April 2, 2016 was the tenth (yes, tenth) edition of the Greater Hartford Quarter Marathon held. It was cold, rainy and miserable, probably the worst weather we’ve ever had for the event. Despite the craptastic weather, we had a really great event. Over the last ten years of directing this race I’ve learned a lot and putting on the race and it gets both harder and easier each year. One of the biggest things I’ve learned (and that’s reinforced every year) is the time and expense necessary to put on an event. As a lot of runners rarely get a glimpse “behind the scenes,” so here’s what goes on / what we consider / how much we pay to get the race off the ground.
A few caveats before we begin:
- My goal for the Quarter Marathon is to have both a great race and great event. These are two separate things. You can have a challenging course with a competitive field (a great race) without having an accompanying event that makes all runners feel special. We try to do both.
- The race raises funds for the Blazeman Foundation. Over the past 10 years we’ve raised almost $50,000 for this cause.
- The race is capped at 550 runners. We sell out every year. While we could squeeze more runners on the course, I want to make sure each runner has a great experience. Right now 550 is the biggest number that we can have and still ensure the experience we want runners to have.
- We try to do the most good for the largest number of people and charities. While our funds go to the Blazeman Foundation, we also work with Achilles International to get more people with disabilities to participate and with I Support the Girls, to be able to donate sports bras and sanitary products to homeless women.
- We are completely not-for-profit and volunteer. No one (other than the outside timing company we hire) gets paid.
With that said here’s a break down of the race:
Venue – The Quarter Marathon takes place at the MDC Reservoir in West Hartford, Connecticut. The venue had lots of positives — no need for on course police because the race takes place on a closed road, easy course navigation and no cost for permits. These are HUGE. In particular the cost of police can be very expensive, especially when most police departments require you to pay officers overtime for four hours regardless of how many hours they work (e.g. if an officer is on duty for 90 minutes for a 5K, the officer will still get paid for four hours). The drawback to the venue is that parking is limited (that’s why we use shuttle buses) and there are limitations on what we can serve (no alcohol) and what we can display (no commercial ventures). A few years ago I wanted to have a cupcake truck on premises as part of post-race food but that was a no-go due to commercial restrictions. Considering we don’t have to pay for the venue, the restrictions are worth it.
Timing – Every year timing gets more complicated and more expensive. Most races with under 1,000 participants can be accurately timed without using bib tags, that being said, runners now expect bib tags, so that’s what we provide. With bib tags the cost of timing is two fold: (1) the cost of the timer’s services; and (2) the cost of the tags themselves. Depending on the deal you have with the tag manufacturer and the number of tags you purchase bib tags can cost anywhere from $.50 – $2.00 per tag (remember that the next time you lose your bib and need a new one). Add to that the cost of having a timer at the race (and the bells and whistles such as electronic timing counsels that immediately print out results), for a race of 550 people we’re looking at about $2,000 – $2,5000 for race timing.
Insurance – As you can probably guess, you can’t do anything without insurance. The Quarter Marathon exists under the umbrella of the Hartford Track Club, which is a RRCA member club. What this means is that the Hartford Track Club pays approximately $1,000 annually for insurance from RRCA and the Quarter Marathon is covered by that policy. The race is then required to submit that policy to the MDC in order to get approval for the race. Because of this association, there is no direct cost to the race for insurance (another HUGE win). As an aside in my eleven years of race directing I have had to file one claim against our policy for a medical emergency. Not a bad track record.
Bibs – Like timing, over my eleven years of race directing, bibs have gotten more complicated too. It’s not just the tag on the back but also the content on the front. For the Quarter Marathon we now feature race specific bibs with the runners’ names on them. These bibs were included in our timing package this year. Last year they ran us $250. Yes, you can always go with free bibs from RoadID (who have a great race sponsorship program) but runners really seem to appreciate the personalized touch.
