The Quest For Numbers

With the running boom from last decade continuing to show no signs of ending, major marathons continue competing to attract runners and retain past years’ finishers.

Many were astonished to learn Grandma’s Marathon filled by Dec. 31. Motivation to sign up for a major anniversary — Grandma’s is celebrating its 40th rendition in June — was bolstered by participants wanting the commemorative jackets to those signing up for the milestone race. There are more than a few disappointed runners who planned to sign up in the spring.

Typically, Grandma’s closes registration three weeks prior to race day, and for the past several years failed to sell out. A jacket and milestone year now has some runners shut out.

And earlier this week, the Twin Cities Marathon  (the featured image on this post comes from this year’s race poster) opened registration for this fall. It seems registration is earlier than past years.

Many of the major races also find themselves competing for runners’ attention and race entry fees.

The New York City Marathon typically sets the pace with early registration, and a lottery March 8 will determine who is in and who is out. Other big races — notably Chicago and Marine Corps — are in high demand, with the number of people signing up outpacing entry numbers. Of course, for the Boston Marathon, it’s no longer enough to run a qualifying time — runners are selected based on how much under their QT they finished.

The very largest races don’t need to worry about a full field. Most other races are finding it harder to fill all of the available entries, prompting competition, creativity and marketing blitzes in hopes of attracting runners.

At Grandma’s, the jacket proved to be a winning combination in creating demand to enter. Last year, the St. George Marathon’s planned lottery never happened because they had more openings than people who initially signed up. In an effort to lure runners back, St. George offered guaranteed entry for those showing up early to fill buses shuttling participants to the start line.

Recent stories in running publications also have questioned whether there are too many races.

With new races popping up all over, the established races find it harder to bring back their traditional base or attract new runners. It’s not just at the longest distances, either. Races from the half marathon and down have sprung up all over the country, and some of those shorter races aren’t so cheap. Community 5K and 10K races often run $30 or more — forcing frequent racers (especially in larger metropolitan areas where there are more events) to give a second thought about a circuit of summer races.

Are there too many races? Are there enough new runners and racers to make putting those small races on?

With marquee races bumping up registration dates and employing creative tactics to get people registered, are we staring down a “survival of the fittest” quandary on the horizon?

The biggest and best races aren’t going to wait to find out. Instead, they’ll continue competing to keep runners coming back year after year?

Do all the frills that come with a race — swag, medals, food, shirts and more — make enough difference for runners to sway decisions on which races to enter?

Is there a demand for “no-frills” races, perhaps with optional shirts or swag, have in the future?

1 Response

  1. As a Brit, I’d LOVE to be able to run London Marathon, but it’s so difficult to get a place through the ballot and I’m too slow to qualify for Good For Age. The only other option open to me is to run it for a charity, but I don’t have the time to fundraise £1500.

    Whilst race souvenirs can be nice, they usually add more to the cost of a race so they aren’t often good value for money. One of my favourite races last year was Durlach Turmberglauf in Germany. There was no chip timing, but I didn’t mind as it only cost €6 to enter and I was given a commemorative glass at the end.

    In the UK running is booming. There are a number of contributory factors, including the London 2012 Olympics and the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, but I think the biggest influence has been the growth of parkrun. Parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5k that is held in many locations across the UK (and a number of other countries). It’s a low-risk entry point for many runners who then go on to enter other events. Maybe there will be a parkrun near you soon?

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