Let Them Eat Cake. (begin highly opinionated rant)

In this day of high dollar entry fees where cheap shirts snag at the first sign of a finger nail, isn’t it about time WE tell these races to take their high dollar prize money events and shove ‘em up their ass. I have not been running this long to watch jackasses turn OUR sport into BIG BUSINESS and then pass the proverbial buck toward their host city. Horse shit is what it is.

I did my first 5K at the Capt. & Anna Bates Festival in Seville Ohio. 3.1 miles and my entry fee was 3 bucks. I even got a t-shirt. It was 1980 and 3 bucks has not gone to $35 for a 5K due to inflation. My t-shirt was 100% cotton and one color printing. Damn thing lasted me until my first year in college. THREE BUCKS. What’s the cause of the amazing if not unimaginable increase in entry fees? If you look to New York City and the N.Y.R.R you might find that the club blames the city for overtime fees, city workers, blah blah blah. And they add in “rising operating costs for N.Y.R.R.” Rising operating costs? Don’t let that slip past you. Someone need a new Beamer? But we are going to let the city take the lion share of the blame and then let the club skirt by somewhat unnoticed. The finish line of the race is in central park and that place closes at the first sign of rain or snow. Hell, it even closes for runners and cyclists during the morning hours. You can’t tell me that it suddenly costs more to close a park that is already closed just to host a marathon. I’ve run 8 mile loops in the park and have gone two loops without seeing a single car save the occasional cop car swinging by to harass the homeless. New York even starts on a closed bridge. Here again that damn thing shuts completely down at least twice a day. RUSH HOUR. Do that many people really need that bridge and the other bridges of the burroughs on a Sunday morning in November? Isn’t most of NYC sleeping off their hangovers? Most won’t leave the slumber of their vomit-soaked beds until dinner time. Seriously, there’s got to be some fluff to the information we are being spoon fed. And the N.Y.R.R. even tops this “increase” off with the $11 dollar non-refundable entry fee which the N.Y.R.R. calls “the most democratic part of the race” and “what makes the New York City Marathon such a special event.” Democratic? Special? Sounds more like a ponzi scheme to me.

And what of the labor associated with these marathons? Is that what causes this massive increase in entry fees? Well, I tend to think that 5,000 unpaid volunteers would like to see some of this increase. Pay ‘em doulble. I’ll cover it.

In as much as I review daily news articles about running, I can tell you that these BIG cities almost throw it in our face how much money is brought in by tourism from a marathon weekend. The city room tax at some of these races is 17.5%. I have seen room occupancy tax nearly as high. Races estimate the revenue to be in the tens and even hundreds of millions. One race claimed $317 million. Perhaps a BIT of an exaggeration to some degree. However large a number it is, seems that it would more than adequately cover a few hundred hardworking traffic officials. Even if the city charges the race and ultimately the runner for double overtime. Surely it recuperates most of that with this HUGE economic impact. These races should not have it both ways. Raise the fees and the brag about economic impact, which is it? At any rate it seems they could hire a foreign army to patrol the race with this economic windfall. I hear we have several groups that exist right here in this country that will work for cheap. According to some people, these unspoken masses are stealing all our jobs. Well why not let ‘em work as course support for the marathons. How hard can it be to stand in the middle of the street and block traffic. Let’s ask the OCCUPY movement to join us. Problem solved and I can RUNMORE without maxing out my damn credit cards.

And that brings me to another point associated with these large overly priced marathons; the foreign army of runners that attends the race. How do they get here? Who pays for their travel? What about all that prize money? The race may claim that sponsors have generously donated or funded the prize money? Money that could go toward you and I or even the brave souls passing out much needed water and fuel along the course. Instead of handing a HUGE cash payout to a runner(s) you paid to come to your race, why not split up the prize money to include age group runners. Split it up based on percentages of the total runners in the race for each age group. It’s really not prize money when you pay to bring in a crowd of runners who you expect to win. I agree that money can motivate. Why not spread that motivation out a little bit. Have you ever seen an eighty-year old run a SUB 3 hour marathon? Offer up equal age group money and I bet it happens in less than a year.

Further, if you’re going to help deplete my bank account, how about stepping up on the schwag bags and give us something worth while for that mammoth entry fee. Something besides more fliers for other high cost races. Better yet just give us our bibs and let us run. Keep what was formerly known as “schwag” bag which is now just a litter bag. Whatever happened to the “NO T-SHIRT” option. I’d just as soon be handed a used paper towel when compared to some of these rags that are passed off as race shirts. I feel like I’m being charged for peanuts on my United airlines flights.

