Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is Equinox Jumping the $hark?

Fall colors, all two of them, are already peaking this week, maybe a good 7 to 10 days early. And around here if you're interested in anything aerobic or running, that means one thing only: the Equinox Marathon is around the corner.

When I first got here five years ago and ran the Equinox, I thought wow what a quaint and unique community event, not to mention--Whoa, what a tough course for a marathon. Things have changed some since then, including my attitude. Although I still enjoy the event and look forward to participating in the relay this year. I'm not sure if the future quaint will continue to apply.

First, a few years ago, they brought in Team in Training. Now I'm all for increasing awareness and fund raising for important causes such as the Leukemia Society, but--as an old school runner and something of a purist--the influx of these groups has also sidetracked marathoning. So instead of a race, it becomes an 'event' and sometimes these events become so popular with fund raising groups that there are fewer opportunities for runners to enter, not to mention skyrocketing entry fees.

For example, big, no HUGE marathons like Chicago with more than 40,000 entrants fill up 6 or 7 months in advance, with many, maybe most of the tickets bought up by fund raising groups. It's become a huge industry unto itself, and the quality of experience as well as opportunity to participate has declined.

I'd hate to see that happen to the Equinox. At some point, maybe when we hit 1000, 1200, or 1500 runners, they're going to have to limit the number of entries. All that it would take is an article in Runners World to gain big interest from the masses in the lower 48 looking for a unique adventure race. And what happens if charity groups start to comprise 50% or more of the entries? Limited supply (space on the course) will drive prices up, and the quality of experience will go down and we may have to go to a lottery or merit system. Meh, to that.

Furthermore, I am utterly baffled at the addition of the "Equinox Ultra" 50K. What are they thinking? Adding a whopping 4.8 miles on the Out and Back for those who don't think that 26.2 with 3,300 ft of elevation gain and loss is enough? Based on the fact that it sold out (limited to 50 this year) before the end of early sign up, this might become a popular event.

I don't like it because it dilutes the competition and adds yet another layer of distraction. What next, the Boston Marathon 55 km (or 50 mile) ultra for those who don't meet the qualifying times, or not willing to do the 'sprint' race of 26.2 miles? I'm all for innovation, and an ultra on the Equinox course is actually a good idea. I'm just not in favor of adding a few extra miles to the marathon.

Could it be money for the foundation that supports the Equinox, or just a desire to spread the out the competition?

What about volunteers who will now need to be out on the course for yet another hour, or more, to make sure all the runners, walk-joggers, and walkers make it through?

How about an ultra on a similar course, but with some unique differences, and on a different day?

Well, my opinion will be meaningless and the ultra is likely to be here to stay. The ultra will grow, fund raisers will buy up entries, some day the Equinox 'brand' is going to go nationwide, and it’s going to be more difficult to participate. The Equinox will gain in popularity, but to the detriment of the race's charm and colorful history.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Some similarities to what has happened to the "Tuesday Night Races" series in Anchorage. Too popular, too many people with dogs & strollers (should be none), trying to please everyone.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Damn...I thought Alaska, or at least Fairbanks, was immune from this sort of thing.
You hit the nail on the head. It all comes down to money -- organizing a race for, say, 500 takes nearly the same amount of work and investment as organizing one for 1,000 or even more. But the profit (and yes, some of these race directors get a decent chunk of change) is so much higher.
The "team in training" events DO raise a lot of money, but also spend a lot; even using donations to fly participants to the races and putting them up. So, a good deal of each "donation" to these causes is helping to send the participants on a running vacation to a neat place.
Then there's the whole concept of what "race" means as opposed to "group run."
Eh...How far north does one have to move to escape this?

2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Fairbanksan who has run the Equinox for years, I agree with you, but only in part.

First, the Equinox WAS much, much larger years ago and none of the corrupting/destructive influences you anticipate came to pass. So I think some of your worries are boil down to "the sky is falling."

But, I agree with you on the 50K. I've run 50K and 50 mile races and enjoyed them. But the Equinox, like Boston, is a special course. Unless you've won the Equinox, as at least one 50K participant has, why don't you work on running the old course a bit faster? There's enough challenge for even the best runners on the 26.2 course.

11:31 AM  

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