Monday, March 23, 2009

A dollar a minute?

I don't write often about being a runner. It's something I do every day, I've done it for many years (moving on toward 32), and I love it, but I have no ability to make it interesting for a reader. Any stories I have would probably be pretty uninteresting to the non-runner; I suppose I could start a separate running blog, but, otherwise, I will likely always write very little here.

However, the newest issue of Track & Field News is out, and it informs us that the basic price to enter this fall's New York City Marathon is $171, a $16 (>10%) increase over last year. I get that this is one of those events that's pretty much recession-proof, at least that's the theory, but that sure seems like a lot of money to me.

When I started running, the sport was just emerging from its origins. The usual non-scholastic race, just before I started, was a few people would get together in a park, one guy would yell "Go" and start a stopwatch, toss it into the grass, and the runners would race around a somewhat-measured course. The first finisher (hard to call him a winner as there would rarely be a prize) would come across the "line," pick up the stopwatch, and record everyone else's times. I never actually ran a race like this, but there were still a few around.

The earliest races I ran were analogous to those of today. No timing chips, of course, but runners would line up, get their numbers and T-shirts, and off we'd go. There were very few 5Ks in those days, the base distance was 10K, but there were aid stations and finish lines and big clocks.

But the pricing was certainly different. The rule of thumb was to pay about $1 or so per mile. A 10K would cost $6-8, a marathon $25-30. As the running boom (erroneously credited to Frank Shorter's 1972 Olympic marathon win) progressed, prices went up to $1 per K: $10 for a 10K, $40 for a marathon.

Now it seems the standard charge for a 5K, at least in my area, is $25. Marathons are routinely over $100, with NYC going up to $171 ($6.52 per mile). Many people are paying more than a dollar per minute of running. Of course, price levels are higher than they were in 1977, but according to the BLS Inflation Calculator, the factor we should use is 3.50. So it would appear that the per-mile cost of a distance race has outpaced the rate of inflation. Not sure I like that. (Of course, shoe prices have gone up even more, but that's a topic for another day...)

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