High Country Running: Curing the Imogene blues

High Country Running: Curing the Imogene blues

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There were many disappointed runners the first week of June, or at least it seemed so to me. With the Imogene Pass Run’s online registration filling up in less than an hour, those who didn’t make their 5 a.m. Arizona time wake-up call on

June 1 ensured that they wouldn’t be hearing cowbells at 13,114 feet until 2015.

To be sure, Imogene will still benefit from the annual Flagstaff exodus in 2014. Our 212 registered runners easily eclipsed Boulder (135) and Durango (117) for most entrants at the 41st annual race on Sept. 6.

But still, there was plenty of grumbling about the missed opportunity. Most audible were questions about why Imogene doesn’t accept transfers when every year there are plenty of registrants unable to make the trip who could have given their bib to someone who was. One need look no further than all the DNS (Did Not Start) names each year on the Imogene website results to realize how many no-shows there are.

I admit that I could say this column is personal. I was one of those who slept in and was shocked that I was on the outside looking in when 7:30 rolled around.

I didn’t have AM/PM confusion on my alarm, or low volume, or any of the most common alarm mishaps. I didn’t even have Kramer’s hot tub blowing out all the fuses in the apartment building, which doomed Jerry Seinfeld’s elite runner roommate Jean Paul in the New York City Marathon episode. I simply got home late from being out of town and couldn’t answer the wake-up bell.

But I’m not upset. Online registrations are brutal, but fair. Talk to race directors who devote countless hours, often for no compensation, and you appreciate why there are caps on registrants and why transfer requests are as welcome as a stress fracture.

The Imogene Board of Directors has maintained a no-refund, no-rain check policy for years, but adopted the no-transfer policy just last year. In tandem with the new policy, Imogene increased the number of entries offered from 1400 to 1540 — the 140 difference being the number of transfers that Imogene handled in 2012, according to race director John Jett.

The number of runners who start Imogene is incredibly consistent, between 1200 and 1250 annually.

Jett explained a great deal in a recent email:

“We are not limited on numbers, and our cap is self-imposed by what can be handled by our venues and on hill support. This is to provide the best experience for our runners. We typically see a 20 percent (very consistent with our historical statistics) no-show, and if we had all registered runners actually show up we would lower our registration offering to fit our desired number of actual participants. Price would also increase.”

No one can argue with the safety issue. And realizing that Imogene is going to get the number of runners it can handle whether it undertakes the terribly inefficient administrative process of handling transfers, you can easily see there’s no upside for a race director. Plus, everyone would have to pay more because the cap on entries would be lower than it is now.

Jett also rightly pointed out that the registration information was all posted well in advance in various formats.

Our own Neil Weintraub is the busiest volunteer race director and helper you will ever find. For years, he has taken on responsibility for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon in August and Soulstice in October during his busy field and fire season as a National Forest Service archaeologist. In 2013, when he got furloughed during the government shutdown, he had the chance to consider the time he spent on transfer requests with Soulstice. He contacted Jett and decided to follow suit.

“I never had time to think about it,” he said.

He said he received no complaints and far less hassle.

“Maybe people realize I do this on my own time,” Weintraub added.

If there is a bright side, this year is as good as any to miss Imogene. Among many long-race options this year for racing and volunteering are the Flagstaff Marathon, the second annual Stagecoach Ultra, the first Arizona Trail Association North Rim Half Marathon, the Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life Run and the Flagstaff Endurance Runs that will serve as the Skyrunner Series Championship Final this year.

One running friend who didn’t get into Imogene said she still plans to go to the race. She already had a place in Telluride, Colo., rented, and it will be a good chance to volunteer and see bloodied runners at the finish line for herself.

Now that’s finding a silver lining.

Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. Send him your Imogene story or suggestions for how to make races more participant-friendly at myless@hkusa.com.

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