Thursday, January 24, 2013

Race Pricing: What's Worth Paying Extra For?

Last year I did a lot of races, some cheap and some more expensive. This year I've decided to be much more selective and I'm starting to think about my budget limits and what races are worth paying more for and which aren't.

I'm not a race director and I do not know any race directors, but if you know one, I'd love to chat and find out more about what goes into race pricing!

A few weeks ago, the pricing for the Chicago Marathon was released and lots of people were upset with the increase from last year. Compared to other major marathons, and the increased popularity last year, I'm not really surprised the price was raised. (The race costs $175.) It really is a superior event. You run through the streets of Chicago in many neighborhoods you'd never have the chance to do so otherwise. It is well supported, well organized and the city really embraces the event. Plus, living less than an hour away, it really is right in my own backyard. The Chicago Marathon and I have some unfinished business and I hope to cross that finish line some day. But I digress... The point I wanted to make is that the Chicago Marathon may be expensive to some, but you'll get an experience unlike any other. I don't really think it is that expensive for what you're getting out of it.
Me and Mag Mile Runner during the 2012 Chicago Marathon

There seems to be a new trend though, races charging a "premium" price for a "premium" event. The meaning is that the larger price tag comes with perks that you wouldn't normally get at a "regular" race. The thing is, if you use these extra perks or not, it doesn't matter. You will be paying the same price tag as everyone else. This past year I signed up for some races with larger price tags where some lived up to expectations and others did not. I'm not going to name names of races, but sometimes the more expensive ones just weren't worth it. And sometimes the cheaper races were just that, cheap. With so many options out there, it is nice when you find great events that are fun and worth the price. Have you done one of the "premium" events? Was the premium price worth it?

There was once concept I learned in the race registration world last year and that is "menu pricing." I don't know why more smaller-medium sized races don't do it. You sign up for what you want (general race price, race shirt, chip timing) and if you don't want it, you don't have to pay for it. I imagine there would be some headaches associated if computer systems don't sync up properly or if people change their mind on race day, etc. That is why it probably would work best for small-to-medium sized races. Would you like if more races did "menu" pricing? There have been some races that I just can't justify spending the money on, but I'd like to run them.

When I run any race (5k, half marathon or full marathon, I guess), there are a few things I'm looking for.

1) Course - I'd really like a nice, different course. In Chicago there are so many half marathons on the lakefront path that are just "out and back." Give me something different, something that I haven't seen before, something that gets me excited! If a Chicago race actually closes down city streets, I'm willing to pay a premium price to do something I wouldn't normally get the chance to do. And please, please include an ACCURATE elevation chart if there are hills. When you're running a longer distance (like a half or full marathon), it is great help to manage your own expectations and training on race day.

Get Lucky 21k with Sara aka Gingerfoxxx
 I did this race just for the medal
2) Medal - Can I have something that looks nice, a little embellishments, perhaps a nice decorative ribbon to commemorate the achievement? If there are other events, along with a half marathon or full marathon, that offer a medal, can we have something that differentiates us? I ran a race where 5k and half marathon participants received the same swag. Not that I think that 5kers don't deserve a medal, I just would like something a little extra since half marathoners pay more and go 10 miles farther... If the medal is really cool or something that is unlike anything else, I would pay a little extra for it.

3) Swag Bag - Some races have a bags full of random flyers but a decent expo where you can score some cool free stuff. Other races charge more because they are giving you some things in your swag bag. In my opinion, I shouldn't be paying for stuff that comes in a swag bag. If I wanted to pay for it, I would buy it from the store. Please don't tout this as a perk because not everyone wants to pay for something they don't want or will use.

History of the Shamrock Shuffle shirts
4) Shirt/Jacket - Jackets appear to be coming more popular, especially in fall races. Although these jackets come at a much higher price tag. I already have a bunch of jackets that I like so I could kind of give or take them. I only wear jackets at certain times of the year and I have extra long arms so not many of them fit me properly to begin with. I don't want to pay for something that I don't want or am not going to use. I might be in the minority here but I really love a nice-fitting short sleeved dry fit t-shirt. I wear them year round (even underneath my layers in the winter) including wearing them to the gym. Just please, please give me something gender-specific ("unisex" is not gender-specific), whatever you do.

Disappointed with post-race promises
5) Post-Race Food/Party - After a race, there is nothing better than downing a banana (sometimes 2 or 3) and then munching on a bagel while drinking a bottle of water before getting an ice cold beer. Some races have promised big parties with lunch boxes, chocolate, pizza, beer and lots of other stuff. All the other stuff is great, as long as we get our bottles of water, bananas, and bagels. Beer is always a nice added extra.

6) Packet Pickup - Many races in large cities do not do race-day packet pickup, which I completely understand. However, it would be really great if packet pickup was at a convenient location (accessible via public transportation), in the downtown area (the Loop). Having it at a western/central suburb location for one of the days (or 2) would be even better. If packet pickup isn't convenient for majority of people (only after work, during the week, in Lincoln Park), there is a good chance I won't do the race.

What are some of your must-haves for a race? Did I leave anything out? What are some things you'd pay extra for?


  1. Michel@BabyWeightMyFatAssJanuary 24, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Flushing porta pot's. Wisconsin Marathon Half Marathon in Kenosha had them in 2011 and they won me with those.

  2. Menu pricing is tough because you typically need to order shirts pretty far in advance. At least, that's what the race directors for the race I'm on the committee for tell me. But I can totally see opting out of the shirt or swag for a lower price. Why not?

