Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hustle or Hustled?

Most 5Ks are run as awareness and fundraising vehicles for charities. Larger races like the marathon and half marathon are corporate sponsored, but are done simply for the sake of runners; no one is making a profit. The 5K I ran yesterday, on the other hand was organized by a company designed to make money. This was the second for-profit race I've done this summer, in addition to the one I spectated, but I won't make this mistake again.

Yesterday's run was called the Santa Hustle 5K. I finished it in 26:16, a full 1:30 faster than my PR from this summer. I tweeted out that time, along with my shock, because I didn't feel that I had run that quickly. It turns out that the course, although certified, was about 1/5-1/4 of a mile short of a full 5K. The corrected distance of 4.65K seems to be the reality, but it's really going to be hard to know positively what the distance was, because the race organizers are covering their asses. They're issuing corporate statements that sound apologetic, without actually taking any blame. If I recalculate my pace based on this distance, my pace was 9:05 per mile, meaning I would have a 28:13 for a 5K.

I'm ok with that pace and time. It's slower than my last race, but not by much. The race went fine, so 28:13 seems reasonable. The first mile seemed like I was running slowly, nowhere near the 8:55 that my chronograph clocked between the start gate and the first mile marker. The field was too crowded to get any speed going, though. There was a 180 degree turn after about a mile and a half that immediately encountered the crowd-slowing hydration station. I ran the third "mile" a minute faster than my first or second mile, which seemed unlikely to me, especially considering I walked part of it while taking off my jacket.

Charity races tend to be capped at 2,000-4,000 people to make sure they run smoothly. For-profit races don't do that, because it would limit profits, so they end up with double the number of runners, if not even more. This leads to many problems with the race going off smoothly. One for-profit race this year had lines of 2-3 hours for packet pick-up because of the 40,000+ participants and poor planning. The other for-profit race I did this summer started 30 minutes late because of a vendor and people had to wait 10 minutes while a bridge lifted for a boat to pass, in the middle of their race. Those runners also had to dodge tourists during the last .2 miles of the course because it was held at a tourist attraction with no roped off course.

These races attract people because they have a clever concept and/or great swag. I received a Santa hat and beard yesterday, in addition to a long-sleeve tech shirt that looks like Santa's jacket. Others give out really expensive running jackets, sweatshirts and medals. They have much better marketing behind them, too. It makes sense; if you're making money, you can pay for a good ad campaign, which will lead to bigger profits. Charities don't want to spend money on marketing that could be better spent on their actual cause.

I don't want these for-profit races to disappear. I think they are a great gateway for new runners. People who may never consider running otherwise may be lured in by the fun concept and giveaways. If these races get more people into running, they serve at least one good purpose. Personally, I will just avoid them in the future. They aren't providing me with the product I actually want when I pay to run a race.

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