racing · running

The cost of races, or the ice cream 5 km that wasn’t (for Sam anyway)


One of the things runners always say in running’s favour is that it’s cheap and easy. Unlike cycling, there’s no expensive bike required. Unlike swimming, it needn’t be the exact right temperature and you don’t have to have access to a pool or a body of water.

Just running shoes and some suitable clothes and off you go.

Or in my case add Garmin running watch, running hat, iPod, and fancy socks. But that’s just me, being princess-y, as Nat might say.

So I’m good with the line that running is cheap and easy. But racing? Racing is not. I’m often shocked at the price of running events. After all, it’s not like they take very long. The range for a local 5 km fun race is probably 20-40 minutes. That’s barely the time it takes to watch ads and trailers before a movie.

But they’re not cheap.

I said that if my knee wasn’t bothering me after Kincardine which was 6 km of running that I might do a local race or two this summer to focus my attention on speed. Mallory said she might even do it with me.

In the end I decided not to. Here’s my status update from Facebook this weekend, “So I was going to do the ice cream 5 km on Sunday but it’s $40 and while it’s all you can eat ice cream, that’s a lot more than I can eat. Also, it’s not for charity. And there’s a heat advisory. So that’s a lot of money when I could run 5 km by myself earlier in the cooler part of the day and buy myself an ice cream cone later. Might have just talked myself out of it.”

Who is behind the ice cream run? It’s Run The District | I Run For Ice Cream, part of a series organized by the Western Fair. I liked the look of it. It’s nearish to my house and the races sounded fun.

Western Fair District is excited to launch a new road race series titled RUN THE DISTRICT, presented by New Balance London and Investors Group that will appeal to all ages and all abilities.

The five race series takes place throughout 2015, with each race beginning and ending in the District. The five races are tied to themes relevant to activities in the District, in hopes of expanding the District’s sports entertainment products and develop new running opportunities for racing enthusiasts or those just looking to have some fun in London and surrounding communities.

The Run the District Race Series is designed to be fun, entertaining and encourage sports and fitness in the communities the District serves. Each race will provide food, prizes and a chance to be entertained.

Men will have the opportunity to participate in four races, while the ladies will have five races. Fun Runs are available at select dates.

To be clear, this isn’t a complaint that private companies are running races. Go for it! More power to you! I did the Warrior Dash and loved it. I’ve ridden more than my fair share of pricey Gran Fondo rides. But this doesn’t feel worth it.

And this isn’t a complaint against people who made a different decision, presented with the same facts.

It’s also not about the all you can eat ice cream. That didn’t even register since I can’t ever eat more than one ice cream cone. I love ice cream. It’s one of my favourite summer foods but it’s also one of those foods that has its own limit built it. I feel done after a small cone.

And I’m not worried as many people are about the Colour Runs, that this was trying pass itself off as a charity run. It’s not and they’re clear about that. See Nat’s post Philanthropy and Fitness about doing your background work before running for a cause.

This is me being frugal, thinking about cost and about accessibility and about value for money.

I started to wonder too about how odd it sounded to me to say that a race was too pricey. It’s not as if I don’t have the money. But we all have to make choices. For some people though those choices are more serious than others. We don’t do anyone any favours by keeping quiet about cost and finances. So in light of that, I hereby resolve to talk more openly about money and about how the fun things we do that we talk about on the blog cost. Money matters to lots of people and to not mention it is to participate in a weird kind of income/class privilege. So when I’m blogging about triathlons and Gran Fondos etc, I’ll talk price. Not sure I’m quite ready to talk about bike costs. Baby steps!

To that end, let me give a huge shout out to MEC for their local race series: “We are hosting five inexpensive running races at different locations throughout London’s beautiful park system. The MEC Race Series is designed to keep costs low for runners in our community. A registration fee of $15 gets you a measured and certified route, professionally-timed results and fun times at the finish line! Custom medals will be awarded to top finishers in each category. This year we have two half marathons in both Road and Trail options!” You had the option of doing all 5 races for $60.

No colours, no costumes, no mud, no ice cream, just your standard issue vanilla race. And that’s okay with me.  (See my past musing on trends in racing, Mud, zombies, and brightly coloured dye: Are the days of the vanilla 5 km over?)

I think come Halloween I’ll do the MEC race. See you there!

And I’m curious, what’s the most you’ll pay for  5 km race?


