Race Fees: How Much is Too Much?

A friend of mine – we’ll call her Meredith – who volunteers alongside me in our exchange student program also happens to be a runner. She is from Belgium and used to run more competitively when she used to live in Europe.

Ever since she moved to Philadelphia (and to the States for that matter) she still runs and puts in a bit of mileage, but she has since stopped running in races. Why, we might wonder?

“The fees here, especially in comparison to Europe, are insane. Especially even the shorter and smaller races in and around the city.”

She had wanted to sign up in the Broad Street Run as her first run in the States, but after seeing the fees, she was rather annoyed. In Europe apparently, it’s a lot more affordable, and this is regardless of whether you’re running in a major city or a smaller town.

Initially I had thought it was just her, but working more with the European exchange students I was hearing more of the same thing from them as well.

“A 5k here is twice the amount I’d pay in Germany!”

And so forth. Even some of my friends who’d spent some time abroad mentioned the same thing.

This had me thinking a little. I would have to agree with Meredith with rising race fees between US and other countries from what I’ve read and seen, although in my eyes, 5k runs that raised money for an organization such as Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or Komen’s Race for the Cure I could understand being a little pricier. You aren’t just running competitively, you are raising awareness and raising money.

Runners start on Ronks Road. 6 November 2010.

But independently run 5k, 5 mile or 10k races being $25 to $30 each? Charity raiser or no, do enough of those, and those add up. If you’re a serious distance (half-marathon or greater) you’re doing enough of those already just training.

What are you paying for when you run a race? Well the essentials are well, duh…

– Course support and first aid for sure. You never compromise on those. That’s a sheer given.
– Timing services and USATF certification if applicable, those are the costs of holding a race. Looked up the USATF certification process for sheer curiosity and looked up a couple of companies (PA-based Pretzel City Sports and End Result have done timing for some of my recent races) to see how typical costs would run.

See those are givens I’d think.

But the fluff? The venues taken out for an expos, advertising costs, finishers medals, the post-race party, what roads are shut down, cost of public services (esp in major cities), I imagine some of these costs are thrown at the runner. But this is where I think some of the differences occur. For races held in larger cities, I can see the fees being justified a bit higher.

The absolute extremes? There are races such as Disneyworld races that will always be expensive because everything Disney is expensive. Take a look at this for example:

WALT DISNEY WORLD® Marathon – $135
WALT DISNEY WORLD® Half Marathon – $135
Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge – $310
Disney Family Fun Run 5K – $45
Mickey’s Marathon Kids’ Fest – $10
Mickey Mile – $25

Considering you are getting admission to a Disneyworld park of your choice the day after, hey, you are paying for that you know. But if you want that experience, I think you should go for it. The only thing I’d question here? I’m not sure the half marathoners should be paying the same amount the full people are since they aren’t getting the “same” course support, but hey, that’s just me.

The other extreme is the ING NYC Marathon. The application lottery fee is $11 or so to just enter the lottery and then anywhere between $156 and $231 if you win a spot. More specifically, $156 for NY Roadrunners, $196 for US residents, $231 international. (EDIT: Correction, found the prices here.)

Now the prices in of themselves are ridiculous. But when you consider there are at least 35,000 or so runners and this is one of the premiere marathons in the world, paying that amount for what could be a once in a lifetime experience for a runner may not seem so, well, outlandish.

As for races I’ve run so far, I’ve done a no-frills half marathon tuneup in Fairmount Park. $25 for 5 water stops and timing provided as well as a comfortable long sleeve t-shirt, and refreshments provided at the end. What did I want out of that race? Experience and a test run. I didn’t need anything else. My first half marathon experience was 50 or 55 I think. I know the ODDyssey, which I believe will attract 1500-2000 runners to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, is about the same amount. But the majors? For halfs, you are easily paying 80-85 stateside. Full? Approaching $100 for sure. And mind you, I am making one major assumption here – this is if you are one of the earlier registrants. I know the fees go up closer to the deadline.

Race weekend poster at the Expo. 19 November 2010.

Other countries? I know Canadian races you’ve paying 60-70 if you register early enough, my friend Tiffany – a medical student at Pittsburgh – did this half in Toronto and fees were noticeably cheaper than here, with the same great course support on average. Europe – 60 Euros on average for a half marathon. For them, that’s cheaper, of course the dollar equivalent is right on par here.

Given the halfs I’ve done and registered for so far, I think if it’s commensurate with the locale and the number of entries, that should justify the fee. I paid $80 for Shamrock Fest when I registered in October and I think given what to expect, I think it’s a justifiable price, even though it’s 30 more than two of my other halfs. The same can be argued for anything in the Rock n’ Roll series – the bands and the festivities will justify the higher prices. Though upon looking at some of the other Canadian races, I am curious as to how our neighbours to the north are able to admin races at seemingly lower costs compared to us.

Where I’m more likely to agree with people on race fees being “nutty” are the shorter races. For a 5 miler in Lititz, I paid $18 in advance, but for the same one as part of the Philly Marathon I think the cost was 40-45 (I had registered for this ages ago long before I even knew I was running a half). My first 5k was for a local cancer organization but given the refreshments and other support, I didn’t feel the $25 I paid was bad. Another 5k I ran in the fall in Fairmount for Community Legal Services (which provides pro bono services for low-income families) charged $20 in advance. I’ve heard of some 5ks in small towns that are not associated with charities or whatever, charging 30 or more though, and that I think is nuts. I know a number of half marathons in Central PA that don’t hold expos (due to the smaller markets) but their fees are in the 50s for halfs. But there are others also in Central PA in this same boat that will charge 70-80 pulling the same thing and I wonder how they get away with it. But because I live downtown, and there are plenty of races downtown, I am not inclined to leave the city to run as much, especially any shorter races.

As for me, with what I am looking at with halfs…I know Pierre is looking at a 5k or 5 miler and he wants to do it alongside me. Drama from Phoebe notwithstanding, I told him pick something reasonable in Lancaster County and I’d swing by for a weekend.

Now as the economy recovers, and the price of everything seems to get higher…I think there’s one thing we can all agree on – hopefully race directors can find a way or two to keep a balance and things in check and if they are in touch with what their audiences want I’d say they can keep a good race going delivering what people want for the cost they are willing to pay.

The band plays at the Amish Half. 6 November 2010.

I’ll admit I haven’t been running that long either. If you’ve been running awhile (at least a few years) have fees in general been reasonable as long as you remember? Does it depend on the distance?

Also keep in mind I live in the Northeast, so I wonder if geography is an issue. Is it a smidge cheaper in the South and Midwest (since a lot of things generally are in most cases)? If you’re a runner across the pond what are your thoughts?

Would love to hear opinions and thoughts. Cheers.


2 thoughts on “Race Fees: How Much is Too Much?

  1. I agree. The prices are too high and I always seem to forget that part when I decide to do a race. Oh, yeah…I have to pay at least $25 for this. I’ve only done 5K’s and I just can’t believe they charge that much. But I try to just think of it as the cost of having a hobby. I also try to get discounts when I can by registering early or looking for online coupons (sometimes I get lucky with bigger races). In MN we typically pay $25-30 for 5K’s. Interested to hear what other states pay. Great post! -SG

  2. I guess I never really thought about how much it costed for people to run in races. I didn’t realize it was so expensive!! But I think you are right, if it goes to a good cause, it’s more justifiable. And you do get a lot of services out of it, with the emergency care, police helping guide traffic. I think it’s so awesome that you are committed to this! I need something like this in my life…

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