I came across this blog post today by Dean Karnazes on the Runner’s World website that turned out to be very timely. He asks in the post whether anyone has ever decided against signing up for a race because of the entrance fee. He said he recently learned of a running event that had low sign-up numbers, so race organizers offered a deal on Groupon and, not surprising, the race filled up. Races in Chicago, especially the major races such as the Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon, don’t usually have problems finding enough people to sign up. In fact, the opposite is true, which is why I won’t be running either the Shuffle or the Chicago Marathon this year.
The timing of Dean bringing up this issue of price comes just a day after a Facebook friend asked on her wall whether she should sign up for the Shamrock Shuffle or avoid it. The Shuffle was the race that started my running career in 2004. I have signed up for it every year since then, although there’s been two years that I have signed up but then was unable to run. But after the experience last year, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to return. I knew I definitely wouldn’t sign up at the full registration price, which has now jumped to $45. If I remember correctly, it was less than $30 the first year I ran it.
For the past couple years, my company has picked up half the price for any employee who runs, and one guest. The cheap price definitely makes it tempting and it was actually the half-off offer that convinced me to sign up for the past few. But thinking back to how NOT enjoyable it was last year, I decided it was stupid to pay any amount for a lousy time, even if the fee does include a t-shirt.
The thing is, had the price of the Shuffle doubled and the size of the race stayed the same, I wouldn’t have any problem paying the increased rate. But when they expand the field from 25,000 to 40,000 AND nearly double the price? No thanks! Last year, there were so many people, it took an hour (really!) to cross the start line for a race that took me 45 minutes to run. And I was in the middle of the crowd!
The same thing has happened with the Chicago Marathon, which I vowed not to run again after 2009. They expanded that field from 30,000 to 45,000, and the registration fee was raised right along with it. The fee, which was $110 when I first ran it in 2004, is now $150. The race used to be a good one for setting a PR, but when you have no choice but to do a speed walk for the first five miles because the crowd is too thick to run at a proper pace, you feel accomplished just by finishing without having pushed someone down somewhere along the route. And then there was the whole running out of water thing in 2007. Clearly, I am no race organizer, but it seems to me they would have a better argument for raising prices if attendance was low or they purposely wanted to keep the field small. I don’t understand this desire to be the “Biggest (name your race distance here) in the U.S.” I don’t know one runner that prefers running in a thick crowd.
My running buddy Peter said the expanded fields are the result of greed. When you consider most small races also have the smallest registration fees and are top-notch in terms of organization, I can come up with no explanation other than greed.
So to answer Dean’s question, I have not skipped a race because of the registration fee. In fact, if the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, which I have become a huge fan of, promised not to expand it’s field, I would happily pay double the current registration fee. (shhh…don’t tell the event organizers)
So what do you fellow runners think? Do you prefer a smaller field, or the insane crowds like the Chicago Marathon draws? Have you decided not to run a particular race because of field size? Cost? Other reasons?