Shirts – Shirts are one of the biggest costs for the race. In 2016 we went with long sleeve shirts that are 100% polyester (but feel like cotton) in men’s and women’s sizes with the race logo on the front and the tag line “YOU SHOULD TRY OTHER DISTANCES” on the back. For the past few years, I’ve had a hard time finding a reliable and affordable vendor. For example for last year’s Hogsback Half Marathon, a vendor recommended to me in Texas gave me a great price on the shirts but then charged me almost $1,000 to ship the shirts to Connecticut (which he did not include in the quote). I was not happy. This year I used a vendor in Pennsylvania and I actually drove down and picked the shirts up myself to avoid a shipping charge. The cost worked out to about $7.50 per shirt or $4500 for the entire shirt order (we always order more shirts than the 550 runner limit in order to provide shirts to volunteers and to account for the fact that we need to order shirts before we have all runners’ shirt sizes).
Hats – In 2016, I gave runners the option of ordering a Boco Gear technical trucker or beanie. The hats were not cheap. They cost about $13.00 each from Boco, we charge $25.00 and the $12.00 difference goes directly to the Blazeman Foundation (the race charity). Because there’s a long lead time on the hats, I ordered 25 truckers and 25 beanies in January at a total cost of about $650. While the truckers sold well, the beanies did not. Lesson learned. We’ll be offering truckers in 2017, but not beanies.
Medals – Here’s another expensive race perk. Runners love medals and we’ve offered them since the very first year of the race, but like everything in life they keep getting more expensive. We order our medals from Ashworth Awards, who do fantastic design and manufacturing work. Each medal costs just over $3.50 so our total cost for medals is about $2000.
On Course Nutrition – We use Skratch Labs for on course hydration and I change up the gels available on a yearly basis based on the cost. We have a relationship with Skratch so we get drink mix at cost (and some cool raffle prizes as well) and I usually end up purchasing the gels in bulk at near retail prices. For 2016 total cost for hydration and gels was about $300.
Race Registration – In 2016 we switched from using Active to using Run Sign Up. From a race director’s perspective Run Sign Up is a much, much, much friendlier platform. As with all registration platforms, however, there are costs. For the Quarter Marathon, I set up registration so that the participant pays Run Sign Up’s administrative fee. I have been experimenting with this. For the Solstice Sprint, the race is paying the cost of the administrative fee (thus for a $20 race registration, I only get paid $17.XX). So far none of the runners seem to have noticed this “discount.” I’m going to continue to play with pricing on this and I’m not sure what we’ll do for 2017. For 2016, my cost was $0, but that’s only because the runners themselves paid the administrative fee separately.
Publicity – Nothing in life is free. While I don’t send out flyers or pay for ads, I do have two publicity costs: (1) paying to promote posts on Facebook; and (2) fees for using Constant Contact. Facebook keeps changing their algorithm, which makes it harder and harder for pages (such as the Quarter Marathon page) to “organically” appear in the feeds of the people who like us. In order for the people who like are page to see what we’re posting, more and more often, we need to pay. I don’t pay to promote a lot of posts, but some posts (e.g. the race price is going to increase tomorrow; or here are the pre-race instructions) are important and I want as many people as possible to see them. I end up spending $50 – $100 per year promoting posts usually in increments of $5 – $10. In addition to Facebook, I pay for a subscription to Constant Contact that costs about $800 per year (of which $200 is allocated to the Quarter Marathon, the remainder is allocated to my other races and the Hartford Track Club). There are lots of ways to send emails but Constant Contact is by far the easiest way to keep track of contact lists, send emails and track email performance. So total cost for publicity is about $250-$300.
Awards – We pride ourselves at having really great awards for our overall and age group winners. In 2016 age group winners received a custom designed BOCO Pom Pom Beanie. Overall winners received the Pom Pom Beanie and a gift certificate donated by Sound Runner. The beanies are awesome. The only problem with 2016 awards is that we cancelled the award ceremony due to the combination of cold temperatures and rain (I didn’t want runners waiting around and ending up with hypothermia). Because of that we’re mailing awards, which we never, ever do (except in 2016). The Beanies cost about $12 each and we need 72 for award winners so the total cost is about $850.
