This Is What Happens When Runners Can’t Make a Race

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Some races allow runners to defer their entry for the following year when they can't make it. This Is What Happens When Runners Can’t Make a Race

We train for weeks, getting both the body and mind pumped for an upcoming race. No runner —no matter what their fitness or experience level is—registers for a race to not commit and show up race morning. But sometimes life happens. So what exactly happens when a runner can’t make a race?

Signing up for a race is a simple process. Runners often search for local running events, races happening while they are traveling, or hear about them from word of mouth. After visiting the race website all that is needed from the runner is their information (like name and age), and for them to enter in credit card info and the runner secured their place at the starting line. Some races even have race day registration. What is less known is what the process is like when the runner can’t participate that day.

When to Sit It Out

Whether its an illness, injury, emergency or some other life event, there are many reasons why runner can’t make a pre-registered race. One of the most common reasons is not feeling well the morning of race day. Make sure that this just isn’t pre-race jitters. Always follow the “neck” rule when incomes to sitting a race out when feeling under the weather. The means if symptoms are below the neck, such as bronchitis, body aches or stomach issues, then rest is required. Head colds, stuffy or runny noses are okay to run with. This means a common cold isn’t a reason to sit the event out. Nor is being nervous. Don’t worry, you got this!

But if the runner really isn’t feeling well, it’s best not to put on a brave face. Know when it’s right to sit it out.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

And speaking of being under the weather, rain isn’t reason enough to cancel a race. As long as it’s not lightening with severe winds, the show still goes on. That means training in all weather conditions to be prepared. In the event that weather causes the race to be cancelled, race organizers email runners of the cancellation. This might include information about a rescheduled date or to look out for that info in the near future. Other times there is no option to reschedule the race. Just keep in mind that cancelling a race is rare, and most are rain or shine. This applies to extreme conditions only.

One of the major reasons to sit out a race is because of injury. Soreness is expected while training and after long runs, but a sharp pain that lasts more than 72 hours is a sign that something is wrong. Consult a doctor and sit the race out if advised to.

Stiffness and heaviness are signs of inflammation that is severe enough to potentially cause an injury. Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, stress fractures, shin, and ITBS are all injuries to sit out on. It’s never a good idea to push through the injury. This could make it worse and mean more time on the sidelines.

Other medical emergencies or other life emergencies call for skipping the race. Sometimes other things are more important than competing such as a family party that comes up after registering.

How To “Cancel” The Race

What the runner shouldn’t do is nothing when they can’t make a race. For major races, consult the event website (usually under the FAQ section) to see what the cancellation policy is. Contact the race organizers via phone or email to inquire about what to do.


Most races are non-refundable in the event that the runner can’t attend. However, some so allow the runner to transfer their bib to someone else to run in your place. While some events do transfers for free, some major city marathon and half marathons do it for a fee (of about $30).

To transfer, the runner needs to contact the event organizer by email. The registrant must include the runner’s info like name, phone number, and address, as well as the new registrant’s info. The new registrant is then sent an email with a code for them to then register.

Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

The runner might be disappointed when they cannot perform—especially when it comes to possibly lose out on the money they shelled out to participate. But besides the financial aspect, runners sign up for specific races for a reason. This includes the race location, cause, medal, etc. Some races have a deferment option that lets the runner compete next year.

This allows them not to miss out on the event, but postpone it to the following year. This is ideal for those nursing injuries.

To defer the race, the runner must contact the race organizer by the specific defer date allowed (listed on the event website if deferment is allowed). There is sometimes a fee (about $30) to defer.

Just keep in mind once deferred for the following year, the runner can’t defer yet again for the year after that.


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