By: Jean Knaack, Executive Director, and the RRCA Board of Director
As the popularity of running continues to grow, so does the number of events held each year around the country. This is a good thing for our sport; however, as with all growth industries, there are inevitably going to be a few bad apples that can spoil a barrel, as the old saying goes.
The RRCA has worked for over 54-years to promote safe and enjoyable events for runners, and there is nothing more frustrating than hearing stories about race promoters that sell entry fees only to cancel their race with minimal notice, provide no refunds, and only vague excuses or false information as to why the event has been cancelled or postponed. We aren’t talking about races that are cancelled or postponed due to emergency weather conditions, acts of God, or other emergencies on or near the course. Bad weather and accidents happen and are completely out of a race director’s control. We are referring to races that are canceled or postponed, because the event owners haven’t done due diligence in the organization of their event, and the runner is the one that looses as an end result.
As more and more events are launched, the RRCA Board of Directors offers the following advice to help runners intelligently pick events, especially if you are looking for a great out-of-town event to run that also happens to be a new event.
- Look for events that have been run before. If an event boasts anywhere from 3 to 30 plus years running, there is a good chance the race will go off as promoted.
- Look for events that are USA Track & Field Certified Courses. You should be able to find the certification number for the course located on the event website. The best place to look is at the bottom of the site or in the course information section for the event. Certified Courses show that the event director has taken the required steps to ensure the course has been accurately measured, and that the event director is taking their duties to host an accurate event distance seriously.
- Look to see if the local running club hosts the event or if the event director has a local address or phone number listed. Events managed by someone that lives in the community where the event is taking place usually have a good track record for going off as planned. If the race is promoted by an unfamiliar promoter, or out of state company, Google the company or promoter. Do they have positive comments from other races they have directed? If not, buyer beware certainly applies. For example, one national event promoter tried to cram 20,000 runners, against local expert advice, into a venue that clearly was only suitable for 5,000 runners. The comments on social networks and in the local paper were not positive.
- If the race is an inaugural race, closely review the race website. Does the website have all relevant race information posted and easy to find on the site? Events that are missing important information like exact starting location, course map(s), packet pick-up information, event schedules, event rules including refund information, award information, race director contact information, etc. should be suspect. A well thought out race should include a well thought out website or at the very least a detailed registration page. Websites with limited event information should be suspect, especially if the race promoter is trying to attract out-of-town runners or if the promoter is from out of town.
- Look for safety information on the website or in the waiver of liability. Does the website outline expected weather conditions and road conditions on race day? Does the waiver contain information specific to the event, the course conditions, the event director, and the event sponsors? If not, think twice before registering for the event. Including specific conditions related to the course and local weather information can mean there is a good chance the event director is at least familiar with the area and the course.
- Use your networks when researching out-of-town races. Read race reviews on websites such as the Running Network, Marathonguide.com, Runner’s World, Let’s Run, etc. If the race has a Facebook page, check the Facebook page to see what other runners have said about prior races and/or are saying about the upcoming race. Negative comments are a red flag. Check the Facebook page of area running clubs for local feedback. Check the Better Business Bureau to determine whether the race promoter has been the subject of complaints in connection with other races.
- Look for signs of community support for the race on the event website. Determine whether the race has designated a local charity as a beneficiary of the event. Does the event note how much they plan to donate to the charity or how much they have given in the past? Think twice about an event that simply says, “proceeds go to charity,” without naming a specific charity partner(s). Does the event outline how donations can be made directly to the charity partner? Has the race partnered with the local Parks & Rec department, local running club, local Y, local sports commission, etc. Are local merchants on board supporting the event? A quick review to see if an outside promoter has community support can be an indication that the event will most likely take place, because there is a joint vested interest in the success of the event. Does it appear the charity partners or local sponsors are cross promoting the event? If not, think twice about entering or contact the partners to determine if they are really associated with or benefiting from the event.
- Look for price gauging, especially with new events. The national average is $25-30 for a 5k, $35-40 for a $10k, $45-$60 for a Half Marathon and $60-$100 for a marathon. Certainly location can dictate pricing especially in larger cities with significant road closures and police support. If the event price greatly exceeds these averages, especially for a first-time, unproven event, you should ask yourself, “What am I getting for my money?” For events with high price tags, you are better off to seek out events with a proven track record of performance, or better yet find a great local road race with a proven track record for a fraction of the price. When paying for an entry, the Better Business Bureau recommends paying with a credit card. Charges made on a credit card can be disputed after a purchase, whereas debit, cash or wire transfer transactions cannot.
These tips first appeared in the 2012 Summer issue of Club Running magazine.