Thursday, December 11, 2014

THE PEOPLE'S SPORT?

Last Saturday evening I participated in a book signing event with good friend, fellow author, coach and runner, Mark Will-Weber. Between the two of us we have participated in thousands of races, covering distances from the mile to the marathon, dating back to the late '70s.

We both lamented the fact that many races have become "corporate" these days gouging participants with exorbitant entry fees, while reducing prize money for elite runners, and often filling the pockets of race directors.

Mark noted that running has always been a "people's sport," not a country club endeavor, and that some races are pricing competitors out of the sport.

I agree with that assessment.

First, let me qualify by stating that, directing a race, even on a minor scale, is a monumental, thankless task. Race directors spend long hours in an effort to conduct a safe, successful event.

Nevertheless, there are races, big and small, that have kept the needs (and the budgets) of runners in perspective; while others have not.

An article in Bloomberg News, from February 10, 2012, entitled, "High NYC Marathon Entry Fee Chases Away Runners," illustrates the point.

(Bloomberg) -- "Danielle Gall, a member of the New York Road Runners, can't convince herself to run in the organization's flagship race. The New York City Marathon has gotten too expensive.
“I just can't stomach paying that much,” Ms. Gall said of the race, which raised the price $60, to $255, for U.S. residents and $63, to $347, for international runners, citing increased costs. “I'm afraid it's becoming an elitist sport that nobody can afford.”
Ms. Gall, a 40-year-old Manhattan physical therapist who has run the race five times, plans to register for the California International Marathon in December. She's doing that even though her qualifying time of 1 hour, 31 minutes and 2 seconds in last year's NYC Half Marathon gives her automatic entry into the longer New York event.
More marathoners like Ms. Gall might soon revolt against marquee races if prices continue to increase, said Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va. He said runners may instead choose his race, with what he says is a cheapest-in-the-U.S. price of $92.
“I'm concerned about the sport,” said Ms. Nealis, a 58-year-old former Marine. “When are we going to price ourselves to the point where people stop coming?”
Tad Scepaniak, a real estate consultant from Atlanta, entered the lottery for the 2012 New York marathon when it opened on Jan. 2, calling it a “once in a lifetime” race. That doesn't mean he wants to get picked.
Last week, Mr. Scepaniak, who has run three 26.2-mile races in the past two years, also signed up for the Chicago Marathon, which costs $105 less than New York's $255 entry fee.
“It's excessive,” Mr. Scepaniak, 37, said of the New York race. “Especially for a race that size, with 45,000 people, it seems excessive for what you get out of it.”
Mr. Nealis's Marine Corps Marathon is the fourth-most attended race in the U.S., with 30,000 runners registering last year. Only New York, Chicago and Boston attract more. It's also the country's only marathon with all entry fees below $100, according to Mr. Nealis.
“I'm against taking these prices through the roof,” Mr. Nealis said."
I've run the New York City Marathon four times during my career, but, at that price, which I'm sure is even higher now, I'll never run it again.
All of you, I'm sure, have looked at certain race entry fees and said, "What?"
Runners and their families fill the hotels and restaurants for several days on marathon weekends. Often, even those places raise their prices in an effort to exploit the participants.
I can offer two examples, though, of quality events, and race organizers in my local area that offer well-organized, popular races, at runner-reasonable prices.
Check out Pretzel City Sports in Reading, Pennsylvania. www.pretzelcitysports.com Ron Horn offers terrific races that are reasonably priced and very popular. His Third Thirsty Thursday races during the summer months, and his Shiver by the River races in the winter attract thousands of runners. Throughout the year he offers a variety of both trail and road runs that are always runner-friendly.
If you haven't run the Run for the Diamond 9-Mile race www.runforthediamonds.com, held in Berwick, Pennsylvania, on Thanksgiving Day, you should put it on your runner's bucket list.
This race began in 1908, and continues today. The course is challenging, the crowd support is terrific, and, yes, diamonds are offered as prizes to top finishers, and get this...the entry fee is $25.00!! That's right: not $250.00, but $25,00.
What, then, can we do?
I suggest not only boycotting races that are grossly overpriced, but write to the race director explaining why you have chosen to run another race. Also, use social media or blogs to voice your opinion. And, finally, find out where your entry fee is going. If charities are receiving a large portion of your fee, that's terrific.
It's a buyer's market out there. Races are everywhere these days. Be selective. Don't be ripped off.
Let's take it back and make running the people's sport again.
For more blogs, books, running advice and coaching, check out: www.muldowneyrunning.com