By this time anyone who was remotely associated with the inaugural 2013 New Jersey Liberty Run Marathon knows that this was Operation FUBAR, if there ever was one. The NJLR Marathon was supposed to raise money for various different charities helping the military and their family. Dave English is a former US Marine and he is the organizer/race director.
When Ben and I heard about this event in April, we were a bit dubious about it for a few reasons.
- It was the first time that English was organizing this type of massive event (marathon, half, 5K, Expo, and post-race festival). He has no prior road race organization. English was part of a US Marine run from North Carolina to Liberty State Park 25 years ago, but there’s a massive difference between organizing a more casual event among colleagues and several races for several hundred people.
- The fees were a bit steep for a local race, especially for the 5K. Fee is $120 for marathon, $95 for half marathon, and $60 for the 5K. We read that above market fees for the races are so that the extra money can be donated to various charities.
- We had some idea of the difficulties that English was having because he had contacted Ben’s friend, Ilya, for some advice. Originally Ben and I thought that English wanted Ilya’s opinion as a racer’s perspective (what are the sort of things that makes a race a good one for runners), but we quickly realized that English appeared to have little idea of how to organize a race and needed Ilya to provide him with advice. Ilya has ran several races, but never organized one. Being a participant and being an organizer are two totally different things (I should know because I’ve raced and organized events). Wouldn’t it have made more sense to ask a race director who has experience in doing these things?
We stood by and watched this whole mess at first slowly and then rapidly devolve. For the sake of the runners, I had hoped that somehow at these the races (no matter how horribly organized) would happen. After receiving word of the cancelled marathon and half marathon and then the Runner’s World article about the cancellation, we wondered what exactly was going on. Was the Liberty Run Foundation a scam? Did English intend to deceive and to defraud runners? Or was he haplessly naive about the logistics of hosting such a large event and was in over his head?
I’m trying to piece together a timeline of what happened. My sources are the 2013 New Jersey Liberty Run Marathon and Fleet Week Festival Facebook page, NJ Liberty Run Marathon webpage, and various emails from different people. This timeline may change as I might get additional info from some other people.
ETA: June 1, 2013, more events added
Feb 5, 2012 Liberty Run Foundation creates a Facebook page (2013 New Jersey Liberty Run Marathon and Fleet Week Festival)
Dec 5, 2012 Ilya finds out about the NJ Liberty Run marathon and contacts Dave English.
Dec 12, 2012 Ilya, Jitu, and Dave English meet to discuss routes, permits, and advertisements.
Jan 3, 2013 Another meeting with the race organizers. No more information on permits and routes.
April 2013 Ben and I hear about the New Jersey Liberty Run Foundation.
April 12, 2013 Someone inquires how many people were registered. Liberty Run Foundation declines to give exact numbers because of emergency protocol. I’m not sure how giving exact numbers is going to cause problems.
April 15, 2013 Liberty Run Foundation posts half marathon course route.
April 17, 2013 Though some sleuthing on Active.com, Ben figures out that the marathon has 111 participants. The half marathon has 188 participants. The 5K has 11 participants.
May 1, 2013 Ilya sends an email to English asking for more information about routes, permits, number of runners, expo, and pacers.
May 13, 2013 English denies that the marathon and half marathon are cancelled.
English responds to Ilya’s May 1st email and gives no hint that the race will be canceled the next day.
May 14, 2013 (a day after the denial) A long rambling and incoherent message that the marathon and half marathon are cancelled is sent out.Succinctly, the marathon and half marathon are cancelled, but the 5K, Friday Expo, and post-race festival on Saturday will still go on at Liberty State Park. The Liberty Run Organization blames Jersey City and ongoing construction for the cancellation. They don’t intend to refund the runners’ their money unless the runners email and ask for it. They make it sound like the runners are bad people for asking for a refund because the money is supposed to go to charity.
English also notifies pacers from MarathonPacing.com that their services will not be needed.
At this point there is about 500 registrants for the marathon and half marathon.
The original message from the website is below (this is the last time that the website is updated. All other updates from here on out are from the Facebook page):
The 2013 NJ Liberty Run Festival has been notified by Jersey City that due the recent scheduling demands of construction along the marathon/half marathon route, they are postponing their support for the marathon and half marathon races. One of four cities, and Liberty State Park, involved in this Hudson County wide event, Jersey City shares a sizable portion of the route logistics and security. The cities of Hoboken, Bayonne and Weehawken have all expressed and provided support but understanding that any route alterations would have to be safe and within the spectrum of the distance for both races, options became very limited and Jersey City’s decision to postpone became ultimately the right thing to do.
The postponement of the marathon and half marathon, albeit not an easy choice to be made by Jersey City, isn’t bad news, but more importantly a reflection of the onward progress the community is making in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and a clear focus on public safety. Making adjustments, since the biggest storm to hit New Jersey in recorded history, has been a way of life for both residence and businesses alike and returning to normal operations has been an ongoing struggle. Once it was clear that a major portion of the route would have to be shut down due to scheduled construction, Jersey City felt that with limited time and limited route options, it would be in the best interest of public safety that they postpone their support for the marathon and half marathon.
