Race Fees: Where Your Money Goes

Are today's road races overpriced—or undervalued? From porta-potties to timing chips, here’s what you're really paying for

August 22, 2011
marathon runner
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No doubt you’re aware of, if not downright mad about, the increasing cost of racing. For example, lottery winners for this year's ING New York City Marathon will pay $207, up $11 from 2010 (and a whopping $139 from 2000). The phenomenon is not unique to New York; between 2006 and 2010, the average marathon entry fee in the U.S. went from $66 to $85. The question is: Why? For answers, Runner's World took a hard look at last year's Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in Wisconsin, a high-quality event of 2,071 participants with an entry fee of $75, just $10 below the national average (the fee rose to $85 in 2011). For this analysis, we grilled race director Sean Ryan about his budget, pored over spreadsheets, crunched numbers, and interviewed an economist. What did we find? Surprise: No matter where you race, you're getting more than your money's worth.

How to choose the right race for you

Despite the Green Bay Marathon being averagely priced, race director Ryan still hears complaints. "People say, 'I can't believe I paid all that for a shirt and a medal,'" he says. "But variable costs for shirts and goodies are dwarfed by fixed costs." Translation: The cost for food and swag is about $20 per runner, but infrastructure expenses are more than double that. Entry fees alone don't cover costs, so sponsors and donations balance the books—one reason race T's sport so many logos. Here's what your $75 entry fee pays for.

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Advertising $4.95
Includes photography and design work for advertising materials and fees for advertisements placed in newspapers and magazines, and on radio, television, and online

Food and Drink $11.09
Covers expenses for prerace pasta dinner plus food and drink provided during and after the race (Search: Does your race distance require carbo-loading?)

Course Expenses $6.93
Funds certification of the course, entertainment and signs along the route, pace team expenses, timing devices, porta-potties, shuttle service to the race, and fuel for course vehicles

Participant Expenses $14.62
Funds incentives for elites and swag (T-shirts, prize money, age-group awards, medals, and Packers Hall of Fame tickets)

Want race day perks at a fraction of the miles? Start training for a half-marathon and work your way up to a 26.2!

Security $3.24
Covers police and city services and security

Office Fees $4.22
Includes rent for office space, fees for office supplies, telephone lines and utilities, and postal expenses

Tips to organizing a trail race

Finances $3.55
Covers fees for credit cards, banking, and insurance, and includes accounting charges and depreciation of assets

Equipment Rentals $6.09
Accounts for rental of electrical and audio equipment, tents and facilities

Promotional Events $3.39
Includes billboard advertising and race expo

Video: Keep your cool on race day—no matter what you paid to run

Staffing $16.92
Represents costs for payroll for the race directors, volunteer training and reimbursements, overtime pay, and apparel for staff

You Gotta Pay to Play: Compared to other sports, running's a bargain

George Washington Birthday Marathon: $35 ($1.34 per mile)
TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour (42 miles): $75 ($1.79 per mile)
Ford Ironman Lake Placid (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run): $575 ($4.09 per mile)
Round of golf at Pebble Beach (3.9 miles): $495 ($126.92 per mile)

Want to learn more about the ins and outs of races and running? Pick up The Complete Book of Running and start educating yourself!