With a running calendar robust with races every weekend, figuring out how to attract runners can make a race director lose sleep at night. Besides the usual amenities (certified course, trophies, shirts), what else is there to set your race apart and lure in that coveted field of competitors?
While some races sweeten the deal with awards, offering homemade goods like maple syrup, others offer prize money hoping to get the spotlight that will generate more participants.
Undoubtedly, prize money draws faster runners, but will the uptick in participation that might only be a handful more runners justify the expense?
The answer is not that simple. In my uneducated opinion, I’ll say that it depends on the race. A small, local race will probably not benefit from having a couple of fast athletes who will cross the finish line, collect their prize money and blow out of there before the last runner is done. Nonetheless, faster times draw in competition from those who, whether they win any money or not, will enjoy the rush of running against other competitive athletes.
But what about the middle of the pack, the ones who won't come close to winning the money? Will they be tempted to sign up because of faster times on the field, or because if the purse is big enough, a renowned athlete might be participating?
Personally, I never cared who was running in a race. The bigger the name, the bigger the gap between my time and theirs. Nowadays, I pray the clock is still running by the time I finish. But for those who care, bringing popular names to a race might be a motivating factor.
Conversely, low-key races might draw the kind of participants who are interested in placing in their age group, and a neighborhood race will give them the chance to walk out with some “hardware.”
All races have their own charm. The small-town race where everyone knows your name, you know your competition and, more importantly, the cause is probably close to your heart and you know where the proceeds will go. The middle-sized race with fast times and competitive athletes. The big, prestigious races where you get lost in the crowd.
I like to think that most of us run because we are driven by motivation that comes from within. But when we must choose which race to sign up for from a plethora of choices, do you go with the one that offers prize money or the one with the jar of maple syrup?
Myriam Loor is a runner and race director. Her column regularly appears on Thursdays in the Times Herald-Record and RecordOnline.com/sports.