GO! St. Louis faces possibility of no running events in 2020

GO! St. Louis faces possibility of no running events in 2020




On a warm day for runners, two newcomers win at Go! St. Louis Marathon

Drew Mueller, 24, of Tower Grove, wins the Go! St. Louis Marathon with a time of 2:42.10 in downtown St. Louis on Sunday, April 7, 2019. This was Mueller’s second marathon. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com



Robert Cohen


The need to make late adjustments for events has been common for Mona Vespa in her four years as president at GO! St. Louis, which stages several major annual running events.

The course for the 2019 St. Louis marathon had to be altered a few weeks before the race due to flooding along the Mississippi River. The organization’s Katy Trail relay was endangered by flooding the previous year.

Vespa’s group adjusted each time. But there was nothing that could be done about the COVID-19 outbreak, which led to the cancellation of the St. Louis Marathon in April and other Go! St. Louis races this year.

Marathon weekend is the equivalent of a major sporting event, drawing close to 20,000 people downtown for all races. The dominoes then began to fall as GO! St. Louis canceled its team relay at Southern Illinois Edwardsville, which involves about 1,000 runners, and the All-American 5K with its 2,000 runners.

Two remaining events for this year, which is the 20{sup}th{/sup} for GO! St. Louis, are in danger as well. Like many small businesses, the organization is hoping to avoid a significant financial problem moving forward.

“It’s an interesting challenge when you’re finding a way to re-open,” Vespa said. “Our landscape looks dim for quite a while. That’s the unique challenge.”

GO! St. Louis received a small business loan to help get through the rough period. Vespa has a small staff that gets paid. The entry fees for the marathon and other associated events in April were not refunded because the group already had paid for major expenses, including T-shirts, medals and food for all participants.

Attempting to adapt to the coronavirus era, Vespa created a new event by teaming with Great River Greenways. Runners — or walkers or bikers — can purchase a “passport” and then have it stamped each time they traverse one of the 15 selected trails.

Next, she must determine if it is feasible to move forward with the KT82 trail relay in September. That event has been filled by 200 teams of runners. The Halloween events with about 6,000 participants are highly unlikely.

“I don’t’ feel comfortable trying to organize that and I don’t think the city would want us,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right. So, I can’t foresee that being an option.”

Vespa has to consider the real possibility that GO! St. Louis will not hold any of its regular events this year.

Although hopeful about the Katy Trail relay, the logistics might be too much to overcome. The event covers 82 miles through five municipalities and cuts through several county and state parks. She knows that just getting permits to hold the event will be difficult.

Canceling multiple events is a major financial hit for an organization that isn’t awash in money. Tax documents show that for the most recent four-year period, GO! St. Louis lost about $115,000.

“It is such a misconception that races make money,” Vespa said. “We operate mostly in the red these days because of the cost of putting on races in the city.”

When Vespa announced that refunds would not be offered for the marathon, entrants were given several options. They could run the races on their own and receive a medal. They could use their entry fees toward future events. Or they could donate the money to GO! St. Louis.

Vespa said about 60% accepted the credit for a future event, which will mean less revenue in 2021, and 10 percent donated.

Despite this year’s problems, Vespa is looking ahead to the 2021 marathon with a hope for a return to normalcy.

“Going an entire calendar year with no events is hard for an organization,” she said. “If we want to be around for anther 20 years, we need some help and for the community to get behind us.”

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