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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

For Profit Races: Good or Bad?

The Color Run is the latest trendy for-profit race. A couple of months ago, a friend asked me (and a bunch of other people) if I wanted to run it, and of course, since I'll be almost 38 weeks pregnant on Saturday when folks are running it, it's not really in the cards for me. But, when I gave it some thought, I don't think I would run it anyway. Why? I've simply had it with for-profit races.

Everywhere you look these days, there are companies sprouting up with a new shtick to get runners to fork over cash to run in some sort of themed race. Some examples:
  • The (already mentioned) Color Run is a 5K where people throw colored powder at you during the race. You wear a white shirt and come out at the end looking all colorful. Besides the for-profit issues that I have with this one, I also wonder about breathing in that powder, and how much it stains if you don't get it all off of your skin before you get into your car. Cost: $50.
  • The Warrior Dash is an obstacle course the people run through and get all muddy and stuff. Cost: $70-90.
  • Tough Mudder is just like the Warrior Dash, only longer and more difficult. Cost: $85-180.
  • Run for your Lives is like a normal race, but you're apparently getting chased by zombies.
  • The Hot Chocolate 15K is a race where you get chocolate at the end.
And there are more and more and more and more... the Zooma races, the Rock & Roll race series, the recent Nike Women's Half Marathon... they're all for profit.

So, why have I "had it" with these races? My major concern is that they are squeezing out the other, traditional non-profit races. I know there is a little bit of an attitude of "the more races, the better!" in the world of running, but that's not really true. In order to have a race, organizers have to close the roads of a city. They have to use resources, such as EMTs and police. They have to find volunteers. And, cities are only willing to do this so many times for so many races. In the end, the profit races tend to win out over the non-profits, because the non-profits don't have the cash behind them to win their case.

It's already happening. In Raleigh, NC, the RunRaleigh Half Marathon and 5K, a non-profit race raising $30,000 for charity every year, has been bumped in order to allow Raleigh to host a Rock & Roll Half Marathon in 2014. 
Raleigh police have already had 82 applications for road races scheduled this year, nearly double the runs held a few years ago. Most race organizers want the city’s most picturesque route: generally a lap around downtown coupled with a trek out Hillsborough Street. And they want a weekend when other races aren’t competing for runners. But as the number of races grows, neighbors along the most popular routes are getting fed up with roadblocks that can last all morning.
EXACTLY. So, 2013 was likely the last year for the RunRaleigh Half Marathon. Those $30,000 in charity dollars? Gone. Rock & Roll runs for profit - you're paying that hefty registration fee to line someone's pocket.

Last year, one of my favorite races, The Annapolis Ten Mile Run, was forced to change its course due to too many for profit races coming into town and applying to run similar courses. The Annapolis Striders, who organize the race, wrote:
As noted, we are no longer "the only race in town." It is unfortunate that a number of for-profit events have caused this situation. The Striders, in sharp contrast, are an all volunteer, non-profit which has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities over the years.
The thing is, for profit races aren't that great. I've already expressed my frustration with Rock and Roll races,  and I mentioned how disappointed I was with the Hot Chocolate 15K. Others have had similar issues - in 2011, the Rock & Roll Las Vegas Marathon had huge problems with lack of water and illness. In 2012, the Maryland Tough Mudder was forced to cancel their second day due to the fact that poor planning made it impossible for people to park or even get to the race. The most shocking? This year's Tough Mudder resulted in a death where EMTs did not react very fast to the fact that someone had slipped below the water and did not come back up.

My experience with for-profit races is that they come into town, totally unfamiliar with the area, and set up a race with 10 to 20 thousand participants in the first year. They do everything to maximize profit, which leads to crowded courses, lack of water stops, difficulty with traffic and parking, and frankly dangerous situations for runners. Do you really trust these companies to put on a quality event and keep you safe? I no longer do - and even if I did, it is coming at the detriment to good old fashioned non-profit races. You know, the races we've all come to love.

Is this really how we want racing to go?

What about Disney, though? I have to address this because I'm a fan of Disney races, as many know. Yes, Disney races are generally for-profit. They do not, however, have the same issues as other for profit races in that they are mostly (yes, I know that they have problems too) well run, they happen in an area where race organizers are familiar, and they do not compete with non-profit races for resources or street closures. If Competitor wants to buy a 44-square mile private area to host Rock & Roll races, I think that's a great solution!

