As most of you know, running is one of the fastest growing sports in the world today. According to runningusa.org, there were over 40 million runners in the USA in 2012. Since the year 2000, the amount of Race Finishers has nearly doubled from 8.6 million to 15.5 million in 2012. It is no wonder that this rise in popularity has spawned an entire Running Industry that is currently booming! At roughly $91/ pair, the running shoe industry alone generates over 3 billion dollars/year and growing. That doesn’t include apparel, medical supplies, water belts, compression socks, rolling sticks, energy bars, gps watches, and all the other stuff that runners happily buy, and buy into. When I began running I thought it was the most inexpensive sport in the world! Hell, all you need are some shoes, and your legs and you’re good to go right? Little did I know about all the stuff I needed and how much the race fees were going to be….
With a rise in runners comes a rise in racing events and these events generate massive amounts of money each year. With so much green floating around these events, its no wonder there’s a real gold rush happening here.
First, I want to say that not all races are created equal. I have participated in all types of events from a Major World Marathon all the way down to your local 5k and everything in between. The majority of the money generated from races in the US comes from Charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (over $407 Million last year) and Susan G. Komen’s Race for the cure (just under $127 million). These races tend to generate massive amounts of people and seem to have more walkers than runners. Also most of the proceeds, if not all, go directly to these corporations. With events as large as these, I’m skeptical as to how much of the $$$ actually goes towards research and how much goes to furthering their brand and planning for the next event. This is why I tend to stay away from these type of races.
Also, with the rise in popularity of the sport, I’m seeing more and more traveling race events popping up in our area. These touring events attract huge crowds that mention nothing about charities and usually have a gimmicky theme such as a “Zombie Run”, “Glow Run”, “Color Run” etc. and are out to do one thing, make as much money as they can.
Earlier this year I participated in the Project Mud 5k event at the Charleston Tea Plantation. I won a free entry from a local radio station and decided to give it a shot. The run was actually very fun. It’s a 5k with a several obstacles along the way and a lot of mud. I ended up winning the event. Expecting some sort of party/ award ceremony, I was disappointed in finding vendors at the finish trying to sell us everything from beer and food to personal training and gym memberships. It wasn’t a celebration for all of the time spent training and the hard work we just put ourselves through, it was another attempt to squeeze some more dollars out of our pockets. The price to run these type of races are fairly expensive. Starting at $65 months in advance, it gradually increased to $95 the day of the race!
After the race I had to track down the event organizer and was told that I would receive $100 for finishing first and a free entry to the next Mud run. This was also told to the first place female. He gave me his contact info and said he would mail the check. After sending multiple emails inquiring about the prize, I finally received my check….. FOUR months later. The female finisher has yet to receive her check and neither of us has received an entry to the next race (which is less than a week away). The site still hasn’t announced any involvement with a local charity.
From their website:
Getting Dirty For a Great Cause
“Project Mud believes in giving back to the communities that we invade. Check back soon as we will be making an official announcement regarding our charitable partner.”
Did I mention the race is 6 days away….
Last year they gave the Make-A-Wish foundation a vendor table to help promote the charity. It happens to be one of my favorite charities because 100% of the donations go to making a child’s wish come true so I was excited to see them there. However, I doubt that very little, if any, portion of the entry fees went to support the charity. That could be very misleading to the runners. It makes it look like Project Mud is supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation when all they are actually doing is allowing them to set up a table to promote their charity.
Not all races are out to make huge profits however. There’s a smaller market of local races organized by running clubs, local charities, or by someone raising awareness for a particular cause. These races donate the majority of the entry fees to a particular charity and tend to dominate the local scene here in Charleston. You can pretty much find several of these races any given weekend. The race fees are usually between $20-30 and that usually includes and after party with food and drinks and an award ceremony. These are the races I enjoy running for one reason, they’re honest. Unfortunately a lot of these races have very low runner turnouts, which means less money for the charity of choice. So why don’t these local races attract the big crowds that the traveling “for profits” do? Well, there are two reasons that stand out the most; the smaller races don’t have any gimmicks and they tend to have lower budgets for marketing advertising. This means they have to be much more creative to reach people.
This experience has made me much more aware of the type of races that are being promoted nowadays. I believe that its important to do a little research in choosing the race you run and ask yourself what you want your entry fee to support. Do you want it to support a local charity, your community, and enjoy a wonderful celebration with good food and friends? Or would you rather pay more money to get color filled powder balloons thrown at your face while fattening the pockets of an out of town, corporately hired race director?
My hopes are that if more people understand that all races are not “created” equal, then more people would support the honest, local races, versus the heavily marketed “For Profit” traveling races that only continue to grow. I will certainly be more socially conscious while choosing my future races and I hope you will too.