Early Packet Pick Up – This year we had early packet pick up at Sound Runner in Glastonbury. Sound Runner was awesome to provide us with space, gift certificates, raffle prizes and a 20% discount for all of our runners. In exchange we brought beer (Thimble Island American Pale Ale) and some goodies to munch on. Cost of the beer and goodies was $75 (we got an excellent deal on the keg). We’ll definitely be back at Sound Runner next year.
Egg Hunt – I believe one of the charms of the Quarter Marathon is our egg hunt for our littler spectators. It gives them something to do while waiting for friends and family to finish the course and is a nice “thank you” for being out there to cheer. This year we hid 600 eggs. Most of stuffed with candy but some were filled with play dough, dollar bills and small toys. The egg hunt costs $500 and while it is a bit expensive, I think its one of the touches that makes our race special.
Volunteer Appreciation – The race could not exist without volunteers. Let me repeat that — the race could not exist without volunteers. At the Quarter Marathon volunteers get a race shirt, as much food as they can eat, entry into the raffles and 50% off a future race. In addition all the volunteers get a special thank you hedgehog cookie I order from Etsy. Plus we purchase hot coffee and donuts for all of our race day volunteers. Cost of this is $100 (when what the volunteers do is priceless).
Administrative Costs – This is the non-sexy part of the race — poster board, paper, markers, tape and foam board. Total cost is about $50.
Port-a-Potties – Another essential item. The MDC has 3 port a potties. We add an additional 7 on race day for a total of 10 (I like the ratio of one port-a-potty for every 50 runners). Port-a-potties don’t appear out of no where, they have to be ordered, delivered and then picked up post race. Cost for the seven units is about $1000.
Buses – As discussed above, there is limited parking at the MDC Reservoir. In order to alleviate the parking issue, we offer two shuttle buses to bring runners from our auxiliary parking lot at the UConn Health Center to the MDC Reservoir. WE have to pay for the cost of the buses and a tip for the driver. This works our to about $1400 total.
Post Race Food – This is what the race is known for. We pride ourselves on having tons of great food after the race. This year was no exception — bananas, strawberries, oranges, bagels, cupcakes in several varieties, cookies in several varieties, brownies, rice krispie treats, cinnamon toast crunch treats, peanut butter, nutella, blondies and several gluten free options. Everything is homemade but obviously it still costs money to buy all the ingredients. In addition there is the cost of paper goods — plates, cups, napkins, aluminum serving tins, foil wrap and cleaning products (hooray for post-race cleanup). All this costs about $800. Could we go cheaper? Most definitely. Is it worth it? I don’t think so. There are so many races on the calendar, we need to do the little things that make us special. I think our post race spread is one of those little things.
Mailing Awards – We never mail awards, except this year when we cancelled the award ceremony due to nasty weather. We had 72 winners and it costs about $2 per package to mail out awards. Total cost of $150.
Transfers / Deferrals / Discounts – We have a pretty generous transfer / deferral policy. Up until one week before race day runners have the ability to: (1) officially transfer their bib to another runner; (2) defer their registration until the next year; or (3) transfer their registration to the Solstice Sprint 5K or Hogsback Half Marathon. In any given year 5 – 10% of our runners take advantage of this policy. In any yer there are about 20-30 runners who are using a deferral (and thus not paying a race registration fee). What this means is that the race takes in slightly less money than it would if we didn’t allow deferrals and transfers. While we could make more money without this policy, I think its an important one to have to be runner friendly and I also think its one of the reasons why are runners are so loyal to the race. In addition to transfers and deferrals with offer discount codes to running groups such as Hartford Track Club members, Black Girls Run and Run 169. I think its important to maintain these relationships and will continue to offer discounts in the future.
Bottom Line: It costs about $14,875 to put on the Quarter Marathon at its current size. We take in about $19,000 in race registrations and product sales, meaning we’ll make about a $4,000 donation to the Blazeman Foundation.