Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Ridiculous Rising Cost of Racing

I've always said that I would keep doing my sport until my body gave out.

Or the price became too high.

The second one is rapidly approaching. 

Eagleman 2012 opened a few weeks ago, and after conferring with my CYB teammates, the decision was that we weren't racing.  Benda said no way, never again.  David Lee said nope, not next year.  Pat was a no.  Alyssa was a no.  Zero was a no.  OJ didn't respond, because I don't think he knows how to read or write.  So there I was, no Eagleman.  Weeks went by.  I didn't think twice.  It was time for some new races anyway.  After racing 9 times in July and August, from track meets to triathlons, time trials to 10k's, I figure next year I need to take the summer to just chill out. 

Then I found out that CTR had signed up for Eagleman, his first attempt at the distance.  Still, I resisted the urge to sign up.

Pat said I should sign up for Bay Swim, the 4.4 mile race crossing the span of the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis.  Benda and OJ have done this race many times before, with Brian having won 4 or 5 times in a row (and in the process, narrowly edging out OJ).  As my proclivity towards distance swimming seemingly supercedes my other endurance skills, it wasn't a bad idea.  But the race entry process is a lottery, and let's be honest, I probably wouldn't get in because it would require me winning something.  Additionally, it's almost as expensive as Eagleman.  That's because it raises money for charity.

I continued to hem and haw, before I finally gave in and said screw it, let's fill it up and do it again.  Unfortunately, it's a big race, and it's close so I don't have to really travel.  I went onto The CTA website to register and went to the page.  $290 with processing fees.  Alright, that's a little more than it was last year, but within reason.  I recall in 2008 it cost me $225, so maybe a little over $230 with processing.  That's $60 over 4 years.  I began to question, why such a considerable increase?

Then my friends started emailing me about Columbia's registration, which opened last week.  I went to look at it.  $150.  Holy shit.  Who the fuck do you think you are?  When I did that race in 2001 it cost $65.  Every year the price goes up and up, way beyond the scale of what is reasonable.  Last year I think it was $135.  What, praytell, are they changing that makes it cost that much more?

I'd like to do a breakdown of what I get out of the race.  First, I go to the expo, where I get my generally hideous shirt and, this year, a satchel of some kind and a hat.  I then have a handful of glossy index cards promoting other races that I have to recycle.  I go over to the park and I rack my bike, where overnight security guards care for them.  In the morning, I don my timing chip and my little swim cap, and get in the water.  I come out of the water and volunteers are there offering me water.  I go on the bike.  Now, in fairness, this is the only Olympic distance race I've ever seen that has a water bottle exchange.  I've never taken a bottle, because it's a fucking Olympic distance race, who needs an extra water bottle.  Along the way, cops man the intersection leaving the park, and the two intersections on 108 where there are traffic lights.  They are also at the two traffic circles, and at the three left hand turns you make along the route.  They are generally not paying attention and have to do very little work. 

I come back into transition and I head out on the run.  I am offered water and Gatorade on course at 6 locations, two of which are the same, so it's really only 4.  I finish the race and am handed a medal that I will inevitably throw out (although now I simply refuse them, I don't need more shit in my house) and potentially a mylar blanket, although I then realize that it's not a marathon in November, and I am not dying so I don't take that either.  I look around for some poorly mixed Gatorade, I drink some, and then I go up to the top of the hill to get some food.  The cookies are those fake Oreos, and the food selection is pretty terrible.  It is the same disgusting pasta salad that they think everyone loves for the 10 years I've been doing this race.  And, since it rains 98% of the time at Columbia, everything is soggy. 

The awards are pretty nice; I will never win one of course unless I race in my age group at some point.  Then you leave and realize that the parking volunteers jammed the cars in too close and now you can't even leave.  It's like New Year's Eve: a whole lot of buildup and then a ton of disappointment.

