I decided some time ago that I wouldn’t ever compete in my most local of races, the Garmin Kingston Run and the Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run. These events cover the route that I run most often and it just seemed silly to pay £28-34 to cover the same paths I cover each week for free. That was a rational decision and although I thought it was expensive, it was more in the context of it being local and familiar rather than a moral comment on the rising cost of races, after all, £34 was for a 20 mile course, so £1.70 per mile or 24p a minute [see below].
It planted a seed in my mind. That seed germinated last year when the cost of the Winter Run was announced. This is just a 10k run and the price soared to an eye-watering £40. Ok, Ok, I thought, it’s London passing some of the busiest and most secure environments in the country and it’s for charity and they’re putting on a fake snow machine and ‘free polar bear hugs’. So, perhaps, the £4.50 per km cost [£1.13 per minute at 6’26” mile (4’00” /km) pace] can be justified. I’m not going to enter obviously but somebody might.
Then last month the little seedling grew another few cm when I received an invite for the Vitality West London 10k. £40 plus a £2.40 booking fee. What on earth are they talking about? This time there was no snow being promised, no bears and the charity bit is optional (albeit reducing the cost if you do). It’s getting ridiculous.
Milton Keynes Marathon cost me £40, London in 2012 was about £35 from memory. At London you can understand the cost – this is a race having to pay high fees to attract the world’s very best runners. London Marathon provide security, medical and logistics support to hundreds of thousands of people across one of the most expensive and congested cities in Europe. With most people finishing in 4 hours or so it works out at a quite generous 15-20p per minute (less if you include the pre and post race support), that’s £1.50 per mile or thereabouts.
The marathon is over four times the length of the 10k; Now you’d assume some costs are fixed and others based on mileage and there are going to be economies of scale, with that in mind the fact that the Vitality West London 10k is the same cost as one of the World’s top Marathons just seems a little excessive doesn’t it?
Breakdown of event costs
I know I need more detail. I have to understand what proportion of the race fee goes on which elements of event support. I want to know for these pricey commercial events (even with their veneer of charity fundraising):
- What proportion of the support is offered on a volunteer basis?
- What fees do St John Ambulance charge and the various chip-timing systems?
- When drinks are provided, is this at cost to the manufacturer or is it a wholesale buy?
- What about ped barriers, gantries, baggage transport/storage, signage?
- How about professional fees, local authorities and insurances?
Now, here’s the crux, how does the experience differ – in real terms – to the more spit-and-sawdust events? Admittedly some of these are not on closed roads, but to many runners the difference between a regional city/town marathon and club-organised event is predominantly a case of baggage handling, signage and goody-bags. The distance is the same.
Change in event prices over time
How has the cost of the UK’s top-tier closed-road events changed in the past 20 years (Great North Run, London Marathon, Edinburgh Great Winter Run). Do you know what you paid for one of these events in the distant past?
Are key event costs rising or falling? Of those items listed above, some of these must surely have benefitted from technology and efficiency savings?
Some example race prices
(assuming my current race pace)
|Provider||Closed Roads||Distance (km)||Typical time (min)||Cost (full)||per km||per minute|
|Winter Run (London)||Human Race||YES||10||40||£45.00||£4.50||£1.13|
|West London 10km||Vitality||YES||10||40||£42.40||£4.24||£1.06|
|Great British 10km||Vitality||YES||10||40||£50.00||£5.00||£1.25|
|Virgin London Marathon||London Marathon||YES||42.16||210||£35.00||£0.83||£0.17|
|Kingston Breakfast Run||Human Race||PARTIAL||13||52||£28.00||£2.15||£0.54|
|Kingston Breakfast Run||Human Race||PARTIAL||26||110||£31.00||£1.19||£0.28|
|Kingston Breakfast Run||Human Race||PARTIAL||32.3||140||£34.00||£1.05||£0.24|
|Great Winter Run (Edinburgh)||Great Run||YES||5||19||£21.00||£4.20||£1.11|
|Great North Run||Great Run||YES||21.08||90||£53.04||£2.52||£0.59|
|Bedford Half||Bedford Harriers||NO||21.08||90||£20.50||£0.97||£0.23|
|Halstead Marathon||Halstead Road Runners||PARTIAL||42.16||210||£33.50||£0.79||£0.16|
|Sittingbourne 10km||Rotary Club||NO||10||40||£14.00||£1.40||£0.35|
|Bullock Smithy||Hazel Grove Scouts||PARTIAL||56||660||£30||£0.54||£0.05|
What do you think? Are race prices a fair reflection of the organiser’s effort? Is it fair to compare such ‘different’ events?
Bear in mind that the runners’ fees are not the only income source at several of these events. Sponsors contribute and charities are often charged significant fees to have spaces for runners and their own tents at the event (e.g. Great North Run).
By contrast, here’s a BBC News piece about how obstacle events (ugh, don’t get me started on this particular craze) are increasing in popularity and how they leave organisers out of pocket at least initially.
A Guardian assessment on race prices from March 2015 – the comments on this piece are revealing.
I’d love to have a race director’s view – can you give us a breakdown of costs in terms of a percentage of where race fees go? For a brief insight, Marathon Talk episode 300 had some details on the scale of logistics behind the Bournemouth Marathon Festival (multi-distance) event.