With road races opening up again, I have been working flat out adjusting programmes for my runners, as it has been a moving target with race dates continually changing. But I do this with a happy heart, after two years of being in the wilderness with few races.
But it wasn’t long before I noticed comments from some runners on social media, complaining about the increases in race entry fees. I ran my first ultramarathon way back in 1977 at the age of 15 (and NO, I don’t advise anyone to do this), and I have run 258 marathons and ultras on both road and trail, and goodness knows how many shorter races. So when it comes to the price of running shoes and race fee entries, I think that I have seen it all.
Let me be upfront and say that organising a road race is a thankless and often unrewarding task, except for when a runner says “thank you”. Most road races in this country are organised by clubs, and these clubs rope in club members and families as volunteers. This is essentially a community service, with volunteers giving their time for no financial reward.
I am known for being unable to organise a piss up in a brewery, and my two nightmares are being responsible for organising a water point, or having to marshal at a busy intersection. So I have huge respect for the volunteers who do this for us. I can remember marshals in their tee shirts years ago at the Pick ‘n Pay marathon, standing in the pouring rain when the skies opened, directing traffic. Heroes!
I came across a great article by The Running Mann on race entry fees, in which he interviews Graham Block, race organiser for the recent Joburg North City Marathon, and compares race entry fees over the past few years. Here is the link to the article http://runningmann.co.za/2022/02/22/why-are-entry-fees-so-high/
Graham adds some sanity to the race fee debate, when he explains that it cost about R500 000 to host this particular race. And with race entry fields currently limited to 2 000, due to Covid, it makes it hard to break even.
Let’s take a look at the chart for race entry fees in Running Mann’s article:
The Comrades marathon heads the list with the biggest price increase. And yet there are two things we need to keep in mind. The first is that races are losing their sponsors, through no fault of their own. After two years of Covid and lockdowns, companies are hesitant to lay out cash for races. It is these sponsors that in the past have made it possible for low race entry fees. It is sad, but this is our reality. The Comrades marathon had a main sponsor and several smaller sponsors. But most of these have cancelled their sponsorships after the past two tough business years.
Secondly, the restriction in the number of runners allowed, has a huge impact on the financial viability of a race. As Graham points out in the article, a big chunk of the expenses are fixed costs, that have to be paid, irrespective of the size of the field.
And even though the Comrades is run on professional lines, most of the workers are volunteers who do it for the love of the sport. If we consider what we get for R1 200, with top-notch waterpoints, a great expo, superb organisation on a military scale, the vibe and a great finish, then it really is a bargain!
Kudos to the CMA (Comrades Marathon Association) for already announcing all information for the race, six months ahead of the race. And for putting on a race in which they may be lucky to break even. I will be out on the route again, to cheer runners on, in what will be another amazing race!