We are also "blessed" with lots and lots of charity and even profit-making races. I don't know if area promoters are feeling the same dilution of interest and numbers.
There is another aspect of all these races: high entry fees, sometimes even solicitation of donations, along with huge bazaars designed to pry even more money out of the runners-- all of this tends to make running more of an elite recreation for the economically privileged. You could spend hundreds of dollars just signing up for a handful of races per year-- not to mention the costs of travel, accommodations, and buying the latest "high-tech" shoes and equipment.
In my opinion running and racing should be readily available to everyone, not just the well-heeled. I applaud those clubs that still hold frequent, low (or no) cost, high quality events, and I hope such clubs exist throughout the country. In our area the Montgomery County Roadrunners and DC Roadrunners hold such races and I may have missed other groups. But the overall trend is disturbing.
Most of Northern New England doesn't have a big problem with too many races. But, there are a few spots where there are so many splits marked on the road that it gets confusing to layout a course on race day. In particular, the NH seacoast, which is only 17 miles long, hosts numerous races.
I cringe everytime a request comes in for a new course along Route 1A because the roadway is narrow and dangerous for measuring. I sometimes think that I have more paint on that road than the DPW.
Most of the races are organized as fund raisers, but there has been an increase in professional race organizers in recent years. They tend to organize big events, with big entry fees. So far we haven't reached saturation, but it's getting hard to find a weekend without at least one and maybe more events from which to choose.
I agree with Bob. Running should remain a sport where all you need is a pair of running shoes and the will to run.
My concern is some of the charity-driven events I have worked with in the D.C. area - where the majority of races are charity-driven. One charity board member, when provided with recommendations by Capitol Running Company for porta-potties, water, etc, famously proclaimed to all attending a race organizing meeting: "I don't give a damn about runners. All I want is to raise money". As though providing runners, his customers, a good experience, would not constitute a good investment in the future of his event. This is the attitude I encounter frequently.
"Why do we need porta-potties? Why do we need water at the race start? Do we have to provide T-shirts? We do not need course certification - we are not the Olympics." I hear this stuff all the time.
I remember a cartoon I saw decades ago, when Harley-Davidson motorcycles were just beginning their resurgence, and Hell’s Angels were dazzling with their badass costumery. The cartoon shows a biker talking with a pedestrian. The biker is decked out in tough-guy finery – black leather, jackboots, chains, iron crosses, and topped off with a Nazi helmet. The pedestrian is saying “I too miss the old days, Heinrich, but isn’t this a bit much?"
I miss the old days too, back when I was running in the early 1970’s to 1990's. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a Golden Age for those who wanted to race. Accurate courses were few, but the fields were small. The smallness of the fields allowed the racer to focus on who was ahead. The typical marathon in Ohio had 100 to 300 people and was usually out on country roads. In those days we mid-packers recognized all the familiar faces and knew who we would be racing against in our age group.
As time went by, certification became more common, and as timing became more mechanized the fields began to grow. My later experiences in racing were in races with bigger fields, and there was more difficulty trying to focus on any individual competitor. I remember the Athens (OH) marathon in the late 70's. I was coming around a corner at mile 17 or so, and I spotted a runner way ahead of me. I had not seen him before, so I figured he was slowing. It was a great motivator to try to catch him. I finally did pass him, but it took me four more miles to do it. This sort of motivation is absent when a vast herd of 10000 runners is the field.
Lots more people are running in races today, but I sense that racing is not the principal motivation for many of the runners.
One factor in growth is the existence of electronic timing systems. These are expensive, and the owners are motivated to put on as many races as they can.
A good friend, Ben Buckner, wrote a nice short book on the subject in 1980 – “Planning Road Races for the Competitive Runner.” It expresses a view which largely parallels my own.
Pete, thankfully there are still "old school" races in existence. We have a series here in SW CT, entering its 51st year this summer, that would be your cup of tea. 10 races, all non-standard (but certified) distances, progressively longer each week. Second oldest races in the state. Still scored by handing tongue depressors to the the finishers, with someone reading times from a stopwatch and another person writing them down. You should see the reaction from entrants who have only run "new age"," chip-timed mega races the first time they run. Some of the dinosaurs have survived. And don't even get me started on Muddy Buddy or Color Runs!
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