It all begs the question: where does the money go?  I understand that costs go up, and if it followed inflation, that would even be acceptable.  But to go up as much as it does, year after year, I have got to question.  It makes me want to yell, from the top of my lungs: Enough is enough!  I am sick and tired of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!  And then it dawns on me.  This race gets most of its shit paid for through sponsors, after all, it is a pretty high profile event.  The race director pays himself, and quite well, but he puts on good races and has even earned that right.  It's going to charity.  Fucking charities. 

Now, 99.9% of people in the world will think I am in insensitive human for saying that.  But please - don't misconstrue.  I have nothing wrong with charities.  In fact, there are plenty of charities I think are more than worthwhile, and I have donated money over the years to them.  My issue is with the association of racing to charities.  Why do races automatically have to be for charity?  Why is it that when people hear that I'm doing a particular race, they ask if I'm "doing it for charity"?  Why can't we just race?  It's like Ivan Drago says in Rocky IV, "I fight to win...for me!"  Similarly, I just want to race to race. 

But I think the over-charitization of running and triathlon has come to a dangerous point.  More people are doing more races every year, but they are less prepared than ever.  If you go to any triathlon right now, the number of overweight - even obese - participants is staggering.  And I am sure to say participants rather than competitors because that's exactly what they are.  Yeah, I'm an elitist asshole, but it's got to be said.  They are slow and dangerous in the water, which is where, if you noticed, most people who are underprepared are dying.  Heart attacks can happen to anyone, but when you are dangerously overweight and frighteningly unprepared for swimming in open water, your odds of a problem increase exponentially.  Then, they are slow and even more dangerous on a bike.  If I ride 25 miles per hour for 56 miles, it means I am putting together one of the 30 fastest bike splits in the race of nearly 2000 athletes.  I clearly know how to ride a bike.  Why is it, then, that I am scared to fucking death when I'm on that course?  Could it be because not a single person out there can ride in a straight line?  Or knows to stay to the right?  Or can pick up a water bottle while riding and not fall off? 


For that, I blame these organizations, for not teaching simple safety principles and basic knowledge and rules of the road.  Triathlon isn't hard, it really isn't.  You swim, you bike, you run.  If you can't do these three things, you can't (or shouldn't) be doing triathlons.

Now, as terrible as I may sound, I would never discredit the reasons why someone is out there racing.  As I've said, I race to race, but I know that not everyone is trying to do that.  Some people are out there to change perceptions, to honor a loved one, or just to show they can.  The only thing I care about is getting through a race safely, and as I would respect someone else's reasons for racing, I would expect they too would respect mine and not try to crash me out. 

How does this tie in with the cost of racing?  Well, direct cost is insurance premiums.  I'm sure these races are getting dinged right now to the tune of a pretty penny for insurance.  A 59 year old competitor died of an apparent heart attack at this past weekend's Nation's "Triathlon", which had canceled its swim so it became merely a 40k bike and 10k run.  He had a problem within 5 miles on the bike.  Situations like this inevitably mean that race directors have to pay out the yang to insure that they are not going to be sued when participants get hurt or worse. 

I've noticed, too, that RDs have become lazier and lazier.  Races have taken for granted that people are so enthralled by the notion of doing a triathlon that they put together shitty races and charge whatever they feel like charging, and people will pay it.  I will probably be blacklisted if anyone ever reads this, but who cares.  Piranha Sports is probably the worst.  They have uninspired courses at the same venue all summer long, just repackaging the race under slightly different distances and calling it a different name.  Shit by any other name is still shit.  For a sprint in Delaware to cost over $100 is appalling.  I already voice my opinions on SetUp Events' Rumpus in Bumpass, and in general I actually like SetUp races.  I have always enjoyed Kinetic, and I love Luray.  But again, Kinetic is virtually the same race as Rumpus, is the same race as Acorn or whatever they hold there in the fall.  Luray is on pretty quiet roads with a total of literally 4 cops out there on the bike course, no on course support, and I just don't understand how they charge so much for these races. 

