Road racing is alive and well according to Running USA’s 2017 report on U.S. road race trends, with continued strong (18.3 million race registrants) participation rates. But race directors are keenly aware that overall numbers don’t predict how one individual race will fare from year to year. High levels of participation has led to an abundance of races – a plus for runners but not for all races. Race fatigue and race saturation is the downside of having so many choices.
While there is no magic formula that race directors can use to ensure a great turnout, race participants (includes runners, race walkers and walkers) choose races based on a number of factors.
First are basics such as the race taking place on particular date or weekend, how far the runner is willing to travel and the race distance. The most popular race distance is the 5K, with 49 percent of all registrants in 2017 according to Running USA; the half marathon is a distant second with 11 percent of finishers. Thanksgiving Day is the most popular day for road races, and races close to Halloween continue to attract large numbers of participants.
Races that are part of a series often see their participation numbers increase. Many runners like the challenge of a full calendar of races whether they race competitively or are new to the sport. Most series offer prizes for top runners and some to teams, such as the competitive USATF NE Road Race Grand Prix Series. Jackets or other running gear that can only be earned by completing a certain number of races are also popular incentives.
The Dover Race Series offers a series jacket for completing 7 out of 11 races and the Seacoast Road Race Series offers a jacket for completing 6 out of 8 races with two longer than a 5K or a long-sleeve technical shirt for completing four of the races with one longer than a 5K. The 2018 USATF NE Mountain Series included eight races in New Hampshire, Vermont and Mass. and participants completing six of eight races earned the coveted “goat” status, a tee-shirt and lottery by-pass to the 2019 Mount Washington Road Race. The Will Run for Beer series included eleven races and participants who completed five earned a series fleece.
Races with a beautiful setting and large after-race party, usually with live music and beer, attract many to their festival-like events. The Smuttynose Rockfest Half marathon and 5K in Hampton Beach had close to 4,800 finishers on Sept. 30. Manchester-based Millennium Running hosts many popular and unique races that offer incentives, after-race parties and even full Santa suits at their Santa Claus Shuffle 5K, this year on Dec. 1.
There are numerous races that raise money for causes and nonprofits and deciding which ones to support is a very personal choice. The Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Seacoast Cancer 5K in Dover had 2,207 finishers on Sept. 23 and the race has raised more than a million dollars in the past five years. According to the American Cancer Society, 40 percent of men and 38 percent of women will develop cancer in their lifetime and this particular race attracts a large number of participants because it supports a cause that touches so many individuals and families.
Well-known, historic or prestigious races continue to have no trouble attracting participants such as the Mount Washington Road Race, Beach to Beacon 10K, the Boston Marathon and all of the six World Marathon Majors, as well as destination races such as those held at Disney World.
Finally, race logistics can discourage participation when the basics are not met. For example, easy parking and registration, an accurately measured and marked course, some after-race food, plenty of water and porta-potties are all basic expectations for road races. Poorly managed race logistics will not inspire many participants to return the following year.
The Oct. 8 Reebok Boston 10K for Women, an all-women’s Columbus Day race dating back to 1977, did not offer race day bib pickup. This is an added logistical difficulty for any participant who doesn’t live or work close to Boston or didn’t plan to stay overnight in the city and it caused plenty of negative online comments. Many other large races have similar policies and runners must decide whether the race is worth the additional logistical challenges.
On Oct. 20 is the fourth annual James W. Foley Freedom Run 5K in Rochester with a new USATF-certified course, runner’s expo, kid’s fun run and beer garden, supporting the Foley Foundation advocacy for the safe return of all Americans detained abroad and to protect independent conflict journalists. Also on Oct. 20 is the inaugural Franconia Notch Half Marathon.
On Oct. 21, the Farmington 500 Frighteningly Fast 5K, Granite State 10-Miler in Concord, the Ghost Train Rail Trail 15-mile and ultra races in Brookline, the Newburyport Half marathon in Newburyport, Mass., and the Grahamtastic Connection 5K in Springvale, Maine.
Nancy Eckerson writes about running for Seacoast Sunday. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.