    And your comments about packet pick-up are spot-on. I may live in the city but if your store isn't near any convenient public transportation from the Loop and you don't have easy parking? Yeah, not going to be a big fan of that. It isn't a make-or-break deal but it's definitely a plus if packet pick-up is on race day.

    And, YES! I want my medal to indicate which distance I did for sure.

  3. How could I have forgotten porta potties?!?!?! Flushing ones? I didn't even know those existed!

  4. The "swag" especially gets me. If you're putting in a pair of socks that retails for $10 and increasing the price by $10 to cover these socks, that doesn't make much sense to me. If I wanted a $10 pair of socks, I'd buy a pair from the store.

    Hot Chocolate had packet pickup in a parking lot at Soldier Field. Not someplace you can park or take public trans to. And it was outside, in November. Um, another fail.

  5. I just want a good RACE. Can we just focus on the RACE, and putting on a well-executed event? All of those extras are irrelevant to me if the race isn't well done. And if it's more expensive than I can afford, then it doesn't matter if you're giving away ponies.

    And the shirts - I've been lucky that most shirts fit me, but I know not everyone experiences this. And then they are jacking up the price for a "premium" you don't need/won't use ... waste of money. Keep the price lower and let me decide if I want to purchase that premium. I liked that at the Chicago Marathon, you could buy shirts, that way you could get the style and fit that you want. I realize that only bigger races can support that though.

  6. I did not realize they existed either. They must have a big water tank attached somewhere. Very cool...

  7. The medal factors into my decision in a big way. I think of Venus de Miles and Zooma as "premium" races because of the post-race party, but neither of the races charge exorbitant prices.

  8. I think that some of these "premium" races are making themselves out to be an event or a destination. For an inaugural race, it is hard when there is nothing to back it up... And it seems like more and more races are becoming a "premium" which excludes some of us "every day" runners without a huge budget.

  9. I felt that Zooma was on the pricier side, but I waited to register in hopes of hearing about their ambassador program. (By the time I found they weren't taking new applicants, the price had gone up quite a bit.) I'm also not a huge fan of big post race parties with a big-name band that I'm paying extra for. Just give me a good, well-run race for a reasonable price.

  10. EVERY time you post that Shamrock Shuffle shirt, I rack my brain trying to figure out why I don't have the white shirt with the little shamrock (top middle). Why didn't I run that year? Did I fall off the face of the planet? Was I abducted by aliens and they held me captive for a year or so? WHat the heck happened? Ahhhhhhh!!! It drives me crazy.

  11. Were you disappointed that Venus added the mandatory fundraising option? I don't like that at all. It was a deal breaker for me. :( I liked that race too.

  12. That is from 2008... Not sure what you were doing then! Did you do it when they had the long sleeved shirts? I was glad to get at least one of those old relics!

  13. I'm up for a "no swag" race! I just run to run. I rarely wear race shirts. I have no idea where my medals are located. I forget to use my freebies & coupons. I do however want chip timing. No exception there. That's not a perk. Its a matter of accuracy & recording our run history.

  14. And chip timing at the end and the BEGINNING of a race. I don't like when races are gun-timed. It really does give a disadvantage to those that wouldn't start in the front.

  15. In addition to the "Course" items you mentioned, how about an accurate, well-marked course with a lead vehicle driver that knows the course well, so they don't take a wrong turn and mess up the distance for a thousand plus runners? I know this should be standard but I seem to run a race that fails in this category every year.

  16. That's a good point. I've run races before where the distance was inaccurate. I even heard of a 20 mile race in Schaumburg that was only 19 miles. The told people to turn around, run a half mile more, then come back. Needless to say, not many people did that.

  17. I did a post a while back about unisex t-shirts and how I never wear them. I'd be thrilled to pay $10-20 less per race and not get a shirt. Of all the races I've done over the years, I probably wear 1% of the shirts I've recieved.
    I've also noticed a distinct change in swag bags. When I first started racing in 2006, I'd get bags with actual stuff in them - samples, sometimes a rain slicker or cowbell...then they went to just being filled with ads for other races. Now you get "virtual" swag bags, but they still list them as a benefit of registration. I wish they'd stop making it look like I'm paying for something when in reality, it doesn't exist.
    I want a good route, enough water/gu/gatorade for everyone and a decent medal. At the end, I'd like a bottle of water, a mylar blanket if it's cold outside and a bagel or a banana. Beyond that, I don't really care. Tinkerbell was interesting this year. At the end they gave out sealed boxes full of samples of things like nuts, chips, and luna bars. None of it looked appetizing, but I appreciated the effort.

  18. I agree. I've noticed this change in swag bags too. I distinctly remember getting a coupon for a free Chipotle burrito in my Shamrock Shuffle packet one year, and a free Potbelly's salad another year. I think the days of free stuff in swag bags has disappeared. The "virtual swag bag" is the biggest scam of all. It is usually just links to races and no actual coupons or discounts.

    It seems like more and more races are trying to change up what we get at the end... bottle of water, banana, bagel... Anything else would just be a nice "extra." We received boxed lunches after Zooma, but with the nature of a cold boxed lunch, the wraps were soggy by the time we were eating them. Not sure if that was the organization or the venue of the post-race event. Either way, I just wanted a bagel...

  19. It kind of ties into location, but parking/transportation!! i don't like showing up to the start line already stressed out... (and sometimes already sweaty!!)

  20. Yes, having a convenient location that is explained and easy to get to is always helpful. Sometimes you'd think that would be assumed... It is definitely not always the case...

  21. I agree with your rankings. I think the older I get and the more races I run, I care less about the shirt (especially when they are unisex!) and more about the course, medal, etc. I don't race a ton, but there are so many smaller, well-organized races out there that I wish more people would take advantage of.