When I was in high school, I did a couple road races. They were cheap, probably around $25 dollars, came with an ugly t shirt, and I assumed most of the money was going to a charity and the sponsors were local businesses. In any case, I don't think anyone thought of road racing as a high dollar business, just like soccer rec leagues and minor league baseball aren't big money.
But then things changed.
Races became big money. The era of For-Profit running companies and Rock and Roll races in every city began. And it became normal to pay $100 for a half marathon. And the weirdest part? People are still willing to pay it. They fight for the opportunity to pay it. (This post and This post address the rapidly growing race fees.)
But it's not the constantly growing race fees that really irk me. It's the ridiculous restrictions on race entries that make the security restrictions of running a (Insert Corporate Race name here) race about on par with getting a tour of the White House or flying to Dhaka.
Let's take a look at the rules from Competitor's website (skull and crossbones possibly edited in):
"Entry fees are non-refundable and non-transferable. No exceptions".
Considering your events sell out and people get injured, wouldn't the neighborly thing to do to allow deferment or transferring the bid (even for a fee!) so that another runner can have the opportunity? I can't imagine it would be a hard system to implement.
But the kicker of this rules section is "If you attempt to sell your race number, you may be banned from future Competitor events for three years."
You're attempting to ban people for three years? I can see banning people for banditing, but for putting their bib for sale? Kind of punitive for a hobby jogger event, don'tyathink?
I don't even want to get into the insane "airline style" fees tacked on for parking, runner tracking, bib pickup, etc. detailed in Dorothy's post. It's a weird model, and in my opinion, this attitude has no place in the running industry.
But ok. I've accepted that these for-profit groups are doing what they can to charge as much as they can and not be flexible at all in their entry policies. I guess if you're running a business and you can make a pile of cash, why not do it, right?
But here's where I get really confused. Traditionally, road races pulled from the community to get help at water stations, the finish line, etc. At these expensive, for-profit mega races, the race course are still manned mostly by volunteers!!! Not only are these groups changing the culture of racing, they are profiting off the traditional "small town" culture of road running that encouraged volunteering.
If they are going to act like a concert venue, or a ball park, may as well hire some high school kids to pass out water rather than pretending like you need the goodness of the volunteers of the running community to get by, right?
So what's a runner to do?
It seems like there are still some races out there that aren't just trying to maximize their profits with little concern for runner finances and unexpected life events.
This article in running times interviewed the race director of the Marine Corp's marathon. He explains that he breaks even at an $80 in 2011 ($88 this year) entry fee while offering deferment to next year or bib transfer for an administrative fee for anyone who needs to.
"If I was a participant, how would I want to be treated".
He sounds like a good guy. No wonder everyone wants to run Marine Corps!
So I've complained a lot, but what's the solution?
I wish these larger racing companies would consider the impact they are having on the sport of road racing. I would argue that some of it is positive. They have made road racing more accessible to more people. They've increased participation. And that part is great.
But with these companies have come increased racing fees, races that fill up early (so you have to sign up early), and an increased lack of flexibility.
I think it's about time these races either lower their fees or change some of their bib-transfer / deferment rules. I get that some events, like New York, or Boston probably can't do this, but for most races, it should be no problem. Competitor, I'm looking at you.