Some races almost have a “cock fight” mentality with the competition on their course. They pay to bring a slew of fast foreign runners so the course record can be “smashed” by a few seconds and your race will make the news headlines. This all the while charging an ever increasing amount to the people that really matter. The ones who want to be there for your event. Sure a course record is great for your race and of course your sponsors who get free advertising when they are a title sponsor. But consider that a death at the London Marathon got just as many headlines as Mary Keitany’s national record. The whole thing has become a money making shark tank and runners are giving away their retirement funds just to be involved. I don’t give a rip if a course record is lowered by a minute or an hour. Keep my entry fee low and I will come back to run your race. Tell your sponsors that runners are sick of paying for something that they should be providing. A fun race FOR the runner. We will take notice of who is chipping in to the overall marathon experience and not just targeting one or two select athletes.

Before you tell me that I should go find smaller, less expensive races, please note that this is one of the reasons why I run smaller races. Sure the winning time may not be a world record, but I am not schlepping my coin collection to pay for some foreign runners plane flight or hotel room. I like low entry fees. I love race directors and/or race committees who care about the runner and not entirely about making money or pleasing some “in it for the wrong reason” sponsor. Who doesn’t or wouldn’t like a low entry fee. As the commercial goes “IT’S FREE MONEY.” Except the flow, right now, is going in the wrong direction and to the wrong people.

Most of these race directors seem to be so out of touch with the participants of their races. Sadly, runners today are mostly of the “one and done” variety and don’t even realize that they are being price gouged during race registration.

Judging from the skyrocketing number of recent race entries, I must be the only one who is pissed about giving up a kidney to do what used to cost pennies. And people wonder why I loved the 80′s.

I realize costs go up, but when do we, the runners, take back control of our races. It’s not the race directors race. It’s a race for us and should be all about us. Not 6 or 7 ‘elite’ runners or 2 sponsors. And it sure as hell should not be about some running club or the race director. It should be about the hundreds of thousands of us who toe the line to compete and we should all be treated with equality and respect. Still think the running world is “all inclusive?”

As always, comments welcome!


24 Responses to Let Them Eat Cake

  1. The Manimal says:

    Thought about running a very local half marathon until I discovered the “early” registration was $70. As you can guess, I’m not running it. What a bunch of BS for a small, local race.
    The Manimal

  2. Anthony says:

    Simple case of supply meets demand. If people keep paying it, then directors will keeping jacking the prices up. I dont agree with at all either.

  3. Cole says:

    I can’t tell you how many races I’ve had to skip due to exorbitant charges. I’m sorry but unless the races are going to start providing housing and transportation I’m putting the money toward my mortgage & gasoline (& beer). Last time I checked I can run on the roads or trails for free and the $35 bucks I saved for covering my OWN 3.1 miles is a pretty damn good finishing prize.


  4. Thanks for posting this, on a follow up on my comment from FB. Is it allowed for people to make races on their own? Do we become responsible if something happens to some one during a “friendly” race? I am thinking something organized among friends and everyone puts up some few bucks for shirts (if wanted) and are responsible for bringing their own water and snacks for the course on a local park.

  5. Galen says:


    My racing budget is somewhat fixed. Therefore, as the prices increase I can either 1) run fewer races, or 2) look for less expensive races to maintain the same quantity. I think I’ll choose the latter.

    At the Wild Sebastian 100 (I only ran 50 miles), several of the Florida Ultra Runners (FUR) club mentioned that it made no sense to run marathons, because the cost per mile was too high. Those were my sentiments for local five- and ten-Ks; however, I’m starting to feel as they do about marathons – too expensive.

    I agree with Anthony – it is as simple as supply and demand. When the participation falls as prices increase, the market is telling them to lower the prices. Until then, expect continued increases from those RDs whose primary motive is profit.

    It seems to me that the trail and ultra-marathon RDs are less focused on profit than the sport. I will be doing more of those in 2012.


  6. aaron says:

    chuck you’re 100% CORRECT!!! I hate running these marathons that are so overpriced…if i get into NYC then i’ll be forced to pay that $255…fine, it sucks, but fine, there were only 3 races that i SPECIFICALLY wanted…Chicago, DONE. Boston, DONE. NYC for New York *fingers crossed,* i just signed up for an 8 hr ultra and there was a no shirt option, for $30 less!! seriously i doubt the tech shirt cost $30, but i get your point. one of the reasons i LOVE running smaller or races, or like you, getting a chance to RUN MORE with ultras that are still far cheaper. c u on the course in the future my friend!

