The cost of #running

As I’m sure that readers of this blog will have realised in just the few postings I’ve written I do love running in so many of its guises, slow, fast, distance, endurance, fun, race, adventure, trail, road, track. I have yet to meet a race type that I came away thinking ‘nope that’s not for me’. And I do loves me a medal and therefore running does tend to cost me a small fortune in kit, time, race entry, transport, etc – I’ve spent thousands of pounds over the last three years and have mostly thought that I’ve had good value for money but in the last year or so it’s come to my attention that the costs have been rising but what you are getting in return hasn’t matched that price increase. Now this is a subject I’ve written about before on various forums on other peoples blogs but I thought I’d throw down my own thoughts in light of the cost of the recent Royal Parks Half Marathon and (for those that ran it) the Run to the Beat, two rather expensive half marathons.

One of the things that a race should offer is great value, race organisers need to recall that we can go running anytime, we choose to come to your event – which is why the rising price of races, against the lowering of the value is so galling. Take the mistake riddled Run to the Beat, 13.1 miles of tight course, not so much a race as an effort. I’ll admit I didn’t run it but I knew several of the runners on that day and they all came back with the same disappointed response – too expensive, too crowded, the organisers seemed more interested in the amount they could make than putting on a race that was good quality. To be fair the organisers did offer a level of compensation and should be commended for that but if they had priced it more sensibly there would have been less anger over the disorganisation that hindered the event.

Let’s consider the Royal Parks Half Marathon, £46 of my money. Now I’ve already said this is a lovely race to do and I’m not going to backtrack at all but it was still £46 for a half marathon, that seems a silly amount. However, at least with this it was organised, a pleasant, iconic route, with a unique medal at the end. Add to this we all did our bit to support the continuation of the Royal Parks and this is where you can start to feel the value added element. The Royal Parks Foundation went to great trouble to remind us that our fee, our fundraising was going to support this truly magnificent set of green spaces and I think we as runners can appreciate that.

Some people like the big spectacle
However, to have run both the above half marathons would have meant spending around £100 + transport (potentially hotels if you were visiting London). That £100 would get you into around 4 smaller events, perhaps even 5 if you shopped around and these would have been equally good – possibly better. But the big events that are attracting thousands upon thousands of runners have to cater a little bit to the fact that you get every type of runner turning up and certainly in the case of the Royal Parks you could say this was both a PB course and a potentially excellent beginners half marathon.

So are these bigger, more marketable events, with big names attached designed, not so much for the regular racer, but designed for those seeking a bit of a one off? In which case is making it this big pricier spectacle worth it? Well possibly as they always sell out don’t they?

The flip side
Speaking to a race director recently he confirmed he was struggling to break even at the races he was putting on, partly because he couldn’t compete with the lure of the bigger races or match their marketing – this was a huge shame as the race he did put on was magnificent and I shall be continuing to support races of this type because without them those of us that love racing dozens of times a year would really be missing out. This is were social media has been very influential, we ask questions about events now, we seek out previous runners for reviews and word of mouth is helping to swell the smaller events to bigger numbers – it’s a start I suppose but we should be encouraging people to support smaller events. One way might be to make it compulsory to have completed a 10km/half marathon race before you can enter one of the big much lauded events like the London Marathon.

Beyond the half
I’ve perhaps focused a little too much on the rising price of the half marathon but it isn’t just them that have seen a hike in the cost, consider events such as The Survival of the Fittest which even at its earlybird price is rather expensive and again despite the iconic location, decent goodies and a real crowd pleaser you have to ask is it worth it? As a former competitor in the Survival of the Fittest I can honestly say it is a truly outstanding event and a great time was had by every single person there but was it worth the money? Probably not and I’m a big advocate for Rat Race events having run both the Trailblazer and The Wall with them (both actually pretty good value).

Something to remember Mr Race Director
Runners bring with them not only supporters but also a need for merchandise, food, drink, we are a valuable source of income for races, sponsors, sports kit manufacturers, stockists and general local economies. We don’t mind paying for events, we don’t even mind paying for extras – what we mind is not getting value for money. It’s not even that we think closing roads, hiring people, buying the banners and the chip timing comes free – we don’t, runners know these things cost money – heck we even hope the organisers make some money so that the following year they come back out and provide an even better event.

£50 v £10
If I’ve paid £50 for any race I’d probably be expecting a technical shirt of some description, a nice bespoke medal, a few goodies that I don’t have to wait an age for and a great route with friendly marshalling, it doesn’t seem much to ask. If I’ve paid £10 for a race I’d hope for a good race, some marshalling and hopefully a medal. All we ask is that we are remembered as a vital part of the process and treated like the customer we are and if you are going to charge extra you should be delivering more.

An example of good value
I would draw your attention to a recent race I ran, the inaugural Oliver Fisher 10km – £15 and for this I received a bloody fantastic race with amazing marshalling, free parking, a decent medal, a technical T-shirt and some Jaffa cakes (and had I wanted them a collection of other sweet things). That was a race that not only can I recommend for the course but also for the organisation and the effort put in by everyone involved.

