Growing Pains - Page 4
Ask ultrarunners why they do it, and you'll frequently hear it's for the camaraderie. 2008 Leadville 100-miler winner Duncan Callahan and his crew celebrate post-race. Photo by Rob O'Dea.
Along with sheer racer numbers, race-entry fees have crept upward. During the recent economic downturn, such costs have grown especially apparent, when many athletes are already feeling the pinch at the gas pump and everywhere else. But has it mattered?
“If Western States decided to have a $750 entry fee, I bet it would still fill,” says Greg Loomis, a veteran ultrarunner living in Falls Church, Virginia.
Loomis may be right. Despite the rising cost, demand for trail ultras has not waned.
In 2008, the JFK 50 stunned many when the entry fee hiked up to $135—a major price tag for a 50-miler, which typically runs in the $75 ballpark. Email discussion groups lit up with vitriolic rants. Some turned personal, even dredging up the RD’s reported income for managing the race. But more than three months before race day, the event still reached its cap—the earliest in its luminous 43-year history.
Are entries truly reaching the point of being unreasonable? Compared to road marathons, the answer is “no.” The Chicago, New York and Los Angeles Marathons average $124 each for entry fees ($110, $166 and $95, respectively)—a whopping $4.72 per mile.
By contrast, look at the cost of trail 100s. Recently, Mike Mason of Charlotte, North Carolina, summarized all trail 100-miler entry fees (see www.irunfar.com). The average entry comes to $174. The $1.74 cost-per-mile makes the road marathons look like highway robbery—quite literally.
Even the highest-priced trail 100s—Western States, Leadville and Hardrock—average “only” $238, or $2.38 per mile.
Still, trail ultrarunners balk at the cost and are looking for bargains. Says Loomis, “All I know is that the Rocky Raccoon costs about one-third of Western States and offers good or better aid, course markings, buckles, awards, pre and post-race feeds, website, results and goody bags … You tell me where the extra money that Western States charges goes!”
“It costs us much more than $295 [the Western States entry fee] to get a runner to the finish line,” explains Western States Board President, Twietmeyer. “If we had to charge for all the time and effort put into the race, the entry fee would be in the thousands. We manage the run to break even every year.”
Buzz Burrell, manager of the La Sportiva Mountain Running Team, holds a hardball opinion: “Is a race making money? If so, then some should go back to the runners. Most ultras are labors of love … but the few actually making money should share it, because without the top runners bringing recognition to the event, the sponsors would shy away, and they wouldn’t be making that money.”