I Can’t Afford Your Fancy Race

Edited to add: They listened to everyone’s feedback and adjusted the prices to $105 for the full and $75 for the half. 

If you’re local to the Chicago area and paying attention to the local racing scene, then you may have heard that the inaugural Naperville Marathon & Half, scheduled for November 10, 2013, announced their prices. I was (ooh, spoiler) considering doing this race, as it was local enough that I wouldn’t need a hotel room, and being suburban, I thought it would be somewhat affordable (under $100). I want to take another shot at the marathon distance, and this seemed like a convenient opportunity to do so.

The race organizers have not yet shared a course map, and registration opens next week, but let’s talk money. (I find this incredibly frustrating. Finalize your map before you open registration. Seriously. I want to know what I’m buying.)

Anyway, the cost? $115 for the half. $150 for the full.

Did I mention this is NOT a Rock ‘n’ Roll / Competitor group race? And this is NOT a World Marathon Major (WMM)? And this is NOT part of RunDisney? Etc etc etc.

This is a suburban race in its inaugural year. Without a shared course map.

W. T. F.

What’s even more infuriating has been their response to the negative feedback. No surprise – people complained. Myself included. I was hoping this race would be a cheaper alternative to the Chicago Marathon. And my best friend was considering doing the half, so this was something we could sort of do together.

But for $25 more, I could just run the Chicago Marathon. Which is a WMM. And has been around for 35 years. And runs through the main business district of the third largest city in the country. And like 38 other neighborhoods. You get my point.

For $30 less, my friend could do the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half. Which is also through downtown Chicago. And includes on-course and post-race entertainment. And has been around for a few years. And in my experience has been very well executed by race organizers.

Anyway, back to their response. They promise that this will be “worth” it. It will be a “world class event.” (Getting a little used car salesman-ish.) Because the price includes a name brand quarter-zip pullover. And digital files of all of your photos. And access to showers post-race.

Because … that’s what should matter? Don’t tell me what I want. I know what I want. And all that extra stuff is not it.

Also … no matter what your business is, please read up on some public relations or marketing basics before you provide any type of good or service for a price. Because this is a huge PR fail. Or just take Marshall Field’s advice: Give the lady what she wants. 

Frankly, I’m getting sick and tired of expensive races. Yes, I know I’ve done my share of them. Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Chicago Marathon. Hot Chocolate. The Soldier Field 10. (Three of those four were worth the price though, in my opinion.)

Been there, done that, and you know what I want now? A quality RACE. A closed course. Well-stocked aid stations. Race day packet pick-up. Ample port-o-potties, and clean ones at that. Smooth logistics. Properly seeded corrals, if it’s a large race.

You know what I don’t care about? The shirt. If I wanted a pullover valued at $65, I would go to Sports Authority and buy one. Actually, I would go to Target and buy two.

I also don’t care about the photos. I have purchased three race photos in my lifetime. One was from the 2011 Fort2Base, when I beat my husband by one second. I bought our finish line photo. The other two were from the 2012 Chicago Marathon, because it was my very first marathon. I doubt I need any more professional photos of myself while running, heck, I probably already have two too many.

And I don’t need access to public showers. Seriously? What do you think I am doing post-race? I’m getting in my car and going home and sitting in an ice bath and then showering and then wrapping myself in compression-wear. The fact that this is being touted as a local hometown race means our own private showers aren’t that far away.

Let me reiterate what I do want: A QUALITY RACE. A nice course. (Which I would like to see a map of before registering.) A safe course.

But more importantly  I want to be able to afford to do races. And the way these prices keep going up, I can’t. So all the extra goodies in the world don’t matter to me.

Which is a shame. I really enjoy races. For the experience. But they start adding all this extra stuff, and I can’t afford to do what I want (run a well-executed race) because race directors seem to think I want all this extra crap. I don’t.

When did the swag become more important than the actual race? ( … when RAM Racing started organizing Hot Chocolate?)

Midwinter Cruise 5K

Every post needs a picture; this is me walking away from overpriced races, I mean, this was right after I finished Sunday’s 5K. 

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41 Comments on “I Can’t Afford Your Fancy Race”

  1. I was considering running the half (I am doing the Chicago marathon) But I am NOT paying that obnoxious fee!! Especially since it is a first time for it and we all know how first time races end. NEVER WELL!!! It’s all good. I will find a different race, we all know there are plenty to choose from!

  2. I completely agree! I sometimes wish they would give us an option of swag/no swag. I don’t run for the swag! I’m more selective in my spending this year and I paid $95 for Fox Valley in Sept!

