Having run quite a large number of races at this point, I knew it was only a matter of time before one of them was going to be pretty awful. The last race I ran gave me a PR, but the instant I finished I felt as if it was a waste of time and I was ready to go home. So what was it? Why didn’t I have any fun? I realized it was the demeanor of the folks putting on the race; they really did not seem to care. There were only cookies and fruit at the end (for a dinnertime race), the guy supposed to be handing out waters at the halfway point was just sitting on top of the cooler (what?! we have to pour our own water while racing?!), and there were no awards, not even for the first place finishers (and it was chip-timed? Why?). To add to insult, the race cost $35 (for a 5K!) and that was the “no-tshirt” option! Personally, I feel as if a race is not only about pushing your body to its limits, but getting the chance to socialize and enjoy the company of other runners and running-minded people. So, after a little research, I’m going to share a few ways to not end up running in (and not wasting money on) a poorly put together race.
The people who put on a race obviously control the majority of the race – providing food, post-and pre race activities, awards, and reeling in the volunteers. Most races have an assortment of sponsors, with one or two main sponsors. I have found that the best put-on races are mainly sponsored by a pre-dominant, local running company – one that you probably enjoy shopping and spending money at. Speaking generally, a running company is probably going to put on a much better race than a club or small charity because they are paying their employees to go out and search for other sponsors, and probably also paying their employees to work the race as well. Furthermore, a local running company is usually filled with running employees who know what a race should be like.
A little trick: when you are looking to sign up for a race, try to find out what the list of sponsors is. Usually the main sponsor will be in the race description, but if you can find the smaller sponsors, you might know what else to expect from the race. For example, a few races ago, I noticed that there was a local BBQ place on the list of sponsors. Sure enough, there was free BBQ for everyone after the race!
Number of Years
Be wary of “1st annual” races. I’m not saying that they will all be terrible, but they will be less organized than races that have been an annual occurrence for many years. A first annual race also may not be as exciting as the number of racers is generally fewer and the sponsorship relationships may not yet be in place.
Large charities can put on some amazing and inspiring races. I am not saying that racing for smaller charities is something you should avoid, but there is a good chance that a large, well-funded charity, like the Red Cross or the Susan G. Komen Foundation are going to take very good care of their racers. For charities, races can be one of the more profitable events they can put on; the more people they draw to their race, the more money they will raise.
Take race descriptions literally. If it says nothing about giving out awards, don’t expect awards to be handed out. If it says there will be a DJ and vendors, you can expect there to be some post-race fun. If there is no race description (for instance on active.com) be careful! The race description is often what people read to decide if they want to do it or not. If there is no race description, or a very brief one, then the sponsors may just not care. However, if the race description is a full paragraph filled with tons of information about the race, then the sponsors are trying to draw as many racers as possible and there may be a lot of fun to be had.
Simply put, does it seem like the race is worth the money? Look over the race carefully and make an educated decision. Paying a large amount of money to race and feeling like you didn’t get what you paid for is not a pleasant feeling. Racing can be expensive; I probably spend between 200-300 dollars a year on races and I want that money to be representative of a good time.
The Bottom Line
- Race with a sponsor you trust to do a good job; running companies and large charities often put on some of the best races.
- Races that have been going on for many years are probably better organized.
- Read the race description carefully; be wary of race events with no or very little description.
- Ask yourself if the race looks to be worth the money.
Again, the comments I’ve made in this post are a generalization. I have run in many well put together races that defy some of the above guidelines. Asking a running friend who has competed for certain sponsors before, or in a particular race, will gladly give you their honest opinion. And if you do find yourself competing in a poorly-organized race, complain! Especially in the case of 1st annual races, most sponsors will be happy to hear your feedback on how they can improve.
Ashley is a geologist at Schlumberger, specializing in geologic modeling software. She completed her Masters degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid runner, cyclist, and rock climber. She will pretty much race anything and everything. You can find her hanging out on White Oak in Houston, TX or climbing and running in Austin.