2012 Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Expo Recap…and an Editorial
Part 1 of my recap will cover the expo experience and an editorial on changes that Competitor Group are making to its races.
Race: Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon
Location: Fairmount/Kelly Drive, Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 15 September 2012 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Same as last year, shockingly. Sunny with a breeze; temperatures started mid-50s, and progressed to low 70s by 9am. Perfect running weather.
Course conditions: Flat mostly with slight inclines and a steep sharp climb at the end. Course leads through Center City Philadelphia, with a turnaround in Washington Square West. Runners head back into Fairmount and deep on Kelly Drive into the East Falls neighbourhood, doubling on Martin Luther/West River Drive and back to the Art Museum.
Preview: This is the third time I have run this race. This summer has taken a toll on training, between breathing problems caused by extremely humid conditions this summer and a naggling knee injury I picked up end of July.
The volunteer “Race Crew” held our expo just shy of Chinatown in the Pennsylvania Convention Center at 13th and Arch Streets in the new wing of the convention hall, in Hall A.
The one thing I immediately noticed compared to the last two years was that everything was bigger. There were definitely more vendors and freebies compared to last year. Brooks’ Run Happy station (or Run Happy Island as they called it this year) was far more larger than it had ever been. And appropriately, their sales floor of labelled goods took up the most space in the layout, but more space than ever before in previous years.
So we had a bigger expo. Was it better? I’d have to say, definitely yes and credit to Brooks for an innovative, creative station.
First, let’s get to packet pick up. It was quite polished. I knew where my corral and bib was, and had my waiver in hand, so I did not have to look up my number at a station outside the convention hall. If you do not have your waiver, you need to stop by the chart and look yourself up based on your anticipated finish time. Take a waiver form and fill it out and then head to your corral.
If you wanted to change corrals, that was on you. There were stations that were specifically marked to deal with corral changes and other issues registrants had.
The issue I encountered was the actual bedlam itself. The expo opened Friday from noon to 7pm ET and Saturday 9am to 5pm. In typical style I generally go when doors open (assuming no travel for work) and the last two years, the crowds weren’t bad. This year however, Competitor Running warned in their pamphlets that local runners were strongly advised to pick up their packets on Friday.
The result? Bedlam.
Most locals working in the city went around lunchtime, namely as doors opened. Jumping not one but EIGHT long queues was annoying and if I had had any further issues such as changing corrals, I would have had to wait even longer. The Solutions queue stretched so long you could not even see the back of it.
I had heard from conversations with vendors that the best time to attend on Friday would have been 2-4pm before evening rush hour.
There are 24 corrals in all; I am in Corral 9.
Once I cleared this section, we were exposed to the area where we collected our shirts and our bags.
The runner shirt exposed:
And this on the small of the back. Shirts ran slightly snug compared to last year’s sizes. My shirt from last year still fits fine, mind you.
In response to the Boston Marathon bombings in April, runners are to use the clear plastic bags provided for their check in.
Once we cleared that station, we encountered Brooks Running’s massive shopping area and their Run Happy Island, where runners would be more acquainted with Brooks products and win freebies of their own. Seeing this as part of the experience, I went here and caught up with several of my friends from my run club.
On the hour, Brooks staff and volunteers performed a mini-comedy show with admittedly corny running jokes. To their credit, any children present had fun, and I saw LOADS of children with their runner parents.
Brooks had three stations here: gait analysis, a “mountain race” where runners would sprint in place, and a shoe rodeo. Runners that went through all three would pick up an awesome Brooks bag.
The rodeo shoe was quite something. For one thing I’m not too fond of these types of things but I was determined to not fall off. At country bars, the bull that people would ride will go as long as the person could hold. Here though, there appeared a maximum limit of 47 seconds (odd time I know) before the ride automatically stopped as staff figured that the queues could get horribly long.
After watching a few people, I decided the best way to keep from falling off was to keep my center of mass as close to the middle of the ride as possible, thus reducing the torque. In layman’s terms, most people that fell off were sitting back and as their weight shifted, they’d fly off, or exert more pressure on their arms gripping the shoe. For me, I gripped tightly despite my weaker arms but kept shifting my body weight the opposite direction of the shoe. This kept my body near the middle and unlikely to fall off.
I looked up only once to check the timer, which I saw at 26 seconds. My focus immediately went back to the shoe.
At 47 seconds, I still was on the shoe and relieved I didn’t fall off. And yes, in a geek moment of glee, I was happy that my science education actually came in handy.
After leaving the Brooks station, we progressed to the exhibitor area. The number of food vendors was up, and I collected samples from Jelly Belly’s sport beans, Larabar, Cascadian Farms, and the Food Should Taste Good brand. Other brands, such as Nature’s Path, placed samples in our swag bags. I got free product coupons as well from Hawaiian King, which appears to be a new brand of bread. Or at least I’d never heard of it before.
I sampled products from PowerBar and two other vendors that escape my mind.
The discussion panel area was clearly marked, and runners unfamiliar with Philly’s course could preview the course at the Geico booth.
