Looking outside my window, I see a line of cars parked in front of the restaurant that opened a few months ago. A “For Lease” sign hangs on the window next door where another restaurant used to be, the third restaurant to close in that space inside of four years. Good food, average prices, similar demographics, but only this one is thriving. What accounts for the success of one and the demise of another?
I wonder the same thing about road races.
You’ve been to those races that seemed as if the organizer rolled out of bed and decided to put on a race that morning. Yet people come in bunches, paying any amount, accepting any T-shirt, and sometimes running on an inaccurate course. Some races are popular despite being expensive, remote and challenging, and you try to understand the attraction while carefully organized races are ignored.
With a multitude of road races, good organization doesn’t necessarily mean success. Then what is the trick? If I knew the answer, I would make money selling my tips.
Ruling out the large budgets from major corporations, I’ll take a guess to that question based on observations:
Curiosity: People are drawn to something new and unusual.
The New York City Half Marathon provides the unique experience of running through Times Square, while The Walkway Marathon offers running across the Walkway Over the Hudson.
Prestige: Oh, the lure of running the London Marathon!
Simplicity: With so many events having escalating amenities catering to every participant’s wish, no-frill races that provide only an opportunity to run with others are a simple way to honor the pure sport of running.
Connection: Honoring a local hero, remembering places and dates with historical significance or supporting charities that touch close to home create a connection with the participant.
Uniqueness: Obstacle-course races (OCR) such as mud runs or Spartan races offer participants a very different experience. Tara Pipia, a 12-time marathoner who will be competing in the OCR World Championship in October, would pick a Spartan race over a road marathon in a heartbeat. “These races keep you mentally agile,” she says. “You must take a break and ask, ‘Oh wait. What's this thing ahead of me? How am I going to do THAT?’ ”
At some races, running is only part of the experience, with the emphasis placed on camaraderie and the post-race party. The upcoming Vintage Run 5K and Half Marathon at Bethel Woods on Oct. 1 is not the typical race that ends at the finish line. Instead, it combines a day of running with a wine festival, crafts, and music. As Stormville’s Beth Erickson explains it, “When the fatigue sets in, I know there will be a glass of wine waiting for me.’’
Luck: When all else fails, this seems to be the only explanation that fits. For some, it’s on their side.
Perhaps that’s why the restaurant across the street is thriving. I’m on my way to check it out. See you on the road.
Myriam Loor of Monticello is a longtime runner and founder and race director of the Celebrate Life Half Marathon in Rock Hill. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.