Over 4,000 runners lined up in front of the Sheffield Half Marathon start line on a drizzly Sunday morning on 6 April.
Moments later, amidst confusion and miscommunication, the annual race was cancelled. Many runners were left standing at the start site; many others, either unaware of the cancellation or determined to run despite it, took off anyway. Bystanders and spectators began passing out water, paid out of their own pocket, to these runners, even as police began setting up roadblocks.
Runners and spectators quickly took to Twitter to share what was going on:
@jimwaterson: In Sheffield: half marathon cancelled due to lack of water, rebel runners run anyway, police try roadblocks, public buy water for runners.
@EmilyWheeler1: Rebel runners do Sheffield half marathon with water given out by public. Go Sheffy!
@dannysavage: That’s Sheffield folk for you. Buying/handing out water themselves to half marathon runners after race was officially cancelled at last min.
The first official word from Sheffield Half Marathon organisers was that there was a problem with the delivery of water.
On 7 April, Water Direct, the Half Marathon suppliers for the past two years, released a statement:
“We are devastated that this event had to be cancelled and are investigating and liaising closely with the organisers to establish exactly what led to this outcome…As a gesture of goodwill Water Direct shall be offering a free water supply service to next year’s Sheffield Half Marathon.”
On the same day, organisers announced that the Half Marathon would not be refunding runners the £24-£26 entry fee. “The rules say there are no refunds and, as people will appreciate, the infrastructure we had to put in place we still have to pay for,” said Margaret Lilley, chairwoman of Sheffield Marathon.
The move angered participants. One runner told BBC Radio Sheffield that the decision was “pretty disgusting.” Another runner told Sheffield local newspaper The Star: “I will never do the Sheffield Half Marathon again – they don’t deserve my money.”
By 8 April, whatever congenial dialogue organisers and Water Direct once enjoyed had disappeared.
“After amending their requirements a number of times [Sheffield Half Marathon] did indeed place an order on 21 March accepting our offer, the terms of which, as always, clearly state that full payment is required in advance of deliver,” read a statement from Water Direct. “It is that payment that confirms the contract and triggers our process of scheduling the assets for delivery.
“In the absence of that payment, despite our reminding them of the need to pay, the scheduling did not occur.”
A spokesperson from the Sheffield Half Marathon organising committee released a statement in reply:
“We refute the comments made by Water Direct. The information they have provided at this stage conflicts with the information provided to the Sheffield Half Marathon organising committee.”
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Posted on 9/4/14