  3. I had in my head what I thought was an obnoxiously high price for a half, and my guess was still 20 bucks under! I would NEVER pay 100 bucks for a half marathon. 65 is a nice number.

    I am doing a 5 miler here in Indy next month, and was kind of annoyed that the $20 entry doesn’t include a shirt (you can spend another $12 for a long sleeve tech shirt) But I like the race (for all the reasons you mentioned above) and at least I have a CHOICE. If a 5 mile race cost $30+, I might not sign up at all. So, you made a good point about the photos and pullover (and showers! That’s just hysterical!). They’re essentially making you buy a bunch of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily buy.

    And I would have loved to do a race in Naperville too, because my husband’s family lives in Wheaton! But yeah, nah.


  4. Well said. Bravo!

    I haven’t been running that long, and I’m just baffled by how much this race costs. I was only considering the half. Well, not doing that now.

  5. My sentiments exactly!!!! Do what others do and offer a VIP option for an additional cost for those that want the extra amenitiesand keep the race affordable for the rest of us that don’t want that. We just want to run in a quality race! I am running the Crossroads Marathon, Lowell, IN in April, and after discounts it was $50. and I can sleep in my own bed also. So really Naperville??? One thing the Naperville promoters are saying that they are runners putting on this race…..well guess what so is Crossroads Marathon, put on by runners…..Thank you Maggie for bringing this to our attention!!

  6. I don’t know which was more shocking, the price of the marathon or the price of the half marathon… I did a race once with menu pricing so you only had to pay for what you wanted. I think that was a really great concept that more (smaller) races should do. They would get more folks to come if they didn’t have to pay as much.

    And the whole taking showers at the finish thing… Who would want that? Has anyone ever requested that after a race? So now in addition to remembering everything i need for race day, I need to remember everything I need to take a hot public shower, in November, and then walk to my car while still wet… I just don’t understand this concept and why anyone would want to pay for it…

  7. Like Kelly, I was really shocked by the half price, first, and the marathon price secondly. I wonder how they will modify it, since they said on Facebook this morning they are going back to the drawing board. It just all seems so odd to me, since there are so many other races to do in this area that are much less (with the exception of Chicago).

  8. RAM was on my mind as I read this entire post. Since they promote themselves as having the best goodie bag, not actually having a great race. Sigh.

    The Naperville half was in the running for my first half, but not for that price!

  9. Holy crap! I live in Bolingbrook and have been hearing a lot about the Naperville marathon, but had not heard about the pricing! Dang! $150 is what I paid to run Chicago last year! I just can’t imagine why they would need that much money for police, etc. for a race in Naperville, unless they’re giving you shoes or something amazing in your participant bag. And I don’t get the whole “Hey, you get free showers!” thing. I don’t see many people traveling from around the country to run the *inaugural* Naperville Marathon, so I don’t see why having post-race showers is a big deal. Maybe after a few years if it builds up a good reputation, but a race in the suburbs?

    I’ll be interested to see how they revise things.

  10. Very, very well written post. With the perfect picture at the end!

    Perks are nice, yes. But I really don’t need another shirt. A shower afterward is unexpectedly nice…but not necessary. If they said the price was high because of permit fees, street closure & police costs, etc I would be a bit more forgiving (although I’d wonder why the city of Naperville was trying to price people out of putting on an event). But I agree that it doesn’t sound like they are catering to RUNNERS. They are catering to people who only do events because of the swag. I’ll be interested to see what they end up doing about the costs.

  11. I agree that the “extras” that they are offering are not the things I would use. Showers. Really? The first year they should probably not try too hard to make a profit, just establish a good reputation, then raise prices to an appropriate level in year two. To paraphrase Homer Simpson: “$150 for the Naperville Marathon…Get Outta Here!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpVQwslHdSo

  12. The entry fee for the Naperville Marathon is a joke. What it says is that they haven’t fully done their planning – they haven’t gotten all of their sponsors yet, they certainly haven’t researched market rates for races, they may not have done a full budget, etc. I am intrigued to see what their response is.

  13. Hear, hear! I don’t mind paying for the right experience (RunDisney comes to mind) but I’m also getting priced out of local races – which means I’m also getting priced out of exciting training goals. Boo.

    1. Yes! That! I hate that I’m not just getting priced out of supporting the local running community, but priced out of setting a new marathon goal. Sure I could run 26.2 miles by myself on the local trails, but it’s just not the same.

