A recent spate of high entrance fees culminating in Old Eds charging R100 for a 10km race and R120 race has revived the issue. Does this herald the change in road running from a cheap to an expensive sport?
The race that leads the pack in terms of high fees is the 702 Walk the Talk which cost me R140 for a 20km walk. Considering that participants no longer even receive a free T-Shirt, I considered it exorbitant. For whatever reason in my mind, this race is viewed as an event rather than a “race” and hence it was forgiven.
The day before the 702WTT was the 25km Rustenburg Mountain Race which cost R100. Again this was excused due to it being more of an outing than a race with its paucity of traffic, herds of wild animals and the wide open spaces more reminiscent of a game drive than a run.
But this all changed with a bang on Sunday [3rd August 2014], when a bona fide running club, Old Edwards, had the “temerity” to charge us R120 for a half marathon. This was more of a “normal” road race through the suburbs. There was no particular attraction apart from the usual running camaraderie & bonhomie, which I relish, and in this race’s favour, a journey through some of the leafy sylvan suburbs of Joburg.
Why has Old Edwards elected to charge the Runners such an exorbitant fee representing a 50% increase over the prior year? If one takes the level of increases since 2011, the Entrance Fee has more than doubled.
|1000km year||Cost of entry||% increase||Cumulative|
As can be seen from this table, Old Eds had made it a policy, under Gareth Griffiths, for their race to be the cheapest on the Race Calendar but that policy has clearly been amended over the past few years.
Road Runners are not known for demonstrating or vandalising private property when they are dissatisfied with some aspect of a race. However on this occasion there were certainly the seeds of “anarchy” brewing more in the benign form of disagreement rather than obnoxious vitriol and destruction of property.
Firstly an observation on the rate of increase based upon this table. At the current rate of increase, road races will largely become unaffordable for the average runner in the near future but maybe in the case of Old Eds, this is merely a reflection of the level of catch-up that Old Eds is playing.
Even if this is the correct level taking into account new realities, will this not ultimately encourage either non-attendance or alternatively free-loading on a grand scale? Probably both I suspect. Possibly the easier of the two evils to address is that of free-loading where runners are not provided with refreshments unless they are wearing their Race Number. Even this simple expedient could be by-passed if running friends were in cahoots & passed drinks to one another but it would certainly reduce the incidence of this phenomenon.
Apart from the great company and enjoyable running conditions, what else have the Runners been receiving in return from the Club over the years?
|1000km year||Tee shirts||Medals|
This indicates that not only were the Entrance Fees escalating disproportionately compared with inflation but the level of hand-outs has declined.
Why has this state of affairs arisen and what does the future hold?
Let us consider the distinctive feature of road running: the Club System. I strongly contend that it has been this system which has enabled road running to be as cheap as it has been over the years. Relying on dedicated volunteers with a love for the sport has allowed races to be organised on a figurative shoe-string.
What has changed? Quite frankly lots but it has been surreptitious. When I joined RAC – Rand Athletic Club – in 1984 as a young hirsute novice runner, the average age of the RAC member was no more than a few older than myself. The Organising Committee with the Welsh’s at the helm were spring chickens in their mid-forties. What has happened to Club Membership over the years? It advanced with that age cohort thereby inexorably advancing in lock-step. The former leading Clubs such as Golden Reef and Germiston Callies all face the future with leadership in their late sixties, if not in their mid-seventies. The major reason why such Clubs are no longer able to host the events that they were previously able to, arises not because of lack of sponsorship but rather the miniscule pool of dedicated volunteers remaining.
The unpaid dedicated volunteer is a dying species on its path to extinction. Who will replace them? A committee which will purchase these services from some profit seeking organisation. At best Club Members will volunteer time on the day of the race but not much more.
Apart from this pernicious demographic change, there have been other developments. Foremost amongst those is the charge-out principles of the various municipalities. Commencing about 15 years ago, they viewed Road Races are the proverbial pot of gold ready for the taking. And take they did. R50,000 for a race became the norm. Instead of the Club’s Race being an annual fundraiser, it became the largest annual expense which many Clubs elected no longer to bear.
Viewed prosaically, perhaps this is merely the market forces at work and the latest charges a more accuracy charge for the use of the municipal facilities.
