Race Pricing: How Much is Too Much?

When the Naperville Marathon race director recently announced a $150 registration fee for the inaugural November 10th event, the news was not well received by a running community more than slightly taken aback by the high price tag of a long run through Naperville. Runners who were eagerly awaiting opening day of registration, myself included, were more than a little shocked by the asking price, and there was much to be said on the Naperville Marathon Facebook page, far more by opponents of the $150 fee than by proponents.

The biggest question: what were the organizers thinking in setting the registration fee of a first-time event at $150? In response, the race director reiterated that his is to be a truly special event, "the best experience possible." For that $150 fee, racers would be treated to free parking, post-race showers, a photo package, and a 1/4 zip running shirt. But runners weren't buying it. Not one bit. The majority of Facebook posters most gracefully made their disappointment known and expressed their decision to opt out of the event. Race organizers received enough nays to prompt a reconsideration of the race price. Twenty four hours later the marathon amenities were reevaluated and the registration fee was reintroduced at $105 -- but not without criticism by a minority claiming that runners had bullied the race organizers into modifying their plans. The story of how the use of social media influenced race organizers to slash the registration fee had even made its way to the pages of Runner's World (read story). Actually, what Runner's World writer Scott Douglas said is that the #2 trend in running in 2012 is how runners are using social media to hold races accountable.

So what do we runners find unacceptable enough in the event world to wage a social media protest? And how much is too much for a marathon registration fee? Los Angeles and Chicago are asking $175 this year to run their marathons, a jump of $25 from Chicago's 2012 fee of $150. If I remember correctly, I paid $75 the first time I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2001.

Downtown Naperville is cute and quaint, but it ain't Chicago, nor is it Orlando or New York City or Seattle, all cities I currently would consider paying more than usual to run a marathon in simply for the experience, which would probably be a one-time bucket list event. Actually, I paid less than a $150 registration fee to run two marathons this year with much more appeal than Naperville: $145 to run Big Sur in April and $80 to run the Air Force Marathon in September. So, no, I can't say that I would never pay $150 to run a marathon, but it would have to be something special. Not Naperville, which, by the way, sold out in one day. Instead, I plan to head farther north in November to run the Rails to Trails marathon, which will be far more scenic and still more than half the cost of the repriced Naperville Marathon.


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