St. George Marathon director explains reasons behind decision to cancel race

Photo of previous St. George Marathon, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of city of St. George, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Shortly after Tuesday afternoon’s announcement that the St. George Marathon would be canceled this year for the first time in its 43-year history, the event’s top official discussed the reasons behind the decision.

“The city was committed to ride it out in hopes for brighter days,” race director Michelle Graves told St. George News. “We have been working so hard to pull everything together and make a ton of COVID plans. But sometimes when you make so many COVID plans, you kind of strip down the very essence of the great world events that you put on.”

“And so, we were looking at it from what will this look like now without the Japanese contingency, any international athletes and probably not a lot of traveling athletes, at least traveling by plane?” she said, noting that Ibigawa, Japan, the sister city with which St. George shares a longtime cultural partnership, already canceled its own marathon months ago.

However, even with a relative lack of geographically diverse participants, that aspect alone would not have stopped St. George from hosting its race, Graves said.

“We still felt like that wasn’t a determinant, and that we would still host the great community event that we’ve been known for.”

However, the potential risk to volunteers and shuttle bus drivers was a major consideration, she added, along with concerns expressed by local hospital officials and health care providers.

Race director Michelle Graves near the finish line, St. George Marathon, St. George, Utah, Oct. 5, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“It really just wasn’t one thing. It was many obstacles,” Graves said, adding that any one of the issues could have probably been overcome if considered singly, but collectively, the challenges and risks involved were simply too great.

“We just started to ask ourselves, ‘Is this in the best interest of the community?’” she said. “Really, we had trouble saying, ‘Yes it is,’ and that doesn’t discount the fact that we know the tourism impact that it has.”

“It just felt too risky,” she said.

The canceled race, which would’ve been Graves second as race director, had already reached its projected cap of 4,500 registrants, she noted.

“Anyone that secured a spot will have that spot for next year,” Graves said, adding that any runners that choose not to defer their registration to next year will be entitled to a full refund.

Since the announcement first went public at noon Tuesday, Graves said she was encouraged by how well people have been taking the news.

“I’m really impressed at the amount of positive feedback we’ve received on social media. They’re being gracious and understanding, even those business owners and those that will be hurt the most.”

“No matter what your beliefs are around this pandemic, we just erred on the side of safety and love, and I just don’t think there’s much that can be disputed with a decision like that,” she added. “We’re all we’re all hurting. I mean, yes, we feel for athletes. They’ve not just trained for our race. They’ve trained for lots of races this year and have continued to be disappointed. But, I’m impressed. They’re taking it really well.”

“We are a city-run event and our primary concern is the safety of our citizens,” Graves added. “Whether they agree or not, someone had to make the call. That’s the call we made as a city. I feel like we should err on the side of caution and always do what’s best for the citizens that we serve.”

Graves said she’s already looking forward to what she hopes will be a successful St. George Marathon next October.

Jonathan Kotter crosses the finish line in first place overall, St. George Marathon, St. George, Utah, Oct. 5, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“If there’s a sunny side, we’ve put in a lot of time and planning already, which will put us ahead for next year to be even more organized and better ready, you know, for whatever that new normal will be.”

Another bright side is the ability to use virtually all race supplies and materials next year, she noted.

“During our budget year, we were encouraged not to put the year on anything, just in case, as a precaution,” Graves said. “So everything that we have purchased, we will be able to use for next year, which is a real blessing.”

The Ibigawa contingent is also committed to renewing the cities’ cultural partnership activities next year and beyond, she said.

Graves said the COVID-19 shutdown happened shortly after local schoolchildren had already submitted their essays applying for the marathon’s popular student exchange program. 

“We took those essays, and the mayor read every one of them,” she said. “We wound up giving all the kids that applied a marathon gift bag, and then the winners got $50 gift cards.”

For more information about the marathon and its cancellation, visit its official webpage, where instead of counting down to Oct. 3, 2020, the page’s countdown clock now is ticking away the seconds until next year’s race, some 13 months and 20 days from now, on Oct. 2, 2021.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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