While we realize that each of the participants has made a tremendous commitment, the
Primary Goal of the 2013 NJ Liberty Run Marathon Festival is to ensure a safe and fun event for the entire community while providing support for the rebuilding effort and that plan hasn’t changed. To honor the struggles of the Hudson County Communities, our list of beneficiaries and the overwhelming support of the runners and the New Jersey community, the event schedule will continue.
The event has been moved into Liberty State Park and will follow the same event format with the Expo on Friday (5/24) and the Saturday (5/25) post-race festival with vendors, music a food. Liberty State Park will host the Liberty Lightning 5K and with the festival already scheduled to be in the park, it will be a fun time for everyone.
For the runners who registered for the marathon and half marathon, we want to ensure that you will have your race. With respect to the upcoming marathons on the calendar, we don’t want to create a conflict with any of those races or their worthy causes so we want to offer our runners a couple of options. First of all, in lue of a refund, all registered runners who signed up for the 2013 marathon and half marathon will be pre-registered for the 2014 NJ Liberty Run Marathon that will be hosted by Hoboken next May. The route will be back to its original pre-hurricane Sandy format, taking our runners through the four scenic cities along the Hudson River and Liberty State Park. This option also includes running this year’s 5K and enjoying all of the festival activities as well. It will be
a great show of support to a community that has worked hard getting things back to normal. For those runners wanting a refund, it is stated on the registration that there would be no refunds only because of the funds were going to the community, but if you wish to take those funds back, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will work out a plan to do so.
Thank you for your support and come and enjoy the festival with the very people you have helped
The Liberty Run Foundation
May 19, 2013 City, Race Dispute Liberty Run Marathon Cancellation publishes in Runner’s World.
Summary: English blamed Jersey City’s construction along the course route as the reason for the construction. Jersey City denies this and states that construction was not an issue, instead it was English’s incomplete permit application. On April 1st, Liberty Run submitted an incomplete permit application. Jersey City gave them a grace period to complete it by May 3rd. May 7th, Liberty Run decided to cancel the marathon and half marathon, but English still spent a few more days trying to see if the situation could be rectified. Finally on May 14th, a notice that the marathon and half marathon are cancelled went out.
Other problems with Liberty Run Foundation. It advertises as a as a registered 501(c)3, a federal tax-exempt-organization designation, but it does not actually have that designation from the IRS. Liberty Run Foundation is not registered in New Jersey’s Charities Registration Section, which is required by state law. In addition all registered charities must raise over $10,000.
Although the Liberty Run Marathon lists several organization that would benefit from funds raised from the races, most of organizations were not aware that they would be benefiting. Only one group, Friends of Liberty State Park, had any contact with Liberty Run Marathon. They received $92.
Although the race is cancelled, you can, however, still register for the marathon and half marathon on Active.com.
May 21, 2013 Tuesday Liberty Run Foundation assures runners that the 5K will still happen on Saturday.
May 22, 2013 Wednesday Registrations for marathon and half marathon on Active.com are now finally closed. In this email, it appears as if English did try to close the registration sooner, but it took over a week to actually solve the matter. Really?
The Jonzes, one of the bands, for the festival was notified that the concert was likely going to be canceled (I got this info from The Jonzes via email). On May 25th, I emailed both The Jonzes and Pawnshop Majestic for this information. Pawnshop Majestic declined to respond via email. They offered to talk by phone. Because I got a message from The Jonzes, I decided that I didn’t need to talk Pawnshop Majestic.
May 23, 2013 Thursday The Jonzes got official word that the concert was cancelled.
Ilya advices English to cancel all events.
May 24, 2013 Friday Liberty Run Foundation announces the 5K will still happen on FB. No word on the cancelled Expo or the post-race festival on FB. Honestly it’s as if they had never planned on having them at all because they completely omit any info about the expo and post-race festival, which were supposed to be a big part of the fundraising efforts for Liberty Run Foundation.
May 25, 2013 Saturday Ben goes to Liberty State Park to see what’s going on. He arrives just after 8:30 and reports that were only about a handful of people there and a several state troopers. It’s clear that there’s no race going on. English shows up to hand out a few shirts and medals and tells everyone to go home. Ben’s informed by
one of the troopers a race official that there’s no race because no permit had been filed.
We speculate that since the original 5K was supposed to be on city streets and was then later moved to Liberty State Park, English thought he could somehow have the race in the park because it’s public space. Shouldn’t he have known that he would have needed a permit? He would have needed to file a permit for the post-race festival. Did he even file a permit for the post-race festival?
From the beginning the organization was a fiasco. At best, English is a well-meaning, but naive, man who took on a herculean task of organizing a massive event with no prior experience and too few support. He was overwhelmed and compounded on his mistakes by 1) continuing to over optimistically hope that somehow everything would all work out in the last minute and 2) not communicating information to the registered runners as soon as he had the information. Indeed if you look on the FB page, one of the predominant complaints on the page is the lack of communication and information from Liberty Run Foundation and English. At worst, English intended to commit a scam. Because of the lack of communication (no one has been able to successfully reach him), it’s easy to see why runners are crying foul and scam.
English has badly destroyed the trust of the running community in Jersey City. Ilya feels badly betrayed by English. Ilya has given English quite a bit of his time in terms of answering emails and giving advice both over the phone and in person meetings. Even if English does somehow manage to host this event in 2014, it’s hard to see how anyone associated with this year’s event will want to register.
For Part II, please read The Deceit of Dave English & The Folly of the NJ Liberty Marathon.