CGI, CTA, they're all the same.  Honestly, I don't even have a problem with paying $600 or more to WTC for an official Ironman race, because at least I know what I'm getting, and they generally have their shit together.  1.4 volunteers at IM Louisville for every 1 competitor. 

Alyssa tweeted something the other day at Columbia Triathlon Association, about the registration fees being ridiculous, and they tweeted back something about how it goes to their ongoing support of charities. 

I haven't signed up for Columbia yet, but if I do it will be $450 to race two races for next year.  I have raced 21 times this year so far.  Some have been lower or no cost, but I did do Eagleman, Columbia, IM Louisville and have IM AZ coming up - totaling some $1600 in race entry fees alone. 

So here's what I feel needs to happen - of course nobody reads this so nobody will ever see this:

1. If it's permit fees and police costs that are driving the rate increases, RDs should really do a better job tallying information of how much money these races bring in for the community.  Look at Louisville.  Nobody is from there, everyone is staying at a hotel.  We stayed 4 nights.  We ate all our meals out in the town.  Multiply that by 2000. 

2. Make the "swag" better, or cut it altogether.  I don't know about you, but I don't give a shit about receiving a medal to commemorate my Olympic distance race, particularly when that medal is a piece of shit.  Or, in the case of my friend Mike's races, a recycled trophy with a new sticker on it to acknowledge my 2nd place finish.  Don't even spend the money.  Everyone has 10,000 t-shirts at home, so unless it's going to be particularly unique, maybe make it a separate option.  The nice thing about signing up a year in advance for races is you have plenty of time to order the shirts.  So how about you make that an option on registration, CTA, whether or not I want a shirt.  And the hats they gave us at Columbia and Eagleman, great idea, terrible execution.  If you've worn yours, you know what I'm talking about.

3. Make competitors feel like they're getting their money's worth.  I have yet to do a Rev3 but I am going to make sure I do one next year.  I hear people are treated like relative royalty.  Columbia, don't be cheap, it's not pretty.  CGI, don't think that you're in Columbia's league and expect $140 for your terrible NJ State Triathlon is a fair price.

4. Do something about the terrible state of participant fitness.  Have physicals or something, I don't know.  If you've never done a triathlon, maybe they should all be in their own wave - the last one.  In other words, be more selective about who you're letting in to your races, if you would consider them a risk if YOU were selling them insurance, then you should consider that before you let them into your race.

5. On the same note, there needs to be more "expert" or "open" divisions.  Columbia has an open wave, as did NJ Tri.  Luray used to.  I understand why it would be tough to do at a race like Eagleman, but they really should flip it around so that men between 25 and 44 are going relatively early.  They are the fastest ones, and more significantly, the fastest ones on bikes.  I probably wouldn't do Columbia in an age group, I'd honestly be too scared of riding past everyone on the bike course.  I don't trust anyone.

Pros don't have the same concerns, generally, as they get to start a few minutes (or many minutes) early.  But races need to acknowledge the existence of semi-pros, people who legitimately are fast and can and will finish high on the overall.  I have separate ideas on this, maybe another post.  Additionally, if you are fast enough to be a pro, and have qualified as such, you really need to stop sandbagging and just fucking do it.  It used to be what everyone was working towards, and now people seem content to be considered an amateur, despite going to Colorado Springs to train with professionals for the whole summer, then coming back to be #1 amateur and 4th overall at Ironmans. 

Triathlon, don't worry, it's not just you, it's running, too.  Boston Marathon opened the other day.  That went up in price.  NYC Marathon is now well over $200.  And that's a race that draws 45,000 people, with a quarter of the field filling from outside of the country, all descending upon New York to spend money.  I just paid $95 for the race formerly known as Philly Distance Run.  Granted, I signed up just the other day, but I think it was at least $75 when it was early registration time.  Rock 'n Roll/Competitor Group is the absolute worst, whores among whores for money.  They make money hand over foot and put on really annoying races.  Unfortunately for me, PDR is the fastest race I can run.  They are steadily taking over all marathons.  Does anyone really care about the number of loud, shitty bands on the course?  Or all the moms and their friends who buy all the matching clothes they can get their hands on? 

