BBB: Be cautious when signing up for 'fun runs'

If you’re a runner, you can find some sort of endurance event to challenge yourself with nearly every weekend.

And the long lists of “fun runs” seem to be getting quirkier. Mud runs. Color runs. Electric runs. Foam fests.

Plenty of these races are popular events that sell out and leave runners exhausted but happy.

But the Better Business Bureau is warning athletes to be cautious of some of these races. Local BBB offices all over the country have reported they’re receiving complaints about fun runs that have been canceled just days before the event, with no refunds given.

In Focus | Is mud run company into ‘dirty’ business?  Friday at 6.

Jody Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, said there’s been a shift in who’s sponsoring such events.

Charities used to be the ones to promote events such as 5Ks and other races, Thomas said. Over the last few years, that’s become less common.

“These events that have been marketed by for-profit promoters are fairly new. Obviously people are liking the foam fests, the color funs,” Thomas said. “And these for-profit companies are obviously really great at marketing.”

But people who sign up for them need to remember to ask questions and read the fine print. Many times, the BBB says, promoters will say they don’t offer refunds, but consumers don’t read the disclaimer.

Kelly Dees, the director of events for Baltimore’s Charm City Run, said runners of all types of races need to pay attention to that. Too many times, they just check the box, she said.

Dees said many times, things such as security and food and drink for race participants have already been purchased for events canceled at the last minute.

In her 10 years with Charm City Run, only two races have been canceled, she said. One was due to snow, another because of a hurricane.

“That was for the safety of our participants,” Dees said.

Lee Corrigan, the president of Elkridge-based Corrigan Sports, began putting on running and other athletic events in 2000. The company produces 50 events a year, including the Baltimore Running Festival in October, and conducts post-race surveys with participants to troubleshoot any problems.

He’s not surprised by the growing popularity of so-called fun runs.

“It gives people the unique challenge they’re looking for,” Corrigan said. “It’s a bit of a twist on the traditional road race.”

As a long time race organizer, Corrigan can see where some new race organizations may have great intentions, but find themselves in over their heads.

“If you grow too fast—there are operational things you cannot anticipate,” he said, ticking off things like finish line logistics, number of volunteers and enough water for runners.   

“Some of these mom-and-pop organizations—it’s just mom and pop,” Corrigan said.

That’s not to say that smaller or lesser known race organizations can’t put on a great event for competitors, he said. Runners just need to make sure they research the company that’s sponsoring the run and make sure they have a good track record and a solid medical plan in place for health emergencies.  

The BBB offers other tips, including:

  • Check out the park or other venue where the event is being held to confirm that it’s actually scheduled.
  • Pay with a credit card—charges made on a credit card can be disputed after a purchase, unlike debit cards or cash.
  • After completing the online registration process, you should receive a confirmation receipt. Print out and keep a copy of the confirmation and any supporting documentation for future reference.
  • Most fun runs are for-profit, but if the promoters claim a portion of the proceeds will go to charity, check it out on to make sure your donation is going to a reputable charity. Be wary of names that sound similar to more well-known charities.

Most legitimate organizers of fun runs are

upfront about how much of the proceeds are actually going to charity, Thomas said.