  14. Your so right, “A quality RACE. A closed course. Well-stocked aid stations. Race day packet pick-up. Ample port-o-potties, and clean ones at that. Smooth logistics. Properly seeded corrals, if it’s a large race.” this is what matters. We do a local race in Fort Wayne Indiana because it has all of these things. I am only paying about $ 50 for this race and it is so worth it for the experience. We even get a decent long sleeve half zip tech shirt. Races don’t have to be expensive to be run well and made fun!

  15. I feel your pain. When the Rock n’ Roll series took over the Philadelphia Distance Run (my fav half ever), I boycotted it because they upped the price just because it’s “Rock n’ Roll.” Honestly, there aren’t even that many bands in these races and it’s definitely not worth the extra money. I try to seek out smaller races…you may have to drive to the suburbs for them, but honestly, they are cheaper and usually have better swag and food at the end (Panera bagels…OMG makes me miss suburban life!)

  16. Wow! We got our model wrong. We apologized. We immediately started working on correcting our mistakes and you won’t cut us a break? There isn’t much else we can do.
    Please remember that we are are not Rock N Roll – we are just a small group of hard working people who put on small marathons. This is our fourth year and up until now we had a happy runner base – we do take all the complaints personally. We all work day jobs and meet late into the night and on weekends to put on first quality marathons for runners. We are paying our own way to put this marathon on the streets of Naperville – that means paying for police, fire, warming tents, warm food at the end. We have our own medical on the course at all aid stations and at the finish. Earlier this year we asked the runners what apparel they wanted and they agreed on something pricey. Our mistake. If making one mistake and trying to rectify it immediately means that you will NEVER look at our marathon then so be it. But c’mon, really?

    1. Hi Pat, I appreciate your comment. I know that planning a race, or any event, is very hard work, and you will never please everyone, and I applaud your group for bringing a marathon to your local community in the first place. I think this whole thing might have been the straw that broke the camels back for me, and frustrations over other races are also boiling over into this post. Races keep getting more and more expensive, and not necessarily because putting on the RACE costs more (at least, that’s not what I’m hearing from other RD’s regarding increased prices), but because of all of the EXTRAS. I was really excited to be able to chase down another marathon goal this fall without having to book a hotel room or (presumably) shell out the big bucks that Chicago demands, so I was very disappointed to see that this race wasn’t that much cheaper than Chicago. It started to make me feel that races aren’t catered to runners, especially not runners on a strict budget, but rather to people who want all the extra swag to brag. (Yes, I realize the irony of that coming from a blogger.)

      I am interested to see how things are revised, but know that this whole experience will affect people’s overall opinions of the race. I wish you the best of luck, and who knows, maybe I will be there on November 10.

    2. Nope, you’re NOT RNR. Because an RNR race director would not get all defensive and pouty in response to a blogger who is very intelligently, honestly and thoughtfully voicing a legitimate concern about a race taking place in her community. No matter how small and independent and hard working and day-job having you might be, you can’t take complaints personally. It just diminishes your credibility. I wish you the best of luck and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we all do appreciate the transparency and concern you’ve exhibited on Facebook. My 2 cents.

  17. Those prices are absolutely insane. I’m glad so many runners complained. Running races has become so expensive and while some races will ultimately cost more (especially if they’re through city streets), suburban or newer races should not be one of them. I’ve run two races in Naperville, one was a tri and one was a half and I don’t think I spent more than $70 on either of them. The price jump doesn’t make sense.

  18. Good Morning,
    I am one of the Race Directors of the Naperville Marathon and really do appreciate all of the great feedback.

    It was never our intention to make a race unaffordable or for that matter to make it anything but a great running experience. Did we get carried away? You bet we did…we will fix it.

    As very active runners ourselves we understand as well as anyone the importance of course, aid stations, logistics, and quality starts and well organized finishes. The price point? We just blew it!!! We added too much cost that is clearly not viewed as relevant or important by you the runners.

    So we met and took all of your comments and made changes to our cost structure to make this race more affordable and still deliver what we are sure will be a great running experience.

    Thanks again for your passion and your honest feedback!

    Keep Running,


    1. Hi Bob, thank you for stopping by, and I really do appreciate your comments, and I appreciate even more that you are taking everyone’s feedback into consideration. Needless to say, A LOT of people were excited by the prospect of a marathon in “our backyards,” so I think they were just disappointed to find out this would cost almost as much as Chicago. Therefore not making it much of an alternative to the high price of Chicago. I am looking forward to seeing how you adjust things, and I really do wish you the best of luck in planning and hope it turns out to be a great event.

