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?
Fisher's Big Wheel
1 week ago