8 thoughts on “The cost of races, or the ice cream 5 km that wasn’t (for Sam anyway)

  1. Racing (run and bike and tri) is expensive in North America. Perhaps insurance and road closures (barrier set up and police overtime) are a factor. But I’ve found it to be less expensive here in Spain because municipalities (towns, cities, regions) sponsor events along with small and large companies. Not too many races focus on charities, it’s all about the exercise/competition. Bike events are very well organized by local cycling clubs. So for 25 euros ($28 US), I rode a fun 40K mtn bike race in the suburbs of Barcelona, preceded by free coffee and pastries, with great food at aid stations, followed by free beer or coke and a giant sandwich, and a choice of technical T-shirt or arm warmers. Back in the big city, the Nike 10K cost a bit more, 30 euros, with chip timing, fantastic course through closed city streets on a Friday night, DJ party pre-race and post-race, bands along the way, free technical T-shirt.

  2. Cost really can defer me from entering races. It’s not just the entry fee, its other things that organisers probably don’t factor in when they think about competitors – there’s transport costs, which may include an overnight stay when there are early starts far from home, race day food and fluids, bits and bobs like race belts, hair bands and then if you want to buy a race photo or get a massage its all extra. I’ve yet to do a race where there has been no extra cost on the day. I know there are outside companies who come in to do the photography and massage but it all adds up and a triathlon can easily cost £80, which is a lot for a morning of racing on a student budget. I’d feel better knowing some of my entry fee goes to charity.

  3. For local races I’ve made a conscious decision mostly to stick with the MEC series because I like that it’s only $15 per race. It has all I need: a properly measured course and an official chip time, plus water stations. I’ve got enough race t-shirts. One year I paid $80 for the Forest City Road Race 10K because I was late registering and I didn’t even get a t-shirt. To me, that was not good value for my money. I agree with Leona that it can really add up when you factor in the travel and accommodation, but then I like to make it into a getaway, so I get more out of it than just the hour (or whatever) that is the race. I can’t imagine traveling out of town for a 5 or 10K though. So that’s when it matters that there are cheap local options. I’ll see you at the MEC series race on October 31st. That’s my goal 10K, where I hope to come in under 60 minutes!

  4. I would never pay $40 for a 5K. I also can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d pay $200 for a half-marathon, which is what RunDisney is doing now. This is one of many reasons I try to stick to smaller local races: they tend to be cheaper. We have one series – a beach 5K series – where each race is $15, and if you pass on the shirt (which I do because I need another shapeless race tee like I need a g.d. hole in my head) the fee drops to $10. I wish more races would give us the option to pass on the shirt in exchange for a reduced fee.

    I will make exceptions for some races – like Boston or New York or an IM-branded triathlon – because of the unique experience, but for the most part I aim for the smaller, less expensive races. You still get the fun of racing but you don’t totally obliterate your bank account in the process.

  5. I used to work for a company that put on Triathlons so I have seen the other side of it. It is really expensive to put on race with road closures, police, food, porta-potty rentals, table rentals and all the other expenses. I don’t know anything about this specific race but I have seen the bills of putting on a race and it is surprsingly very expensive. Especially when you are just starting out and this was the first year of this race.

    1. I think triathlons are a lot more expensive than running events, and longer running events obviously proliferate costs beyond shorter running events. Yes, there are legitimate expenses that drive up the price of lots of races, but it’s great to have an option for something cheaper that’s local.

    2. I also feel differently about charity events and pricing and races run by sporting associations, like multi sport etc, than I do about for profit races. Again, nothing against for profit but it’s got to be good value for money

  6. The MEC races are the only ones I will even consider entering at this point.

    When I enter a race, I want the experience of racing. I want an accurately measured course. I want an accurate race time. I want to be able to run hard for the entire course in safety without needing to stop, slow down or otherwise worry about traffic. On a hot day, water stations are very welcome too. And I want other competitors to race against. That is all.

    It is important to me that running is an inexpensive sport. It is important to me that race fees are kept as low as possible by charging to cover only the legitimate expenses of hosting a race. I do not want to have to pay for ice cream or beer or t-shirts or coloured corn starch as part of my race fees. I do not want to be forced to contribute to some charity as part of my race fees either. I contribute to charities of my choosing in amounts of my choosing and at times of my choosing. I do not want my participation in a sporting event to take those choices away from me.

    I’m not in a place with my running yet where I’m ready to return to racing, but I am strongly tempted to enter the MEC events anyhow to show support for them. Because they are the only events I’m aware of anywhere near me that offer what I want in a race without adding in expenses (or experiences) that I don’t want.

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