  19. Very interesting…such a well written post! I totally agree that they are being ridiculous. I once did a Naperville Turkey Trot 5k and it was one of the most expensive I’d ever done and it was super disorganized (and the t-shirts all ran SUPER small, and I only care because I “paid” for it so the shirt better fit!). Must be a Naperville thing? I’m glad they are revisiting their pricing- yay for the power of social media and hearing the customer out!

  20. Hi Maggie – great post. It’s great that they’ve responded, but if I were them I would avoid complaining about the negative feedback in any way at all. If people are riled up that’s a GREAT sign. That means they care about this being a great event, that they really want to support it. That passion should be embraced! What if they all just shrugged? Those complaints probably made them a lot of money because it improved the event so it’s a better product for the consumer. Wouldn’t every business LOVE that kind of feedback before they shelled out money on product development?

    I interview race directors all the time and believe me, many of them are as frustrated as runners about the battle to provide all the extras. Sean Ryan at Green Bay and Dave McGillivray at Boston both told me they wouldn’t be shocked if a race popped up with an aid station every mile.

    That said, a race organizing team can do whatever they want – it’s our choice to pay or not. Some of us love swag, some of us love the simplest race possible. The price of this one seemed absurd to me (I market and direct a half marathon, a century ride, and a beer festival), but there are all kinds of costs that runners don’t consider (and which I never did until I got on the other side of the race). City’s and villages demand more compensation for emergency personel (which they should) and permits to stage the event. Runners demand more and more course support, and that’s costly. Many people on this forum say they’re sick of all the frills, but we all know we’re a VERY picky lot. We’ll complain if the water is too 10 feet too far from the finish, or the shuttle bus doesn’t fit our routine, or the starting time.

    I can see value in the digital photos for many runners, but to provide that I imagine they’re paying the photography company (normally the company pays the race for the right to take photos, so it’s a significant swing).

    As for finalizing the course map, everyone would prefer they finalize it before registration opens, but I understand the difficulty. Highway departments and city officials are usually not particularly quick to respond to requests of recreational activities. In the events I’ve been involved in, we get tossed around on our courses and permits every year, even without any complaints.

    1. Myles, thank you for your perspective. I know there is a lot going on behind the scenes of a race that we can’t begin to understand until we experience it ourselves. That’s why I appreciate races (and any company) that are transparent, honest and up front with information. Communication is important! And I’m not just saying that for my own job security!

      And that’s a good point that negative comments reflect that people do care about your product, and that’s far better than apathy and disinterest.

  21. Dude, I’m so with you on this stuff. I look at some race fees and I want to die. I think it’s worth pointing out that some of my favorite races are these local half-marathons that cost between $45-$65 per race. The course is well-supported, with water stops every other mile, the medals are great, and the post-race party is always awesome, with ziti and meatballs and beer and soda and other treats. I don’t know how he does it, but he pulls them off and they are among the highlights of our local running community’s racing calendar. I think a lot of other smaller race directors could learn from him.

    Regarding runners who complain about relatively minor things at races not being up to their standards – this is actually becoming a serious pet peeve of mine, the way some runners will bitch about everything. Like, I remember once seeing runners complain because the insulated coffee cups we got had plastic linings. Really? REALLY? I get complaining about courses that are dangerous or running out of water, but complaining because the free shit you get doesn’t meet your standards is just tacky beyond all belief.

  22. I’m happy to see that the organizers listened and lowered the price! The price was certainly shocking. I paid $170 for the Nike Women’s Half (in D.C.) and that’s what I consider a “fancy” race even though the cost almost killed me. I really enjoyed reading the comments on this post as well, it seems like your criticism reached all the right people and their responses are very interesting. It’s posts like these that really show race organizers what runners truly want and need out of a race.

  23. I was appalled when I saw the initial race prices but was glad to hear that they took the feedback seriously and lowered the prices. But I do think in general that race registration fees are getting out of hand because people are still willing to pay them. For me now, it’s to the point where I am looking at only running about five races this year. When you drop $150+ each on a couple of big races, it eats up your race budget pretty darned fast! To reiterate what we’ve talked about a few weeks earlier, we should all take a stand and only run those races that we TRULY enjoy!

    1. This year I’m trying to limit myself to $500 total on race fees – so at $150 each, that’s three races! Luckily not every race I’m considering is so expensive. I understand race directors wanting to offer extras that make the race “special” but not everyone who wants to do a race WANTS it to be special – they just want to do a well-done race that fits their budget. If these “extras” are becoming the norm, then they should be offered as just that – extras. Include it in some add-on VIP package or something. But there is NO WAY I would agree to $50 for all of my race pictures since that would be a waste of MY money.

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