 - A cruise ship in Japan quarantines thousands.

FEB. 7 - A Chinese doctor who tried to raise the alarm died.

FEB. 10 - The death toll in China surpasses the number SARS killed worldwide. The death toll in China rises to 908, and confirmed cases of infection in the country rise to 40,171.

FEB. 13 - There are more than 14,000 new cases in Hubei Province.

FEB. 14 - France announces the first coronavirus death in Europe.

FEB. 21 - A secretive church is linked to an outbreak in South Korea.

FEB. 21 - The virus appears in Iran from an unknown source.

FEB. 23 - Italy sees major surge in coronavirus cases and officials lock down towns.

FEB. 24 – U.S. has 35 confirmed cases and no deaths.

FEB. 26 - Latin America reports its first coronavirus case: Brazil - brought into the country by an individual who had been in Italy.

FEB. 28 - The number of infections in Europe spikes.

FEB. 28 - Sub-Saharan Africa records its first infection: Nigeria - from Italy.

FEB. 29 - The United States records its first coronavirus death and announces travel restrictions.

MARCH 3 - U.S. officials approve widespread coronavirus testing.

Friday March 6 - COVID planning meeting for CBI Executive Committee on Zoom – discussion about possible ramifications for race and what to do now. Creation of statement for website and social media; Treasurer Rob Wolfe creates preliminary spreadsheet for anticipating financial effect.

Saturday, March 7 - CUCB places COVID statement on website and on Facebook that the race will go ahead as scheduled, although organizers are monitoring the situation - replies are generally positive - most want the race to take place as scheduled.

Click Here for the text of the COVID-19 Statement posted to let participants know that at this point, plans are for the race to proceed as scheduled

Monday, March 9

  • Event Director Phil Stewart receives phone call from one large group supplying over 85 volunteers telling him that the group will not allow its volunteers to participate in the race. The call prompts internal discussion about the potential impact on volunteers, who, it is generally felt, have less of an incentive to show up on race day than the runners, even though they receive guaranteed entries into the following year's race. Plus, it is possible that additional organizations supplying groups of volunteers may not want to take the risk of sanctioning the volunteer activity. A decision is made to poll the key race officials to determine the minimum number of volunteers that would be needed to safely and effectively stage the race.

  • Some calls and emails start to come in from registrants wishing to know about CUCB policy on refunds/transfers.

  • The Volunteer Coordinator emails full committee asking them to analyze and estimate the minimum number of volunteers needed for each station.

  • Full Organizing Committee meeting at Headquarters Hotel - Although the official stance is the race is still on, there is lengthy discussion about coronavirus and planning an event with modifications. General sense of committee is optimistic that the event will go on as planned. Much of conversation is what to do if there is a lack of volunteers.

Tuesday, March 10

  • Treasurer Rob Wolfe reviews known contracts to create spreadsheet with possible financial impact on race if canceled.

  • Event Director Phil Stewart sets up a Zoom meeting on next step in CUCB COVID response - the topic is whether to create a deferment policy. Under normal circumstances, deferrals are not allowed.

  • NYRR cancels the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - (the event, which features a lottery, offers a lottery exemption into the 2021 race with payment of the 2021 entry fee, or a full refund of the 2020 entry fee).

Wednesday, March 11

  • At a Zoom meeting, the Executive Committee creates a deferment policy.

  • Washington, D.C. declares State of Emergency through March 31.   

Thursday, March 12

  • NBA, NHL, Conference basketball tourneys all postponed/canceled; followed by MLB and NCAA and then all NCAA winter and Spring Championships; many colleges announce online learning for rest of semester.

  • Word gets out that Boston will be postponed - no formal BAA communication yet.

  • 3:47pm - CUCB email is sent to all participants that we remain optimistic that the race would go on as planned; however runners are now able to defer their participation in CUCB to 2021 with no refund and will pay the 2021 entry fee; others could stay the course and run the race. At this point, the Executive Committee's thinking is that as long as we are planning on holding the race that the issue of entry fee refunds is moot. Facebook replies are vocal and mixed - many think we should just go ahead and cancel and offer refunds; some think there should be a deferment option for both the entry and the entry fee. A few want us to stay the course. A majority of the posts are from individuals dissatisfied with this announcement because we do not discuss a refund policy.

Click Here for the text of the Email sent out detailing how to opt to defer race participation to 2021

  • Zoom meeting at 6pm - Executive Board members accept that the race must be canceled. Key factors include: Federal and local warnings about the dangers posed by this virus and concern for the health of our participants, and also influenced by the fact that events being held on dates later than ours in April, most notably the Boston Marathon on April 20, are now cancelling or postponing; this decision was followed by serious discussions of what runners’ options would be in the wake of the cancellation and the wording of the cancellation announcement.

MARCH 11 - U.S. President blocks most visitors from Continental Europe.

MARCH 13 - U.S. President declares a national emergency.

Friday Afternoon, March 13

  • National Building Museum, site of the CUCB Health & Fitness expo and packet pick-up, announces closure for the rest of March and April.

  • Drafts of the cancellation letter circulated.

  • CBI President emails the rest of the Board of Directors about cancellation decision.

  • Committee members are notified of cancellation.

  • Director and Deputy Director contact vendors to inform of cancellation penalties.

  • Event Director emails the two headquarters hotels to cancel based on force majeure clause in contract, and also sends hard copy letter to hotels.

Saturday, March 14

  • 8:00 am – CBI Executive Committee Zoom meeting on financial ramifications of canceling. Budget spreadsheet is adjusted for optimistic and pessimistic forecasts on income/expenses.

  • 9:38 am - As Executive Committee meeting is in session, an email is released to all participants that 2020 CUCB has been canceled. Text of the email is also posted on the race website, race app, and social media. [Note: participants who had opted to defer their race participation to 2021 based on the email of Thursday, March 12, were asked to start from scratch and fill out the new form offering the three options - defer, refund or charitable donation. All of the previous deferral requests were deemed invalid.] 

Click Here for the text of the Cancellation Email that was sent out to all participants on Saturday, March 14, 2020

Monday, March 16

  • Headquarters hotel agrees to let CBI out of the contract based on force majeure clause.

  • Discussion of Virtual Run options begins.

  • Notification of sponsors, vendors, expo exhibitors and other key stakeholders begins. (Expo exhibitors will receive full refunds.)

  • Programming to allow for three refund options for race participants begins by online registration provider

Thursday, March 19

  • Blast email offering three options for deferrals or refunds goes out.

  • Plans for Virtual Race finalized.

Friday, March 20

  • Blast email to participants announcing free virtual run goes out. Text of the email is also posted on the race website, race app, and social media.

Click Here for the text of the Virtual Run email that was sent out to all participants on Friday, March 20, 2020

Still to Be Done at Press Time

  • Blast email to participants regarding the mail-out of t-shirts and medals - participants will be given the choice of having items mailed to them for $6.00 or pick them up at soon to be disclosed locations in the Washington, D.C. area for free once social distancing restrictions are lifted.

  • Results of Virtual Run to be posted on website and social media after the Virtual Run period ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, April 5 (the original race date).

Rob Wolfe is the Treasurer of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run & 5K Run-Walk.


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