ORGANISERS of the New Forest Marathon have defended the change of date and location after revealing how they had just seven days to find a new home for the popular event or face cancelling it altogether.
It had been due at the New Park showground in Brockenhurst on 13th September but Forestry England ruled it could not go ahead despite extensive planning by organisers Andy Daish and Chris Farr, of Ora Events Ltd, for Covid-19 safety measures.
The full and half marathons, as well as the 10k and 5k races, will now take place over the weekend of 19th and 20th September at St Giles House, Wimborne, a 6,000-acre private estate 10 miles north-west of Ringwood.
However, the decision sparked a storm of complaints on social media with many angry at not being able to claim a refund or defer to next year, particularly those who had booked accommodation and travel.
Mr Daish explained: “We literally had a week to find a new venue. Not only that, having found one we then had what had taken three months with New Forest District Council to get permission from Dorset Council in three days! We are just so grateful that that they did give us the go-ahead.
“It would have been absolutely terrible to have to cancel completely. We are about the only event of this kind who have managed to run it this year.
“So many people were looking forward to taking part it in it and we have had charities literally begging us to find some way for it to go ahead, otherwise they faced losing a huge amount of revenue in a year when they have been hit really hard.”
The venue offers forest tracks which the organisers hope will go some way to replicating running through the New Forest.
However, the change of date and venue angered some runners who had paid £50 to take part in the marathon, with some saying they will no longer be able to join in.
One commented on the New Forest Marathon’s Facebook page: “New date, new venue, it’s not the same event. Would happily defer to next year but even that’s not an option.
“Pleased for you, you have managed to arrange something, but this isn’t really fair on those of us who are unable to make the new date.”
Another runner claimed to have been planning to fly over from Poland to take part, saying: “This information is not good for me. I’m from Poland and I expected to take part in this fantastic event. I can’t rebook my flights. I feel hurt.”
One woman wrote the new date meant she could not attend: “Clearly a lot of work has gone in, but the decision not to offer a refund or at least a deferral is unacceptable.”
But others praised the organisers for managing to put the event on at all. One said: “Thank you very much for all of the hard work that you’ve put in. Very much looking forward to getting onto the start line!”
Mr Daish told the A&T it had been impossible to offer refunds or deferrals, saying: “Normally we have 5,000 runners but this year there is only 2,400, so deferring places is not viable.
“The money from runners who deferred would be used this year and if there are only half the numbers next year again – with half not paying – we would simply not be able to put the marathon on.
“It is the same with refunds. It has always been in our terms and conditions that we do not give refunds after a certain date.
“We have had to pay our suppliers and they will not be giving refunds. Since announcing the new date and venue the response has been well over 90% positive.”
A Facebook page has been set up for people who are unable to attend the event to resell their tickets and anyone who had booked camping will get that refunded. There are also going to be virtual races online which people will be able to take part in.
At the event, a 5k run will be held on the Saturday morning with the full marathon following in the afternoon. On Sunday a 10k run takes place in the morning with a half-marathon in the afternoon.
Among the safety measures are no spectators, a one-way system, and runners setting off in single file to maintain social distancing. A track and trace system will be in place and there will a pre-entry health check. In between races, toilets and drink stations will be cleaned and sterilised.
Andy said: “We feel we have done the best we can in having the date as close to the original one as possible and the venue will give a forest feel to runners. The event industry has been so badly hit this year and the support from the government has been virtually nil.
“So, it is great that we are able to go ahead this year. For us, if it had not happened, we probably would have gone out of business as we would have had no revenue at all this year.”