I have watched the cost of race events rise for the nearly 40 years that I've been a runner and have raced. My personal perspective is that the investment into these mega-cost, mega-run events has outpaced (running humor… outpaced) the return we runners get.
I love talking about the good old days of running and racing. I recall a road trip several years ago where one member of our relay team was fresh out of college, while most of us were over the age of 40.
The conversation went like this:
“I recall when there was only one flavor of Gatorade.” “I recall when women’s running shoes didn’t exist.” “I remember training in cotton sweat pants.” “I remember when race entry fees were $5!”
It’s that last one that stirs it up big-time for many of us in the running community. My very first road race was a marathon (no lie… the 1979 Harrisburg Marathon). I don’t recall the entry fee, because my Mother, who worked for the sponsor, got my entry “comped.” Yeah, I was sponsored as a high school junior! But my next race, two weeks later, a half marathon (was I dumb back then or what?) cost me $12 because I registered on race day. So much for the comped sponsorship thing.
Now I’m not making this price up, but the current entry fee for the two Delaware-based marathons being held in April (two marathons in the First State in one month?) is $120 and $125. And the accompanying 5k races are $40 and $45. Really? I may anger a few race directors but that’s incredibly ridiculous.
Now before you go calling me naïve or uneducated, I have watched the cost of race events rise for the nearly 40 years that I’ve been a runner and have raced. My personal perspective is that the investment into these mega-cost, mega-run events has outpaced (running humor… outpaced) the return we runners get. And I’ve been a race director and I am painfully aware of the real-time cost of putting on events both big and small.
The growth of road races in the U.S. has also driven up the costs. And “for-profit” organizations have come into the mix. The Rock N Roll series of marathons nationwide was “owned” by Elite Racing, which was recently bought by a venture capitalist firm and renamed Competitor Group. How nice for us that for $125 or more, we get another shirt or SWAG of some sort and two diet beer coupons.
And even the charity function of many of these events has been compromised. Rather than “donate” proceeds to local charities, as the Philly Marathon used to, now charity groups are permitted to run to raise funds for their organizations (Team in Training, etc…). I’ve no problem with this function. But it does trouble me the lack of transparency from races charging $100+ to enter with 24,999 of my closest friends. Some races will tell you upfront to whom the proceeds go. But not all.
And where do those proceeds go? Well, venture capitalist firms aren’t venturing capital because it’s fun. It’s big business and it’s very profitable. Do the math; add some title sponsors, mile marker sponsors, expo vendors, entry fees, etc… and it’s a good day at the horse track, isn’t it? Smaller events are keeping up with the charity function, but at the cost of increasing the entry fees in order to provide a decent payday for the local food bank or children’s group or health awareness organization.
Lastly, running race events were a big “bucket list” item for many millennials and baby boomers. But it’s a one and done thing those bucket lists. Now that Everest has been scaled, they’ve moved on, leaving race organizers looking for the next group to take their place in the starting corrals. Raising entry fees to cover the lost entrants seems knee-jerk to me, but it is the reality.
So yes, I long for the days of the $10 to $12 entry fee where I line up with like-minded competitors and really RACE. That demographic is aging somewhat, but we’re still hungry for good competition at a reasonable investment point. Heck I don’t even think most of us care if the course is certified or not or if there is only one flavor of Gatorade. Just give me the race, so long as you don’t make me wear cotton sweatpants.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.