Racers of the world need to unite, and remember that the only thing necessary for great races is a distance and a clock, and perhaps a great field.  That's the spirit of the RM Classic.  We'll start our own races.

It's just so odd to me, how racing is at an all-time high yet the economic climate could not be worse.  Maybe it's because races seem so much less expensive than doing other things?  I don't know, but to a person that spends $2000+ each year just on race entry fees, it's looking like it might push me out of the sport sooner than I thought.  What will the breaking point be for a race like Columbia - $200?  $250?  I hope I'm not here to find out.

And yes, I wholeheartedly realize that I am complaining a lot when there is a simple solution:  don't race so much.  I choose my races, I make the conscious decision to spend that much money on these races, so I shouldn't complain.  What I'm really asking for is an explanation.  I just want to know, where does the money go?  If you give me a breakdown, I'll be satisfied.  I can do other races, I can do no races.  But racing is in my blood, and I'll keep doing it until I can't, and will likely just keep paying.


alyssa said...

"Piranha Sports is probably the worst." -- if I place overall at another of their events only to receive the exact same medal I just got for finishing, only with a sticker on it saying "third place" I may seriously poop on their podium.

But seriously, this is why ultras are great. Ultras "get it". They have some awesome swag and awards - and NEWS FLASH - the awards still cost them next to nothing. Handmade pottery from the locals, cooler bags, maple syrup, etc - they found something unique (or even better, something unique to the area you were racing in) and presented that. Put a sticker on it from a local business to promote them, and boom, I'd wager that business would even donate the stuff.

I also like what Old Dominion does. They continue to make some new shirts from time to time without a year of the race on it. When you go to check in you're directed to a table of miscellaneous shirts and tanks from throughout the years and they just tell you to pick one. Saves them from having to make a hundred new shirts every year, and I get my choice of fit and color. Not to mention it's a freaking 100 mile race that has volunteers out the wazoo and aid stations out there for 28 hours....oh and it only costs $135. Talk about getting more for your money.

pat said...

Tank tops and cotton t's

RM said...

Tank tops and cotton T's is what's up.

And obviously I'm not trying to say that racing for charitable purposes is a bad thing; I'm only wondering why it's now the ONLY reason we are racing. Why we can't have races that are just races. It's unoriginal, everyone does marathons and triathlons now to raise money. Do something else that's a) hard and b) more fun. Scavenger hunts, dogfighting, whatever.

Terry Decker said...

I really have to agree with everything you said about the rising cost of all of these races. Now that I'm saving for a wedding (don't get me into the ridiculous cost of that), I need to pick and choose which races to do and which not to do.

My brother tried to get me to do Chicago Rock-n-Roll 1/2 this year, but with a $135 fee (yes that is $10.30/mile) plus travel, food, and hotel, its a $1000+ weekend to run 13.1 miles. Thanks, but I'll stay at home.

Piranha is not getting my vote this year, with Cascade Lake being $95 or so last year, and forget Columbia or Eagleman because both are far too pricey (but will still sell out in record time). I couldn't make the RM classic this year, but its such a good idea. Not every race needs to be for charity, and yes, I do run races to see how fast I can run them, not to raise $100 for charity but then get a free shirt, shorts, hat, water bottle, etc, which means at the end of the day, after the entry fee, the charity gets what, $5? Is it selfish to not run for someone else but rather run for yourself?

I think maybe that is why BRRC works well. $2 or $6 for races, water on the course. That's it. Plain and simple. Strictly racing, no bells and whistles. I don't need gigantic banners reading "Vitamin Water, Geico, State Farm, M&T Bank 5k" to know that I'm running.

Dave said...

Great post.

Daniel said...

Wow, awesome post.

All I want is a time, an accurate course, and competition. Unfortunately, that usually requires these massively expensive races.