And then we come to the proverbial cherry-on-the-top, the Holy Grail, the hand-out. From a mere badge about 20 years ago, it was replaced by the medal and then the medal and a T-Shirt and then the medal, T-Shirt and Goody Bag. Unless a race offered all the above mentioned “goodies”, it could never expect a “big field.”
Finally like the Old Eds Race, Clubs now employ a company such as Champion Chip to perform the time-keeping. By all accounts, the cost of the hire of such systems is exorbitant.
In the recent past – no more than two years ago – a burgeoning phenomenon arose: the Park Run but what did it provide? Maybe not a long run or a medal, but a local timed race where the results were available on-line within hours and possibly more attractive, no cost.
How is this possible? Yes, there is sponsorship but nothing on the scale required for a normal road race. It relies upon a handful of unpaid volunteers with a hi-tech computer system.
The growing popularity of this form of race can attest to the desire to participate in a safe run without the superfluous hand-outs. My gardener has already become discerning in the type of T-shirt that he will accept from me: definitely unused and preferable still in its plastic packet, understated advertisements and lastly preferably of the second skin variety. This is indicative of the pervasiveness of T-shirts as hand-outs. Over the Rustenburg Mountain Race/702WTT weekend, I received no less than 3 T-shirts!!!!
Now comes the judgmental part: do we stand on principle in refusing to accept such levels of Entrance Fees or will this merely be the thin edge of the wedge or are such levels given the new realities fair and reasonable?
Lastly does one socio-economic status weigh heavily in one’s viewpoint?
Probably all of the above. The Club System will not die and it is paramount is suppressing price surges and hikes but will yet another generation of willing volunteers be able to dedicate so many hours of their time to organising road race? I highly doubt it. Portion of the organisation will inexorably and at great cost be subcontracted to expensive third parties. The likes of the Soweto Marathon and races of that ilk have long since trodden that path.
However the formal clubs, let alone ASA, can learn from the Park Run in terms of inexpensive timing and results. In fact if they requested a copy of the software, they would probably receive it gratis.
Personally I have quite willing to pay such “exorbitant” fees for the privilege of being able to run with such wonderful folks through some of the most sublime parts of this massive country.
Apart from the obvious benefits with life-long friendships being formed and marital bonds being tied, there is the bonhomie, the laughter, the inconsequential chats together with the helping hand when one has “hit the wall”, all part of a greater humanity and greatness for which I will always be proud and on which one can attach no price for it is priceless.
With sadness, we must admit that we have been truly fortunate to have been able to participate in a sport when volunteerism was at its peak. With its passing and other changes, some not desired, those days will have to be buried along with the epitaph,
Thanks to all those who
With willing hearts
And no recompense in mind
Did willingly and without complaint
Provide with toil and sweet
The road races as desired.”
“Your passing will be mourned
But none will appreciate
The hand work and dedication
That you did offer
Without complaint nor money
For what drove you on
Was the greater good
Of the running fraternity”
Other Articles on Running:
My Comrades Marathon: An Abiding Memory
My Comrades Debut and Swansong, all in one Race
An Icy Race: The Sterkfontein Dam 25km Run
This would be the coldest race that I have ever run in my life. With snow on the Berg and a wind off the mountain, there would be both a gusting wind and sub-zero temperatures to contend with
My Running Redux
The Journey from Searing Back-Pain in late 2013 to Running Races again in Respectable Times
Poisoned Chalice or Fool’s Errand?
Report back the Dawn to Dusk 80km Running Race in August 2013
My Mid-Life Crisis: How did I attempt to regain my lost youth?
What did it take me to get over my mid-life crisis in my early forties?
Ashley Wood – In Memoriam
IoT: What impact will it have on Road Running?
The possibilities of the latest technology – the Internet of Things – are ruminated upon
A Drab and Unremarkable Race with Pretensions: Gauteng Sports Challenge
Gauteng requires a big city marathon on the scale of the London Marathon but the Gauteng Sports Challenge doesn’t fit the bill
A Running Experience: A Hill too Far
On this day, the Loskop 50km ultra marathon running race had one hill too many, Faraday’s Hill. It was to be my nemesis.
The First Time
Andre Hydenryck – In Memoriam