The area was vast, product offerings were solid, plenty of supplies could be had, several at discount prices. But it was quite vast, and after wandering in a crowd for a few hours I wanted to go home. But then again, I know that for myself, if this was overwhelming, Disney’s expo in January would be insane and a workout in itself getting through just looking from pictures. I’d been through MCM’s gauntlet at the Armoury, but still I hadn’t seen it all yet.
As far as I could see, this expo had it all to offer for the runner and for the public and that was a good thing.
Changes From Prior Years – And Controversies
I decided I would also write on two changes I observed from last year. This might sound too academic, but as someone with her CPA and a career in finance, this is my balanced perspective on Competitor’s changes.
The first was Competitor’s decision to charge people for collecting multiple people’s packets.
Let’s outline the policy word for word from the email sent out:
Although this change did not affect me, the decision to do this blows my mind as an MBA student. Let’s be honest. Competitor Group (CG) are a private equity group and as any other business they need to make money. That is perfectly fine.
The problem PURELY from a business standpoint is the lack of value transparency. Specifically, runners cannot (easily) equate the value from standing in multiple lines (if they are not in the same corrals as their friends), spending MORE time in queue, with paying more money.
Furthermore, CG used their explanation that the charges were related to the increased costs of providing the service. The number of volunteers distributing the packets and the expo operating hours BOTH remain constant. What exactly has changed? After scouring my mind, the ONLY opportunity cost I can think of from CG’s standpoint is that with fewer people in the expo picking up packets, that’s less exposure for sponsors. Thus, less value in paying the money to have a stand at the expo as a sponsor.
In other words, unless I missed something, the ATTENDING runner is effectively subsidizing the cost for participating vendors. Businesses of all kinds make this mistake all the time but they do so at their own peril.
If I were standing in front of CG now, I would propose the following alternative: If you don’t make mail-order available, then charge the person UNABLE TO ATTEND. Have THAT person fill out information on themselves AND their person picking THEIR stuff up. Have the non-attendee pay online. Use emails that will allow their friend picking it up to get their information with ease. Place the burden appropriately on the right people so you can get more traffic at your expo. That person – the non-attendee – should be covering the cost to the exhibitors of not attending, NOT the runner who is.
If you are a race director or organiser, please feel free to comment. As a business student I am genuinely interested in this topic. As a runner I am even more intrigued. This might not affect my decision to participate in this race, but it could affect others decisions to select this race, travel here if necessary, and that’s what CG have to weigh against the cost of potentially fewer people exposed to vendors, exhibitors and sponsors.
Where CG is justified to charge more is SAME-DAY packet pickup (as additional staff and space is required for that on the grounds) or if they were to have it, mail-order pickup. The direct costs are there for space, personnel and shipping and charging the amount necessary plus a profit is justified and transparent to the customer, the participating runner(s).
That said I’ll move on to the second major change.
The second thing – and oft more commented – is the removal of appearance and competitive fees paid to elite runners. This has proven controversial for many reasons and I can definitely see both sides of the coin. There are runners who are complaining about the rising costs of races, CG races being some of the worst offenders. While Philly rates are more affordable in comparison ($65 to register a year in advance, normal start at $85) for early registrants, I find them outrageous for say, San Diego (starting non-discounted rate at $110 for the half, lowest at any point, $91) where I seriously contemplated running the half while down there visiting my best friend from university.
As a result, I can see why people would be glad to see the elites go if they feel they don’t want to pay for it. But those that enjoy that part of the experience feel they are being ripped off.
Again, if they haven’t already, CG need to properly allocate value before getting rid of the elites altogether. Is it shifting away from elite runners? As CG try to appeal to the masses, the answer would seem to be yes, but I think a more effective way of doing this would have to see in which markets, the demand for elite running is the strongest and weakest.
It looks like they might have done this with some of their races, and per the Runner’s World article, this is part of a longer process. Still those that are close to Philly’s race may rightly feel that Philly may be getting the short end of the stick.
It is possible that feedback from runners was overwhelmingly negative and that elite panels are not well attended. However, at some races they have been and elites have been VERY popular at a few races. Elites DO draw additional spectators on race day. And these races SHOULD be priced accordingly for either runners OR sponsors. Alternatively prize money should be adjusted if that is possible. The Philly RnR race was once known as the Philadelphia Distance Run, attracting a very elite field and still did through the first few years of RnR sponsorship.
In cost accounting, activity-based costing (ABC) or process-based costing allows you to price parts of a product or service accordingly and allocate value accordingly to different products. If CG or other mass race directors could do that here, they would keep the elites around in races or markets that were willing to support them. Markets being, not just runners willing to pay more, but sponsors and vendors willing to pay more for that perceived value of presenting to more spectators.
The result? They widen their product offerings. Races that appeal more to the casual runner and to those that enjoy the elites. To me, the concept is not much different from say, Unilever offering a mass-market brand of detergent and a premium higher-end brand.
That said, I am more than willing to bet that Philadelphia, based on history, would have been one of those markets willing to support the elite runner.
In Part 2, I will outline my experience on race day.
(Disclaimer: Neither I, nor any of my friends or family, have been or are affiliated with or employed by Competitor Group or the Rock n’Roll series. This is simply my opinion as a participant for the past three years.)