running events – ‘buyer beware’ tips

team runhers note:  We were poised to do a similar article about this very issue.  Important information you need to know when selecting your next race!   We are thankful our friend Jean Knaack and the Road Runner’s Club of America (RRCA) stepped up.  Jean consulted with her board to put together this article.  They are a very experienced group.  Most of the small events you are running are very unsafe – they don’t have any experience, along with no emergency or contingency plan, putting you and fellow runners at high risk.  We are surprised the cities have even issued these people special event permits!   There are many other things to be on the lookout for that can really spell trouble and ruin your race experience.  We’ve seen as many as three, four and even five 5K’s being run on the same morning – none of them with any road race management experience whatsoever.  We’ve seen larger events come in to cities and do the ‘money grab’ – leaving town with no regard for the local community or the non-profit they claimed to be helping.  We know of a ‘new’ 5K in September in Edmond, Oklahoma, that ‘borrowed’ another organization’s event theme and now call it their own.  So, please read Jean’s article, it will help you understand how experienced race directors manage their running events and festivals.  It will also help you select running festivals/events that will offer you the best running experience in a safe environment. Run with Joy! 

By: Jean Knaack and RRCA Board of Directors

As the popularity of running continues to grow, so do 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 spoil a barrel, as the old saying goes. The RRCA has worked for 54 years to promote safe and enjoyable events for runners, and there is nothing more frustrating than hearing stories about race promoters who sell entry fees only to cancel the race with minimal notice, provide no refunds, and give only vague excuses or false information as to why the event was canceled or postponed. We aren’t talking about races that are canceled 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 who loses in the end. As more events are launched, the RRCA board of directors offers the following advice to help runners intelligently choose events, especially if you’re 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 3–30+ years’ running, there’s 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 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 seriously their duties to host an accurate event distance. 
  • 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 who 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 an 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 it post all relevant race information in an easy-to-find format? Events that are missing important information—course maps, packet pick-up information, event schedules, event rules (including refund information), award information, race director contact information, etc.—should be considered suspect. A well thought-out race should include a well thought-out website or at 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.
  • 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’s a good chance the event director is at least familiar with the area and the course. V
  • 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 it to read what other runners have said about prior races and/or are saying about the upcoming race. Negative comments are a red flag. Also check the Facebook page of area running clubs for local feedback. And check in with 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 the event beneficiary. Does the event organizer or promoter 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 of a joint vested interest in the success of the event. 
  • Look for price gouging, 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, ask yourself, “What am I getting for my money?” For events with high price tags, you’re 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.

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