I would LOVE to hear more examples of for-profit races having issues because they have either not prepared properly, or because they tried to include far too many participants. If you've run one of these, please let me know in the comments!

Update: Jen commented on Facebook two things: 1) Pittsburgh booted Competitor out of their Rock & Roll event planned for August, due to possibility of heat (and of course Competitor had already taken a bunch of registration fees even before the permits were finalized!). And 2) There's a new shtick in town - Running with the Bulls. Seriously? That's not an Onion article?

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James said...

I am not a fan of the for profit races either. From my experience, and that of people I know, they tend to provide poorer support to runners, are overly glamorized, and so not about the run. Specifically, I'm referring to the RNR races, which take over existing races and F&*# them up. The themed races, I'm not a fan of either. Too expensive, and not about running, but the obstacle or theme. I agree on Disney, it was a pre-exisiting operation that has included running as a unique way to experience their parks. Still... I was interested in the Dopey Challenge, but paying $500 for it is highway robbery!

J.P. Choquette said...

I never thought about this before. I'm new to racing and love the few nonprofit races I've participated in--but never considered that for-profit races "bumped" out charity events. What about those races, like the Nike marathon, which hosts nonprofit groups like Team in Training though? I'm very interested in TinT so am curious.

onelittletrigirl said...

Although I have done a Warrior Dash and I plan to do a Spartan, I do not like for-profit racing either. I have never and will never do a Rock and Roll. They bought out the Philly PDR run which was one of my favorite and I was so sad about it.

I am glad you brought up Disney. I will never do a Disney run because I think they are outrageously priced. They don't have to be, but they are. In general, I dislike Disney for that reason.

I think this was really well written by the way.

Kim said...

@JP I actually have another post coming up about what is for profit vs what is non-profit. It's not a black and white area at all, so if you want to do TNT and the Nike race is one you're interested in, I say go for it. IMO, there are good and bad things about TNT, but raising money is always a good thing. My main point with the Nike race is that they themselves are not racing for charity, they are a for-profit race, but they do give TNT an opportunity to do what it does best.

@onelittletrigirl Having done the PDR and the Philly RnR, I agree with you. Better as PDR. And I understand your dislike of Disney. I admit I'm a hypocrite sometimes and I give Disney too much of a free pass on certain things.

J.P. Choquette said...

Cool, thanks for the clarification--I'll look forward to another post about this. And no, I'm not really interested in doing a Nike Marathon. Just wondering in general! :)

Kandi said...

I agree with most of the points you've brought up. I also agree with Jill in that I won't be doing a Disney race due to cost (and because I don't even have a desire to go to Disney). BUT at least Disney hosts their races on their property (right?) and (as an economist) the price must not be too high if thousands of people are willing to pay for them! They are just not for me.

lindsay said...

I don't see all "named" races as for-profit (ie: Disney). I thought they still donated a chunk to a non-profit(s)? I know there's still some profit in there, but they're still making a donation that may not have otherwise happened? However, the Color Runs and Mud/Warrior/You Might Kill Yourself Races... I don't know that they make any sort of donation. I'm not really attracted to them because I can run/race just fine without all the extra gimmicks!

Hopefully local authorities will find an appropriate balance of for-profit and not-for-profit races. I'm all for the police getting a little extra money (they deserve it - and I'm assuming for-profit races gives them a little?), and surely the mayor/governor people will keep in mind the importance of maintaining some non-profit races too.

Sidenote: I enjoyed my Disney (Goofy) races. Yeah, super pricey, but they were fun. Course I was down there with friends so that probably helped too! At least it's all on their property.

Anonymous said...

We've ran the Hot Chocolate in Atlanta twice, as well as the Women's Half several times. I found every experience to be over the top amazing. And guess what? THEY ARE STILL DONATING TO A CHARITY! Now it's true that the amount donated is a much lower percentage, but keep in mind that these races are on tour and that means they have a large crew of employees on the road just to host these events. JOBS result from this, just like many local running stores hiring a full time race director to run their race series. These are the many "local" events you are referring to. Events cost money. The bigger the event, the more money it costs to host it. I appreciate them just as much as the local events, and I generally have a much better experience and time running those miles.

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