"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Decent-sized races

I've been looking for races to do again. Although there are more choices than ever, there are fewer good choices every year. 20 years ago, when I considered going into race management, I did a study of local road races and runners and found a disturbing trend that threatened to ruin racing as I knew it; it happened.

A decent race, in my opinion, is one with enough runners that one can see the person in front of him/her, but not so large that people stream across the finish line six abreast in a wave of humanity - you cannot race a crowd, just individuals. Regardless of race length, this turns out to be about 100 runners per mile of the course (a two loop course would have half the runners of a race done in a single loop). 50-200 runners per mile works. There are almost no races this size any more.

Races are stable if they have 500-1000 finishers. If they have much less than 300, they tend to dwindle and disappear, remaining only as long as there is a race director willing to keep the race going. Races much over 3000 runners grow enormous and unwieldly and often fall apart under their own weight. There are almost no races of 500-1000 runners any longer; the largest races siphon runners from them. For example, the Twin Cities Marathon, once it reached its capacity, added a 10 Mile race and then a 5K and children's dashes, then started adding lead-up events throughout the year (having exhausted the possibilities of one race day); it's held during the peak of the short fall racing season in Minneapolis and there's no chance for another race to be a success that same weekend - or the one before it, or the two after, removing an entire month from the race calendar.

One wants to do races where one knows the competition. If a race is too large, those one recognizes get swamped out of one's field of vision. If a race is too small, there's less chance of seeing someone one knows.

The year I studied, there were 41 5K's, 26 races of 8-10K, 11 of 15-25K and 6 of 30-50K in the Twin Cities. Very few of those races still exist, especially the 5K's which generally existed just one or two years each. That looks like a large, vibrant race scene, but it was too many races for the area to support in a race season that lasts essentially only from April through October.

I tried to gauge the size of the racing population. There's some problems with defining the population - for example, there was the Race For the Cure 5K which boasted 20000 (maybe 50000 even that long ago), but which was only raced by perhaps 50 or 100. I ended up following what I took to be the leading half of finishers and saw how many races they did in a year. 2800 ran only one race. 850 did two, 430 did three, 240 did four, 120 did five, 120 did six, 55 did seven, 40 did eight, and so on (15 did more than 15 races).

In the metro area of about 2000000 people, there appears to be room for 30 races: 2 marathons, 4 half-marathons, 8 10K's and 16 5 K's, totaling about 200 miles for the year, which is about as much as any one person could expect to race. The marathons would have 1500-4000 runners, the shorter races proportionately fewer.

That's not what we have. I'm looking for a decent-sized race in the area.

Is there one?


Colin said...

Interesting topic.

For me, 2000-3000 runners in a marathon probably is just about right. But for a 10K, my preferred field size is probably 100-200 (600 at the start would be too crowded for my taste). Either way I usually have "targets" in sight to keep me motivated. No doubt faster runners would need a larger field for more chance of competition.

SteveQ said...

Colin, it's funny how things change when dealing with trail races - 600 in a 10K would be chaos! The crowding at the start is better than running the entire race alone; I have an aerial photo of the TCM one year - there's a group of about 100, then a gap, then me, then a gap, then the next 5000 - sometimes, you just have to accept it.

I just looked up Excelsior Firecracker and Hopkins Raspberry fest; they fit my size range. Both have been around for 40 years.

Anonymous said...

Steve, There are still allot of good races in MN. Some new some old you just need to open your eyes.
New Prague 1/2 in May is great and been around a long time.
Gopher to Bager 1/2 = 1200 last year
Urban 1/2 = 1148 last year. The coarse has too many turns.
White Bear 20 miler
These 3 clasics
Victory 10K, COL 25K, Hennipen Lake Clasic. come to mind

Just a thought have you ever thought about being a pacer at some of these races since that seems be be the new trend is to have pacers at races. Heck I even was a pacer a 2 10k's this year. I was 3rd in my AG at one and was the 47:00 pacer.

SteveQ said...

Anon: I've done all of those races in the past (City of Lakes only when still a marathon! But I have the entry form and it's a possibility this year). I have further issues - of course - with each of these, but they are all okay.

Anonymous said...

Steve - If you want fun and that is why we run (right). Put one of the Team Ortho races on your calendar. there is one left the Monster Dash 1/2. very fun costumes and beer.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Decent-sized races

How about Rush Limbaugh? I mean, every third sentence out of the guy's mouth is pretty out-and-out racist and he's still as big as a f*cking whale so there's your size for you ..

O, races. I thought you said you were looking for a decent-sized racist.

My bad.

P.S. Ringo who?

RBR said...

Nope, there are none. You need to come to California.

Just my two, completely unselfish, cents.

Matthew Patten said...

I say we do what Motorcross does and give a prize for the "hole shot" in trail races.

That would make the bigger ones A LOT of fun.

3 people are signed up for WD100K. Just my size.

Beth said...

I think this is indicative of the change in the sport in general. You are talking about racing but most people today are just running for themselves or completing the distance. Thus the trend of slower finishing times and increase in numbers of people like me who, 20 years ago, wouldn't even be considered runners but joggers or worse. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, necessarily. My son ran a 5k this weekend, and they asked everyone who planned to run under 25 minutes to step forward. Only 20 people did. Clearly the rest were not there to race. But, hey, he won and got $25!

Xenia said...

Go to Cali and run with RBR. I so need to read that race report.

joyRuN said...

Ocean City is having their first half marathon in Oct. Director is expecting about 100 participants, but I think it would be double that.

Color me excited!

Or a redhead. Whatever.

DCS said...

My favorite races were small town events of the 4 mile to 10 mile range. True, the course may have been measured by auto odometer and water stops were usually infrequent, but there was a real charm in the environment that you don't find in large urban races. No baby joggers, nobody running with an iPod, high school track runners who would peel off the first quarter mile in 60 seconds and then slow down...that reminds me: in the Richfield 4th of July run back in maybe 1986 or 1987, I passed Steve Holman, future Olympian at about the 5K mark. You can bet that never happened again!

Karen said...

Rails to Trails Marathon, Norwalk, Wisconsin. Nov. 7. Small and you get to run through the rail tunnels.