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Runners stranded by delay of marathon; Lack of notice, refunds touch off complaints

Darin Johnson paid $75 to register, $180 for air fare and used vacation time to clear his schedule.

All this, for the Rapid Running Buffalo Half-Marathon, which was scheduled for next Saturday in Orchard Park.

But on Thursday -- nine days before the race -- Rapid Running announced the half-marathon would be postponed and rescheduled.

The reason: too many people registered for the race and no way of handling them.

Now, Johnson and other runners who registered for the race, which featured a finish at the 50-yard line of Ralph Wilson Stadium, are left wondering whether their money will be refunded and if they signed up for a real event or a scam.

"The whole thing is pretty frustrating," said Johnson, a New York City resident originally from Springville. "I can't take back the vacation time" -- or air fare, which he would have had to cancel 14 days in advance.

So Johnson, 32, is still making the trip home -- but without participating in the race with a group of friends.

"The interest in this inaugural race has far exceeded our expectations," Rapid Running President David Mason said in a news release sent Thursday to those who registered. "Although the need to reschedule this event is unfortunate, our registration numbers are astonishing, and this will allow those numbers to grow even more."

The release also said event coordinators are anticipating a running of the half-marathon in the fall.

Later Friday, Manson said there would be no refunds, that participants' fees could be applied to a rescheduled race or another event sponsored by Rapid Running.

But there are a few problems with Rapid Running's reasoning, several who registered for the race said when contacted Friday.

They said the event was poorly managed and registration could have been cut off. And if there was a problem with over-registration, Rapid Running officials should have known long before Thursday -- nine days away from race day.

They also suggested holding the race in the fall could pose a conflict with the Bills season under way and the finish line in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I would be absolutely shocked if they run the race," Johnson said. "There's no way I'll be able to in the fall."

The Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission, a subsidiary of Visit Buffalo Niagara, said in a statement Friday that it was "deeply disappointed" that the half-marathon had been postponed. "In the interest of maintaining our community's stellar reputation for hosting amateur athletic events, we have strongly urged Rapid Running President Dave Mason to refund or otherwise compensate registrants," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Visit Buffalo Niagara president and CEO. "We regret any inconvenience and disappointment the postponement has caused."

Derek Johnson, 34, who is Darin Johnson's older brother, spent $91.99 to register for the event online and plans to dispute the charge because he paid with a credit card.

He said he suspects the half-marathon did not get enough sponsors and is need of money. In the news release sent to participants, Rapid Running asked anyone interested in signing on as a sponsor to send an email.

And for Rapid Running to say the race is postponed because of over-registration is "absolutely a lie," said Derek, of Springville.

New York City resident Kim Barnashuk, 26, paid $75 to register for the race in January. The Orchard Park native then booked a $100 flight two months ago and took vacation time three months ago.

She said she was planning on running with a group of about 20 people and even had costumes for the race.