  7. Renné Hernández says:

    im totally agree with You. Races are about runners, sometimes we sponsor local runners to run in our local races because the entry fees are so expensives and directors give priority to give free entriess to foreign runners that just take the cash awards. they dont even care about the city or the races, some times i think they dont even care about running. They are just mercenaries and are killing slowly the core of the races. Have fun, support a cause, have PRs, convive and have lots of funs. Years ago the star of a race was the guy who lose 50 pounds, or the coupe who enganged in the same race they met a couple years ago, the local buthcer who lost half feet and ran his first 5k… right know many directors dont even care about it…they just want to attract 4 or 5 kenians to “improve the quality” (theres its nothing against they)but right know the day to day runners 99% of the people lined behind the start line apparently arent not so important as the big sponsor and a bunch of elite runners.

  8. Just checked prices for couple of marathons I was aiming…

    1: early $85 – late $150
    2: early (first 1000) $100 – late $130

    *Registration fees are non-refundable and non-transferable.

  9. It’s even worse in triathlons. In the 5 years I’ve been running tri’s the average sprint cost has gone from about $45 to over $70. This is absurd too. An Ironman registration is over $700. balls.

  10. Kevin Leathers says:

    As always Chuck, your opinion is interesting. I do not disagree totally… but the big races sellout… small races wither and die due to low turnout. In triathlon, Ironman has crushed many local long-distance triathlons… because triathletes want that LOGO and race experience. Same thing with RnR events in running. No answers here.. but there is something to the supply/ demand argument and the finicky, indulgent nature of people. We only have ourselves to blame! Whether it be autos, cellphones or races… people are willing to pay (overpay) to get a certain brand, bling or status.

  11. Mike P says:

    A local half marathon was $12 last month (registration at the event), which seems fair and right. I hate spending more than $50 for an event that will be over by noon!

  12. ING => too expensive
    Rock ‘n Roll => too expensive
    NYRRC => too expensive

    The list goes on and on. These races never have race-day packet pickup either, so one has the additional expense of having to get there a day early even if they drive to the race. Despite this, many races would still sell out at double their current price. Yet another example of irrational exuberance.

  13. Caitlin says:

    This is great. Love it! Carolina is correct about the Triathlons….that is an absurb cost as well.

  14. John D. says:

    wow…MJ….way to stir the pot…aside from the finishers medal of marathons or ultras which do cost some money but not much to produce, the prices have increased to unbelievable amounts…one of the things which i think is increasing is the “Rock and Roll” marathons/half marathon events. just because of the “R and R” tag, that increases the price by at least 30% or so…i will point the finger for now at the R and R events and tell them to bug out and not drive the BMW’s to the start to act offical….the other is the foreign runners coming in… how about supporting our local USA runners and covering some of their expenses.. their plane fare is not that much… keep it simple stupid… have fun.. run more…

  15. Bruce G in KS says:

    Great comments Chuck! I ran Boston in ’69 for $2 entry fee, but cannot remember whether the shirt was included. Question: Do you feel you may go sub-3 at age 80? I would like to come and watch if possible, as I would be 101. My dad is 99, so who knows? I am trying to stay sub 3:30 @ 62 for as long as I can, so, still too slow for the prize $$$$. By the way, can you reveal the name of the wine involved in this rant–I hope we can get it here!! Keep running (I know you will).

  16. Shelby says:

    Agree 100%! The one thing that those expensive races do well is get the word out – advertising. My first Half Marathon was Disney and I just assumed that the price I paid was typical. I continued to do Disney races only and then discovered local races and smaller races only to be shocked at the differences.

    For a fraction of the price, I may have not had the opportunity to take a picture with Mickey, but the amenities at these great races are often so much better for so much less. They may not have 17,000 runners, but that is the irony of it all. Couldn’t these big races afford to have more amenities with the number of runners? Yet, those are the ones we hear about that run out of water, etc. Makes no sense at all.

    Price is not indicative of the quality of the race…and hopefully more people find those great races without large advertising budgets.

