Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on race entry fees

I am not a fan of high race entry fees, a sentiment many of you likely share. When it comes to a race, I’m pretty basic in terms of what I expect:

  • A good course (no unsafe road crossings, well-marked, preferably good views, and proper length- though we’ll give a pass on length to trail races, where it’s understood that distances are approximate)
  • Appropriate aid on the course (may range from nothing at a 5k to lots and lots in an ultra)
  • Some food and maybe small awards at the finish (it’s unpleasant to finish an ultra to find no food provided, as happened to me this summer)
  • Sufficient bathrooms at the start
  • Accurate timing with online results

That’s pretty much it. Easy registration and packet pickups are nice, but not necessary. And I love it when races have a “no shirt” option to save me a few bucks.

I know much of the running community now expects more bells and whistles from a race, like bands along the course, huge expo’s, well-stocked goodie bags, big-name sponsors, etc. That’s fine, but it’s not for me. I balk at paying almost $300 for a marathon (NYC), or even $100+ (RnR marathons). And $50 for a 10k or $90 for a half marathon is just as bad. Too much commercialization.

More and more, I find myself avoiding those races like the plague and seeking the low-key races, even if they are further away. Besides the lower entry fees, there’s a special feeling at low-key races… the type where the RD isn’t trying to get rich, the locals playfully banter at the start and argue about how many of them have run it all 17 years, the pre-race instructions are comical and short, the course is sheer enjoyment, and you win a homemade pie at the finish while the RD’s wife cooks brats or buffalo stew for the finishers.

Two races stand out in my mind that epitomize these characteristics. The Garland Wheat & Beet in Garland, UT is a nice road race. The course is a simple out-and-back on a little-traveled country road. After the 10k/5k, all the participants gather to cheer the kids in the 1 mile fun-run. The fee is only $3 for the non-competitive entry (no shirt, not eligible for award), but you are still eligible for an awesome, all-you-can-eat breakfast cooked by the local fire department and for the raffle (which had enough prizes for almost everyone except Paul to win something). And all the money goes to the local library.

The second race is the Iron Mountain 50/30/16 mile in Damascus, VA. Entry is only $25 for any of the distances (if you don’t want a shirt), and it’s obvious the RD loves the race. The course is a beautiful singletrack, with just enough aid stations. They have a quirky challenge at the finish, where they award a prize to whoever can do the most sit-ups and push-ups -I didn’t do any, but unique things like this add to the fun. Everyone was treated to a nice bbq after, and all finishers took home a jar of fruit preserves.

My personal threshold for race entry fees is usually $3 per race mile.  I’ll pay a bit more for short races (you can’t find many $10 5k’s), and like it lower for longer races ($300 for a 100 miler seems high- sorry Western States).

As I look at my races for the year, all of them are under the $3/mile level, with a grand total of 488 miles of races for $645. My next 5 races (SweetH20 50k ($50), Dairy Ridge Fat Ass 50k ($0), Twisted Ankle marathon ($45), Old Dominion 100 ($135), and Iron Mtn 50 ($25)) total 238 race miles for $255, less than the price of New York City marathon.

If huge, commercialized, expensive races with F-16 flyovers, mid-race boy bands, and TV coverage result in more people participating and getting fit, I think that is great. But for me, I’ll keep running my well-priced, low-hype, quirky and friendly local races. Hope you join me for a few.


  1. Absolutely! I love low key races where the point is to enjoy the race experience itself. A race that stands out (sorry, not strictly a running race) is the Blue Mountain Canyonlands Triathlon. It's in Monticello, UT, cost $30 the last time I checked, and has the coolest feel at it. You ski 2 miles out and then head back to the start, then ride a bike down into beautiful canyons (35ish miles), then run a 10k to the finish, where guys are grilling burgers to order.
    Wahsatch Steeplechase has done a good job of keeping prices down and reducing hype, despite being right in SLC.
    A sweet mountain bike race series(sorry again) is the weekly race series at Soldier Hollow and Sundance. Costs $12, has stacked competition, and is just generally done right. No prize for winning, just a raffle with tons of good bike stuff donated by local shops. You show up, race, have a good time, and go home, all in about 2 hours. Egos are minimal, just a good time.
    I love it when races have unique distances because they're usually more focused on the place they're in than having it be a "standard" race experience. I guess it's also why I don't like chain stores and restaurants like the the great little shops where they just want to do what they do well, no aspirations to take over the world.

  2. Very true, Karl. I like your point about the unique distances, too- definitely helps you just enjoy the race rather than trying to break your PR. I had races this year of 17, 18, 28, 29, 30, and 54 miles.

    That ski-bike-run race sounds very nice.

  3. Love the post. As someone who constantly feels strapped for race money I find I enjoy the smaller, 'homier' races myself. Some of my favorite races include any of the 3 Cascadia Trail races held in Provo Canyon. They cost $12, have age group prizes/ribbons, and have the biggest give-away of any race I've ever been to. Who cares the races are under 5 miles.
    Throw in Davy's PE100 at less than $100 for 100 miles and you've really covered both ends of the race spectrum.

    Often, what I take away most from my races are the people I meet and the experience I had immediately after the race. Whether it is a raffle or bbq, it is those things that tend to really stand out.

  4. Don't run the Las Vegas Marathon. Doesn't meet your criteria.

  5. The wife and I were just having a little "discussion" about this very subject this evening. I'm jonesing to see if competition will help me crank up the running a bit. Consequently, it takes some budgeting.

  6. I agree. I like the $3/mile limit, although someday I will probably run one "BIG" marathon like Boston or NYC just to say I did. But I definitely enjoy the smaller, low key races like Logan Peak (most enjoyable race I've ever run) more than the ones that have thousands of people, huge race fees, and are all about the "pop running culture." For example, I've wanted to run a Ragnar Relay in the past, but there's no way in heck I'm going to pay $100, plus travel, plus relay transportation, plus providing volunteers like they make you do for what is essentially three 10k's. But yeah I suppose it's a good thing that all the hyped races get a lot of people to run who otherwise wouldn't. It's just not for me. St. George is about as big as I get.