- This was printed in January of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 88th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.
“Why are races so expensive? It doesn’t cost $30 for a t-shirt and a banana, but
that’s all I’m getting.”
I’ve heard similar sentiments from several runners, and I may have wondered the
same thing until it was my turn to be on the other side of the proverbial curtain.
There is a lot more that goes into putting on a race than meets the eye.
Yes, race directors have to secure post-race snacks for their runners and put in a
large t-shirt order with their sponsors’ names or logos on the back. But those two
things are approximately 0.5 percent of the myriad things a race director must
Cost-wise, t-shirts and bananas are chump change compared to the big ticket
items like closing a road or hiring a company to time the race.
So no, you’re not just spending $30 on a t-shirt and a banana. You’re spending
$30 on an experience.
That portable restroom you use right before the race so that you’re not doing the
pee-pee dance at the starting line? That wasn’t free. But nobody thinks about
that until said restroom is not there. Would you sacrifice the restroom if that
meant saving $2 on your registration fee?
When the electronic strip at the starting line recognizes the timing chip on your
bib, you know that your race time will be accurate and the results will be posted
immediately after the race. That isn’t free either. Timing companies can charge
several hundred and even thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the
race and what is included in the package.
As you’re running a race, would you feel comfortable with cars zipping by you,
not an orange cone in sight to separate your running path from the tires of a
pickup truck? Race directors pay hefty permit fees — think thousands — to close
roads for a couple of hours to allow their runners to participate safely.
Event insurance must also be paid for to protect the race director and
participants in case of accidents and injuries.
Some races have an ambulance and trained medical personnel on site. That isn’t
cheap. What if, heaven forbid, you happen to be the person who needs said
ambulance? It might be worth that extra $2 you paid in your race fee.
Then there are miscellaneous expenses like the water or gatorade you drink mid-
or post-race. And unless you want someone to pour it directly into your mouth, or
catch it in your hands, you’ll be glad that the race director decided to buy several
hundred extra cups, at a cost of maybe 5 cents to you.
When you’re chafing mid-marathon you’ll appreciate that the race director forked
out the extra dough for little craft sticks slathered in Vaseline to coat your tender
Then there’s the website fees associated with promoting the race and providing
information, the online registration hosting fee, the race signage that directs you
to your parking area and to the event itself, the safety pins used to keep your bib
on, the ribbons, medals, trophies or other prizes… the list goes on.
Sponsors and donations help with the cost of the above mentioned amenities,
but each person’s race fee is also essential.
Most directors or committees for small, local races don’t take any of the money
for themselves. All of the proceeds are usually donated to local charities.
I have the pleasure of serving on two race committees this year — the Second
Wind 5K, which will be held March 28 at the Loanmart Madera Speedway, and
the Mothers Day 10K hosted by the Greater Madera Kiwanis on May 9 — that
benefit local organizations and programs.
When you look at the cost per mile of a registration fee, the Second Wind 5K, at
$25, comes out to $8.06 per mile. The Mothers Day 10K, also at $25, is just
$4.03 per mile!
Ever the bargain hunter, I paid $185 to register for the Miwok 100K. For 62 miles
that comes out to $2.98 per mile — what a deal!