Sunday, May 4, 2008

Value for Race Fee

When I was president of Second Wind Running Club, I'd write the standard "President's Corner" columns in the club newsletter. One of them keeps coming back to me. I wrote a piece about how I decide which races to run. It was mostly about how much the race costs and how far it is to the start. I developed a few rules for deciding whether a race was worthwhile. Here is a repeat of that newsletter column back in 2003 (note that the race entrance fees cited have gone up since 2003).

There are so many races to select from, how do you pick? Well, I have a few pointers or rules that I follow. Here are two of my rules: (1) race entrance fee must be equal to or less than $10 + $1 per mile and (2) the time needed to travel to the race must be equal to or less than 10 minutes per mile raced. Quick examples of the cost issue. A 5k race (3.1 miles) should cost less than $10 plus $3 = $13. A 10k can go up to $16, half marathon $23, and a full marathon $36. I run ultras too so they fit the same rule—a 50k (31 miles) can charge $41, 50 miler $60, 100k (62 miles) $72, and a 100 miler can charge $110. This seems very reasonable to me and it works for all the races I enter (except the Chicago Marathon, which I will not run again!). Longer races have more costs so they can charge more. Why do race directors need more money? They have sponsors and clubs or organizations backing their race. Why should runners be ripped off? If Chicago wants to award $100,000 to the winners--that’s fine--just don’t ask me to pay $75 to run your race. Ask LaSalle Bank for a little more sponsorship money. As I look at local races I like what I see. The new Buffalo Trace 5-Mile Trail Run charged $12 for early entry and $15 for race-day entry. That fits my rule! Awesome race. So does the Allerton trail race (if you register early). Kennekuk’s races fit the bill too. Most of Lake Run Club’s are right on target as well. I also like races that give their members discounts. Club members should be tossed a bone now and then.

What about that distance rule? The longer the race the longer I’m willing to travel. I’ll go 10 minutes travel time per 1 mile of race distance. For 5ks that’s only 30 minutes—anything much outside of Champaign-Urbana is off my list. No Sweet Corn 5k in Hoopeston, no Memorial Day 5k in Danville, no Dog Days 5k in Bloomington. But increase the race to a 10k or so and I can go to the Bagel Run in Mattoon, Lake Run in Bloomington, or Wild Wilderness trail run in Danville. Get the picture? Marathons allow me to travel over 4 hours (26 miles = 260 minutes = 4.3 hours). Drive fast and you might extend that boundary. Fly and you can really go far. Start running ultra marathons and you can get some good travel time in—just over 5 hours for a 50k and over 16.5 hours for a 100 miler!

So what’s the best deal for me when combining cost and distance? The Mahomet Half Marathon is a good one. It’s .5 miles from my house and costs about $20. Buffalo Trace is great too, 1 mile to the starting line and only $10 for club members. Howl at the Moon 8-hour Ultra is possibly the best bargain. It’s an 8-hour race (allows me to run over 40 miles) and is only 45 miles away (less than an hour drive). Entrance fee is as low as $18 if you’re a KRR member. Hard to beat that combination. According to my formula, I could travel 400 minutes (6.5 hours) and pay $50 for this race. Good job Kennekuk! And they changed the course to be only 5% asphalt this year.

Did I mention my aversion to roads? One more rule for me—I only do trail races. Roads are no fun. I have made three exceptions for future road racing—the Boston Marathon (most prestigious marathon in the world), Comrades Marathon (the oldest ultramarathon in the world), and the Badwater Ultramarathon (the hardest running event in the world). Oh yeah!

Looking back now, 5 years later, I suppose inflation would need to be figured into the formula above. Instead of $10 plus $1 per mile, I think $15 plus $1 per mile works OK. And that is EXACTLY what we charge for the 30 mile Clinton Lake ultra! That's $45 for 30 miles ($15 plus $30 = $45). Coincidence?

Think about all the races you run. Are you getting fair value for your race fee?

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