  17. Hiken Bike says:

    As a race director of a half-marathon in Western Pennsylvania, I have to balance price with out-of-pocket expenses. I do not have sponsors to offset the cost of port-a-johns, post-race fruit/cookies, water for before, during and after, timing services, and awards for overall and age division winners (no finishers medals here). The event is used to raise money for a non-profit rails-to-trails group of which I am a member. This year’s edition was the largest ever with 214 finishers combined (5K and HM). In the HM, the first woman was just 9 seconds off the pace of the men’s winner! She was an All-American in Div II at IUP as a mother of 2! Although I want to make money for the group, I charge $20 for the HM and $12 5K for the pre-registered. I charged $10 extra for a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt (which cost $9.09 to make!). Didn’t make any money on that, and I try not to have too many made so I’m not saddled with the cost of unsold t-shirts. However, this year’s Bald Eagle design was in demand and I could have made more and not had to worry about costs. But, in today’s economy in a rural area between Erie, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, you can’t always judge turnout! I am thankful for Easter travelers and great weather (Missouri couple ran the 5K and a Langley AFB resident ran the HM!). If the race doubles in size, I may have to PAY volunteers to help since I’ve used my email and cell contacts each year to scrounge for assistance! Why do I do it? Simple: the state park has a 12 mile path around a lake. Someone HAD to organize a race there! And, if I get a chance to run it before the event, my time gets inserted after the awards ceremony! I was 9th of 9 in my age division!

  18. Shannon says:

    This blog is just awesome. My thoughts: unless your surname is Mutai why bother with the World Majors. Besides the ridiculous cost of the entry fee…Does anyone really like sitting outside in the cold morning air for 3 hours (that’s longer than it takes MJ to finish one) before a race, paying $350 for a $150 hotel room, and feeling like you are at a mall on Black Friday instead of race expo to just get a freaking bib? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll see you all at a small race soon!


  19. jen says:

    Totally agree. Horse shit is right. I am from a small city in Sask, Canada. My group puts on a half and full marathon. We charge $40 for which each participant gets chip timing, beautiful medal, full hot meal and a technical race item (sugoi toque this year). Any money left is donated, we want to encourage people to run, and also give free entries to certain youth groups who cannot afford to run. These races don’t promote our sport in a way. Lower income people can’t even enter a race and get a medal because the prices are so outlandish, very unfortunate. I say RANT away, and all of us should ban together and RANT!!!

  20. Haggie says:

    Great article!! You mention the big cities but the same “inflation” has hit the rurals as well. I had participated in the Canadian Death Race for 5 years and on the last year the race director sold the race to North Face. When North Face took over they required a $100 increase to the registration fee bringing it up to $350 per person ….. not per team. You are looking at 1000 to 1200 registered participants with NO refund due to injury and no option to switch to a team. Their policy is “too bad, so sad.”

  21. Blaine Moore says:

    That’s one of the reasons for putting on low-cost local races. One of the races I direct is a popular area 10 miler in the middle of the Winter here in Maine. Despite the problematic weather and tough training conditions, we’ve had to cap the race at 800 people because the town won’t let us put it on with more people than that. Despite the demand, we keep the cost down to $15 (although if you want a shirt we do sell them at about 20 cents above our cost which doesn’t even cover the volunteer shirts who get them for free.) $25 if you get a shirt is still less than a lot of local 5ks with a fraction of the people and service to the runner. (This year we actually put the race on at a loss – 3/4 of our runners didn’t have to pay to enter the race due to having to cancel it 3 times last year, so we didn’t charge folks to run it this year if they wanted to transfer their registration despite the fact that we didn’t keep any of that money.)

  22. Face Plant says:

    Ya, for a sport that’s so simple and awesome, it’s a damn shame that race fees prevent some runners from participating in organized events.
    With two kids involved in minor sports there ain’t a whole lot of disposable $$$ left over for multiple race fees throughout the year. Last year I ran a marathon and that was it race wise. This year I’ve been itching to run even a 5K, but can’t cough up $35 since it just seems like a rip off. That’s a lot of beer.
    Gotta save up for a fall marathon.

  23. Hal says:

    Chuck you are so right, I ran a 10 K race with Billy Mills & Frank Shorter in 1976, the fee was $10 and a free T Shirt.NY, Boston, Grandma’s,LA,Chicago Marathons are just too expensive for what we get in exchange for the fun run. I hate how IRonMan Races, 70.3, 140.6 are charged huge entrance fees, and u can’t get a refund, if u are Injured or to sick to race that day. Where is the compassion????? Hal in Wis.

  24. hossein "hoss" oshrieh says:

    If it weren’t for us marathoners, they couldn’t hold too many races let alone increase the entry fees. We have spoiled the greedy running organization. We need strong runners to star boycutting them.

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Chuck Engle

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