Over the past few years, a handful of runners have inquired about the higher costs of Flagstaff races, a very reasonable question. Currently in the middle of preparing budgets for the two races I direct, I thought I’d share my analysis about what it takes to put on such events.
As I enter my 13th season of assisting, organizing and directing events as a volunteer, my focus remains on the true value and sustainability of these endeavors, which enrich our community. While there are definitely clubs and nonprofits that put on far less expensive runs in other towns, the majority of our events raise funds to support cherished local charities. Since I direct the two most expensive races in town, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Dave McKay Memorial Half Marathon and the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run, here is my perspective.
The average Run Flagstaff Summer Series race draws about 450 participants. Several of them cross city, county, state and forest service lands, and permits can cost $500-$1,000, especially when crossing multiple jurisdictions. Next, insurance ranges from $500-$1,000, with Port-A-Potties costing about $1,000 and traffic safety barricades around $500. While sponsors “buy” logo space on shirts, high-quality technical shirts average $3,000-$4,000. Moreover, professional electronic finish-line timing includes contracted fees of $500-$1,000/race and $2-$3/registrant, totaling approximately $2,000-$2,500. Finally, to meet runner expectations for finishers’ medals and age division awards, another $500-$1,000 is added.
So, before the starting gun even goes off, the average nonprofit-produced race has already cost nearly $10,000!
Dissecting my own not-for-profit race, the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run, $65 gets you a $30 customized-art high-tech shirt, free David McKee poster, free food and beer on race day thanks to Pay n’ Take, free Fratellis pizza at the Pay n’ Take post-race party, plus incredible gear thanks to the Aspen Sports Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff benefit raffle. Therefore, the value of this race (in dollars) far exceeds entry fees, which is easily true of all the less-expensive races hosted by nonprofits in town.
Soulstice revenue also helps cover natra.org website costs, storage space for free race photos, year-round giveaways, sponsorship of trail-maintenance events, the free year-end Flagstaff community running picnic, and advertisement of five free race events that Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association (NATRA) helps host. (March 17 is our second annual free Lap the Leprechaun 5K in Buffalo Park from 5 to 6 p.m.)
That is to say nothing about the nonmaterial value of participating in these events, which many would attest is their real motivation for showing up, time and again, in support of such worthwhile, enriching efforts. These events are the most important fundraisers of the year for charities that host them.
To offset costs of hiring professional directors, 10 years ago, a dedicated group of local volunteer race directors formed the Run Flagstaff Summer Series to support each other’s events. This amazing series consists of the six oldest and largest races in town. If you register before March 31, the total cost is $215, an average of $35 per race. That means you get the $75 entry fee for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon for less than half price!
If you still think that the cost of local racing is too high, I urge you to volunteer and go behind the scenes. You will have a newfound appreciation for the nonpaid race directors who spend sleepless nights coordinating volunteers, seeking sponsors, writing permits, answering email questions, and responding to the endless phone calls all required for producing quality, safe events, and the true value of the great races to be enjoyed in Flagstaff!
Neil Weintraub has been running Flagstaff trails for 28 years. He is director and co-founder of Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association and voluntarily organizes the Run Flagstaff Summer Series and the Flagstaff Racing Calendar. To register for the Run Flagstaff Summer Series package deal or any race in Flagstaff, visit RunFlagstaff.com.
Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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