After a challenging day on Saturday for our General Smallwood International race, we made the decision to cancel the next day's Sprint. I did not have time to send a lengthier email announcing the cancellation and my priority was to get the word out as quickly as possible. Now that the weekend is over, I would like to offer a more comprehensive explanation behind our decision...I think that you, as our athletes, deserve that.
First of all, anyone that thinks that cancelling a race is an easy decision or one made in haste, does not fully grasp the time and effort that go into planning and coordinating an event. And you're not expected to understand it; your job is to train, get your packets, see if you like the t-shirt design, have a great race, and then share stories with your friends over pizza or a chicken wrap about the tough current in the swim, or the leg-burning climb on the bike. Our job as race production staff is to take care of all the details that allow you to hopefully have a positive experience during the event. For all that we put into getting the race ready, the last thing we want to do is cancel it. Plus, we are all triathletes ourselves, and we love to race as much as you do, and can certainly relate to the frustrations associated with having your race cancelled. I am well aware of the impact on well-planned race schedules, on driving to packet pick up the day prior before finding out the race was cancelled, on all the prep and training and time committed to getting ready - I respect your feelings of frustration and disappointment.
We did not cancel our Sprint simply because of the heat alone, but due to a number of related factors that we experienced during Sat's race. The heat, of course, was unrelenting and many records were broken on Sat: 105 deg was the highest temp since 1930 (and the heat index was closer to 110 deg); tied the record of 3 consecutive days of 100+ deg temps (that record was broken the next day); earliest time of day to reach 100 deg, when 101 was recorded at 11:35am. It was also deadly, and 9 people died in Maryland alone. A number of our triathletes began to go down with heat-related issues - several had to be transported to the hospital, one via helicopter, and several more were treated and released. One of our volunteers went down near the finish area, and we had others that were close to doing the
same. We had phenomenal medical and emergency support from the 10th District Volunteer Fire Dept and Charles County Emergency Services, as well as others, but due to the number of incidents occurring almost simultaneously, it was clear that most, if not all, of the county's emergency response assets were involved in our race. All of this response was being tracked by the State's emergency services and management agency, and there was understandable concern about what was happening at Smallwood State Park. Throughout the morning, I was in constant consultation with Charles County Dept of Emergency Services, who were on-site, and they were in contact with State officials. At approximately 11:00am, I made the decision to close the run course and not allow any more athletes out of the transition area. Then we began discussing the Sprint the next day.
My three options were to allow the race to go on as advertised, to cancel it altogether, or to adjust the start time and distances. I opted for an 8:30am start, with a 350m swim, 16 mile bike and a 1.5 mile run completely inside the park. But after further discussion with Charles County officials, it was clear that State officials had strong concerns about having another similar event the day after such an extremely difficult race on Sat, and so we made the decision to cancel the race. As the Race Director, I'm responsible for not only the athletes' safety, but also my staff (who had already worked two 12+ hour days in the heat), our volunteers (many of whom were teenagers and had been at the race site since before the athletes) and must also take into account the toll taken on the emergency responders and Charles County Sheriff's Office that had been on duty all day. To ask all of those same individuals to return early the next day for what turned out to be another 100 deg day would have been irresponsible. Do I think we could have had a fun, successful Super Sprint on Sunday? Absolutely. Do I think the perspective and input from county and State officials was valid? Absolutely. Do I think we made the right call and given the benefit of Monday morning hindsight, would I make the same decision? Absolutely.
At the end of the day, what we're talking about is a sprint triathlon. Cancelling it produced some inconveniences, at most. Had we not cancelled it and something terrible had happened, all of those inconveniences would be inconsequential footnotes to a regretful decision to hold a race at all costs. I said earlier that cancelling a race is the last thing we want to do. It's actually second to last...the last thing we want to do is lose anyone on our team - athletes, staff, volunteers, support personnel - because we didn't make a good call using sound judgment.
If you were registered for the Smallwood Sprint, we would like to transfer your registration to our Waterman's Sprint, also at Smallwood State Park, on Oct 14. If you have scheduling conflicts or other issues that prevent you from competing in the Waterman's Sprint, we understand. Simply respond to this email, and we will do our best to accommodate you.
We appreciate your understanding, and look forward to seeing you at another MTS event.
Race Director, Maryland Triathlon Series