Marathon entry fees can be a challenge

628x-1Running a full or half marathon takes time, energy and effort. Increasingly, it also takes a nice chunk of change.

If you haven’t yet registered for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon or UPMC Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 3, you’re going to pay $147 and $137, respectively, for the privilege — or $5.61 per mile for the 26.2-mile footrace and a whopping $10.45 per mile for the 13.1-mile event. And that’s not counting the service fee that online registration company Active.com tacks on. Or parking on race day. Or shoes. Or if you’re out of town, hotels and meals.

 

Why does it cost so much?

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Part of the sticker shock can be blamed on market demand. Road races have never been more popular in the U.S., and people are more than willing to dig deep in their pockets to pay for them, especially for high-prestige or hard-to-get-into races such as the New York City Marathon, which has a lottery. While the 5K remains the most popular distance with runners (2013 counted a record 8.3 million finishers, according to Running USA’s latest annual report), endurance races like the half and full marathons also are wildly growing in popularity.

Last year was a record one for marathons, with more than 1,100 races across the U.S. generating 550,637 finishers. The half-marathon is hotter still. The number of 13.1-mile finishers in more than 2,100 races topped 2.046 million in 2014 — more than four times the number in 2000, when just 482,000 completed a race.


But it’s not just about making as much money as you can.

Even with sponsors and scores of volunteers lending a (free) hand, races actually cost a lot of money to take from concept to finish line. Staffing, insurance, traffic control, Homeland Security and EMS services, equipment and supplies, shirts and medals, prize purses that draw elite athletes (and, in turn, runners), music along the course and post-race snacks — it quickly adds up.

A breakdown by Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, which produces the local Pittsburgh marathon events, demonstrates where the money goes. Sponsorships cover 37 percent of the $4 million-plus budget, while registration fees account for the remaining 63 percent. The 2015 runner registration fee of $147/$137 will be doled out as follows:

• The largest distribution — 38 percent, or $56/$52 of the marathon/half-marathon fee — goes toward administration, staffing, warehouse and insurance. The two-day event requires 250 staff members to coordinate 4,100 volunteers and 500 clinicians, and you can’t run a road race without city permits and USA Track & Field sanction fees.

• Equipment, supplies and services account for 24 percent of the budget, or $35/$33 of the entry. There are 700 portable toilets along the course, 18,000 feet of fencing, 1,000 signs and banners and 300 radios. Nobody’s giving this away.

• Key initiatives swallow up another 22 percent of the fees ($32/$30). The marathon’s Kids of Steel program costs $300,000 while its American Development Program — which offers complimentary entry, prize money, travel assistance and grant opportunities to emerging American professional runners/Olympic hopefuls — costs $365,000 a year. The marathon also provides $75,000 worth of grants to neighborhoods for race-day activities, gives $200,000 to its Run for a Reason charity program and spends $100,000 on green/sustainability initiatives.

• No one wants to run a race without getting some serious bling. As such, 16 percent of the budget ($24/$22 per entry) goes toward shirts and Runners of Steel medals.

Pittsburgh is still cheaper than some of the country’s largest and best-known races, although it’s far above the national average. In 2011, the average price of the country’s top 100 marathons was $89 compared to $72 in 2007, according to Running USA. The average price of a half-marathon was $65, compared with $51 in 2007.

When it started up again after a six-year hiatus in 2009, the Pittsburgh marathon cost $85 to $100, depending on when you signed up; registration fees for the half marathon ran $65 to $85. This year’s fees represent a 47 percent increase in price for marathoners who signed up too late for special pricing, and a 61 percent increase for half-marathoners.

Excluding early-bird offers, the New York City Marathon — which cost just $80 in 2000 and $156 in 2011 — remains the most expensive road race in America. Registration for this year’s event on Nov. 1 (the drawing took place on March 3) costs $255 or $347 for non-U.S. residents. The Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 is $185 or $210 for non-U.S. residents, and qualifiers for the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 20, had to pay $175 for the point-to-point race from Hopkinton to the finish in front of Boston Public Library on Boylston Street.

Of course, there is great value in jumping on the early-bird sign-ups. For this year’s May 3 races, registration opened Sept. 30, 2014. From noon to 7 p.m. that day, entry fees were $77 for the marathon and $70 for the half marathon. Expect similar opportunities for the 2016 race.

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source: Post Gazette by Gretchen McKay

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