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home > community > viewpoint > so many races, so little time

So many races, so little time
Many columns have been written concerning the health of road racing in recent years. To get a good handle on this situation, it is only necessary to consult the road race calendar in any running magazine, newspaper or web site across the USA. Races are proliferating in general, but almost any race director will tell you they spend countless hours figuring out how to attract runners to their event.

  
So many races, so little time

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By Don Allison
Posted Tuesday, 28 May, 1996

Many columns have been written concerning the health of road racing in recent years. To get a good handle on this situation, it is only necessary to consult the road race calendar in any running magazine, newspaper or web site across the USA. Races are proliferating in general, but almost any race director will tell you they spend countless hours figuring out how to attract runners to their event.

We road racers are pretty lucky when it comes to organized events. Take a look at our sister sports of cycling and swimming. There are plenty of organized bike rides, but few road races where a non-elite enthusiast can show up, pay a fee and ride against other riders and the clock over a set distance. In fact, I don't know of a single event like this in New England. In swimming, there are masters meets, but the average swimmer would be far too intimidated to try one of these events. Open water swims are more friendly to the average "exercise" swimmer, but it's difficult to know the distance of any particular race. The most comparable situation is the sport of triathlon, but outside of the ironman distance, it is difficult to compare times of races. We all know what a three or four hour marathon means, but how about a three hour " international " distance triathlon. On any weekend however, a runner can find a number of accurately measured, organized road races over well known distances.

There are hundreds of races scheduled in New England alone for the summer of 1996. Working under the assumption that all of these are worthy events and given the fact that even the most fanatic of us can only allocate so much time to competing in races, a decision process is necessary in selecting an event in which to complete. With a plethora of events virtually every weekend of the year, the choices have never been more plentiful.

As someone who has been on both sides of the starting line and heard countless post race comments, reviews, and criticisms from runners through the years, I've been fascinated to learn just what is really important to the participants in selecting a road race.

Thus prompted, a while back I undertook a survey, asking runners to rank in order of importance various factors they take into consideration when choosing a race to run. Race selection factors were ranked from 1 to 10, 10 being very important, 1 being least important.

So what did I learn from the responses? That runners are more concerned with an efficiently organized event than reading about it in the paper the next day. This hardly qualifies as earth shattering news, but there were some other mildly surprising responses. On average, race amenities rate highly with runners. We all like to get something to remember the race by, even if it is our 300th T-shirt. A race's reputation rates highly, but there is nothing like having run the race before to sell us on doing it again. The nature of the course is very important. Hills aren't necessarily bad: as anyone who has attempted to enter Mt. Washington knows. If you advertise flat and fast however, it had better be that!

Factors that ranked mid range were race tradition, recommendation of friends, race location, the time of day the race is held, and the size of the field. Surely these last three are taken into greater consideration in extreme cases. After all, when trying to balance running with other facets of life, it often comes down to convenience. If there is a race in your hometown, it will be easier to run than a marathon in another country. It is worth noting though, that runners will put up with a bit of inconvenience to be part of a great event. We haven't forgotten the 100th boston yet!

The cost of a race is not critical for most runners, proving the adage that consumers are willing to pay for a quality product. Surprisingly, whether the course is certified seems not to be significant, proving the adage that runners will believe themselves capable of any result that appears on the finish line clock. Competition and prizes were ranked very low, reflecting the trend towards participation and fun over racing to win. Charity also rates very low; most runners these days consider races mostly for the running. There are many other ample opportunities to support worthy charities.

Of course the most important consideration for runners in selecting a race is the organization of the event. All the glitz in the world cannot overcome a poorly organized race. From the days of Clarence Demar to 1996, an efficient pre race sign up, a clear and well marked course, and with fast and accurate results have been enough to make any road racer happy.

Important Factors In Choosing A Race

     FACTOR                    AVG RANK (1 to 10)
     Race organization         8.49
     Course makeup             7.04
     Amenities                 6.87
     Run in prior years        6.57
     Reputation                6.45
     Location                  6.33
     Post race activities      5.99
     Tradition                 5.94
     Recommendation of friends 5.91
     Cost of race              5.44
     Certified distance        5.29
     Time of day               5.06
     Prizes                    4.94
     Competition               4.83
     Size of field             4.56
     Official charity          4.28
     Media coverage            3.06
 

 

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