Ultra value
Now let me draw mention a section of the running world that still seems to understand we are coming along for the event and that is ultra marathons. Ultra Marathons are any distance over 26.2miles – big distances designed for long distance and endurance athletes. These events cover large swathes of land, going through difficult terrain and require huge amounts of preparation in terms of routes, planning and organisation (not that I’m taking away from how difficult shorter races are to organise but still …). An ultra marathon is a logistic nightmare and yet the prices seem to be sensible. Centurion Running who I am going to race the South Downs Way 50 and North Downs 100 with are charging just £65 and £125 respectively and for that amount there will be food, marshals and pre-race information prepared for me and the other runners. There will be excellent medals, T-shirts and other delightful items.

I come back to Rat Race and ‘The Wall’ and while I may have questioned the cost of ‘The Survival of the Fittest’ I have no such complaint about ‘The Wall’ a 69mile race from Carlisle to Gateshead, a race with great food, great support and excellent marshalling as well as perfectly timed signage to direct you to the finish and with a medal that has pride of place on my mountain of bling. These big event races could learn a thing or two from the ultra world, they could even learn a thing or two from events such as the London Marathon which despite being one of the biggest events in the world manages to maintain a sensible price.

So for those of you not bored by my withering and ranting I have a very simple message, enjoy your running but support the little races, as well as the biggest and the best. And to the big race organisers my message is don’t price us out of coming to your events because we love doing them and you need us as much as we need you.

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5 comments
  1. Pete said:

    Very good, thought provoking post. To a certain extent, you pays your money and you takes your choice. For a couple of reasons I tend to favour the smaller local races over the big showpiece events:
    # When I put a race into my diary, I want to be reasonably certain I’ll get a place and not be at the mercy of a lottery
    # when I get to the start line, I want to be able to run my pace and not be constrained by the other runners or bottlenecks in the course
    So it is a worry that these big races are impacting the cost-model for the smaller events. I suspect that ParkRuns, while truly admirable, may also be hurting the race directors of local events. If there’s a free 5K on offer, why would people pay even the modest entry fee for a 5-miler or 10K?
    Which makes me wonder if there is a way for race directors to reduce their costs while still putting on superb races. My suggestions would be:
    # Scrap the medal (I know this would be a sacrilege to some) and instead dress up the race number with some distinctive art-work
    # Don’t automatically go for chip-based e-timing. The big races need this to cope with the delay in getting to the start line and high volumes of finishers. I’m not convinced that small & medium sized races really do need it. So many of us have our own tech (phones, watches, gps etc). A video of the finish line could also be set up to catch the finisher & the race time and made available online for anyone who wants it.

    • Thank you for such a great and well thought out reply and certainly agree about chip timing and Parkrun, though I’m a big medal fan 🙂 but love the idea of artworked numbers.

      As someone who lives in Kent I’m lucky to have lots of the smaller races available but this isn’t true everywhere and with running and eventing becoming more and more popular the showpiece events surely have a duty to feed down a little to help promote the smaller runs.

      I’m also not a ballot fan but understand why we have them, but I think if we all had to qualify or prove our worth a bit more before being allowed a crack at the good stuff we would all appreciate it more – look at Boston, that’s Marathon Nirvana. I’m not saying stop people running but my (effectively) brother-in-law wasted his Great North Run spot because, and I quote, ‘it’s too hard and I can’t be arsed’. His space went unused, if he had, had to work for it , qualified, I don’t think that would have been his attitude. Anyway enough from me 🙂

  2. I couldn’t agree more both about the downsides of big races and the appeal of small races, but I don’t agree about the impact of parkrun. Speaking for myself personally, I only became a runner because I got hooked on my free weekly 5k run, and every race I’ve entered since has been as a result of that. They have also taught me that small and low key has a lot to recommend it, making me much more likely to enter the smaller races rather than the blockbusters. 

    • I think it’s a difficult one with Parkrun, because I know lots of people who now race thanks to its influence and the same with say the Sweatshop 5km or Nike runs which offer a similar service. But I can see the point @follystone makes, I know for me personally I don’t Parkrun and race in the same weekend – this is probably more down to the fact I need to cycle 20km to my nearest Parkrun and also that I’m a miserable bugger. I would also say that Parkrun has provided lots of positive mental benefit to me personally when I’ve been not feeling the love of running and I’m very glad it’s there.

      For my money I’d actually pay into a Parkrun scheme to try and make it more tangible, I know they have the Tshirts and things but for 50p per week or something with a little certificate at the end of each year saying congratulations that would give me a real incentive to add this more often to my running schedule and I probably would run it then even on race weekends. I’ve only actually managed to get to about three runs since I started attending which is sad given how much I love running but then I’ve only managed four Sweatshop runs this year.

      But as a relatively overweight nation I would applaud the work being done because we do need projects like this.

      There are no great solutions currently to costs, race issues, getting people involved but as popularity of running continues to increase and diversity continues in the ways we can contribute the right balance will hopefully be struck

  3. mia79gbr said:

    Great post! One other thing that peeves me is when races charge £5 – £10 to park IN A FIELD. Robbing gits. And when they charge spectators!

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