Tuesday, December 2, 2014

change is in the air...and it smells like bullshit

I always find it strange when suddenly out of thin air, a race date changes. Some races change out of necessity. For example, the Chicago Marathon has ranged (in recent years) anywhere from the 1st weekend to the 3rd weekend in October. That, I get. It's all over the city, and it could be a real mess if the Bears played on the same day, etc. But smaller races with major date or venue changes puzzle me. (The Hot Chocolate 5k/15k moved to downtown from Montrose Harbor when somehow the organizers got participants to pay $85 for a few Hershey's Kisses after the race. You do know that you could buy your own stash at Walgreens for far less, right?) More often than not, it has been my experience that the change is also accompanied with some level of mismanagement and a dive in quality. I'll be the first to admit that I hated the LaSalle Bank management change to Bank of America...but what'reya gonna do? The bank doesn't exist anymore. And quite frankly, if they'd just give us a better t-shirt, I'd be ok with it all at this point. HA! But let's move on to more serious concerns.

It used to be that in Chicago, the longer distance races all led up to the Big Kahuna, the Chicago Marathon. You could easily fit in both the Chicago Distance Classic and the Chicago Half Marathon into your training plan. The running community was a COMMUNITY, where races all sorta fit together and generally played nice. There are new half marathons popping up all over. And now another tried and true race seems to be responding.

In 2015, the Chicago Half Marathon is at the end of September. September 27th--just two weeks before the Chicago Marathon. Now sure, you could race your little heart out two weeks before the marathon (if you happen to be running it), but it seems weirdly placed. And racing hard during what should be your marathon taper is not usually advised. What happened? Why isn't it the second Sunday in September (or sometimes the 1st, depending how late the date is for that first Sunday)? Race ownership changed last year...and I sense some b.s. heading our way. What other changes will we see? Last year the race was on September 7th. That's a huge difference. They don't need the marathon runners anymore. Why? Because they're planning on riding the wave of the latest running boom. "Apparently, the key driver behind this boom has to do with the half-marathon distance. In just one year, a record increase of 14.9 percent finishers was logged, with 60 percent of them being female." Read more on this research here and nod slowly.

It reminds me of my beloved Chicago Distance Classic, a hometown half marathon run by John "the Penguin" Bingham, sponsored by hometown bank LaSalle Bank. When it was sold to Rock n Roll, I knew our hometown race would be gone forever. The changes were swift. Instead of that tried and true second week in August, always pairing nicely with local marathon training groups, it was suddenly in the 3rd weekend of July. (So now, consequently, marathon training programs start nearly a full month earlier than they used to. And of course, COST MORE.) Rock-n-Roll races are run by Competitor Group. They generally know what they're doing (except that time everybody got sick in the 2011 Las Vegas half--google it), but it's all about the money. The more runners, the better. Race fields are HUGE. In fact, the ONLY reason I'm running Chicago's RnR next year is because of the huge discount I got AND it's home.

SO if my instincts are correct about the Chicago Half Marathon, over the next few years we can expect the following: changing dates, changing course, changing prices and possibly, changing quality. In fact, the website already eludes to a changing course, since the course has never before ventured north of 31st and now describes being on the Museum Campus (some 20 blocks northward.) And pricing? Not sure yet. The website says registration will open in November, but as of 2pm on December 2, there is no link to registration. I smell bullshit.

I'll be watching what happens with the recently announced Brooklyn Rock n Roll Half Marathon, too. I suspect they'll get in there and make their money, and see where the chips fall in the next few years. From the article I just linked: "Cleveland is the fourth U.S. half marathon scheduled for 2014 that Competitor has canceled. In September 2013, Competitor announced the cancellation of the St. Petersburg, Florida and Pasadena, California halfs; both were scheduled for February 2014. In January, Competitor announced that its half marathon in Providence, Rhode Island, which was run in August or September since 2011, wouldn't be run this year. In all instances, the races had sharp drops in registration after the first year." Competitor claims that about 60% of their runners come from out of town. With sharp drops, this means people aren't coming back after a first one and the local running community isn't embracing them either. Hmmm. There's a great article on their entry into the Brooklyn market here.

Running is going corporate...if there's a dollar to be made, they'll make it. I'm a hometown girl in a big city, and I realize that may be a bit paradoxical for many. But the running community has always still been this small community that seemed to have unwritten rules and respect for each other. These big corporations swoop into town and disregard much of this. How could scheduling the Chicago Half Marathon just two weeks before the Chicago Marathon make any sense unless you no longer consider that relationship as important, and you don't see the loss of those runners' participation as a threat? I hope this isn't the end of the Chicago Half Marathon as we've known it.

Call me crazy. Maybe I am.

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