Buy local (races)

The transition area from a local CTA event.

The transition area from a local CTA event.

Around here, rumors have been flying about the demise of several local races, namely those put on by the Columbia Triathlon Association (CTA). This non-profit organization has been behind iconic events here for over 30 years: The Columbia Triathlon, Eagleman Triathlon (a Kona qualifier) and several IronGirl events (including an all-women’s half marathon) have all been under its wing. I’ve raced almost all of them at one time or another, and some multiple times. Now word has it that the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) is potentially buying up all the events and they will go on as planned for 2014.

While saving the events is certainly good news around here, I have mixed feelings about long-standing backyard events being swallowed up by a big fish. But it’s a trend everywhere.

What happened with CTA was a mixture of money mismanagement and rapid growth. On the one hand, you’ve got increasingly larger numbers of folks jumping into triathlon and running races. CTA responded by adding more and varied races. Until a couple of years ago, this was sustainable, but lately, the races haven’t been selling out.

Obviously, there’s a saturation point for all races and some of that came into play here. But I think the problem is compounded by big corporations running smaller events out of existence, as well as a heavy dose of athletes making their races destination events. My point here: don’t forget the little, local guy when you plan your race calendars.

I understand the allure of the huge, far-flung events (ok, maybe I don’t always) but when you plot out your race schedule, consider mixing up those big production events with some smaller, local races. Everyone stands to gain this way. You get a personalized, much cheaper race experience. Your local economy also gains: restaurants, local running and bike shops, hotels and the like profit when there’s a race in town. You’re helping your neighbors and friends when you keep some of your money local.

And let’s not forget the health impact that local events have. I have watched over the years as seemingly our entire county’s population got on the bandwagon training for these events. Our master’s swim programs have exploded, our running club and local triathlon club have experienced exponential growth, and our roadways are filled with cyclists on the weekend. This is a fit and healthy population and I think that first-rate local events played no small part in that. This is a win-win for everybody.

So next time you get ready to sign on the dotted line of a race waiver across the country, take a look around and see what’s going on in your own back yard. This small ripple on a  local pond can lead to some big waves of good on both the economic and health fronts for your town and region.

How often do you race locally vs. on the road? Do you have a favorite local race? 

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  1. says

    I have yet to do anything more than a couple of hours from home … and honestly I love the feel of smaller races that bring out the local flavor and are part of a local organization.

    My favorite is the first marathon I ran – the Corning Wineglass Marathon … great people, great organization, and the perfect finish area: a main street that amplifies the sounds of all the supporters and really makes you feel the world is focused on you are you finish! :)
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  2. says

    My town just started a race series this year. With it they added 2 new races, a 5k and a 10k to the racing scene. There are tons of series like this in our area but something like this in my hometown has everyone fired up. The first race is tomorrow and they had to cap entries at 800. Homegrown and small is what I like to support!
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  3. says

    Here in Buffalo there is a huge running crowd. Buffalo is our website that list races for the entire year. Many of us do stay local because we have such an awesome selection. I would like to see more half and full marathons though. I can’t travel for races but it’s no problem staying here.
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  4. says

    I definitely love the way that locally managed races build community: of course the funds are good for the community – but moreso, they do represent the building blocks of a running community. I was lucky enough to mature as a runner in a place (Rochester, NY) that is home to a flawlessly competent, engaged, and interesting race production company. They have a lot of other elements in their favor, but through their many efforts, Rochester has really turned into a Running City. And watching the transformation has been awesome!

    Conversely, the absolute opposite is true in Singapore – almost every race is headlined by a major company/brand. Even though most are actually produced locally, the naming and emphasis are on Brooks, Adidas, Nike, etc – not on the local area. However, the running community here is going strong – and even seems to prefer these kinds of races (better swag, bigger name, etc). I’m feeling really torn about the whole thing!
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  5. says

    I think all the races I’ve done were within an hour or hour and a half except for one or two which were 2-2 and a half hours away, but still in PA. One was a triathlon and the other was for two days of bike racing. I stayed local for money reasons. The only time I travelled overnight for a race was for the Hershey half both times I did it. I didn’t fancy waking up amazingly early to get out there with the crowds :) I was signed up for a Disney race a 4 or 5 years ago, but we were going anyway, so I had signed up, though I ended up not racing it.
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  6. says

    I love local races. We have several amazing local trail races and triathlons in our area, and I’m glad they haven’t been bought up by the big boys yet. One of my favorite triathlons is the Watauga Lake Triathlon outside of Boone, NC. Challenging course, stunning scenery, low entry fees, awesome shirts and pottery awards, and a full BBQ lunch. Can’t beat it!
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  7. says

    That’s too bad if the WTC buys those events. I’ve always been a destination racer, but this year I’ve changed my tune.
    Our local MEC (like your REI) puts on a series of races, and they’re only $10 or $15! How can you go wrong with that?! I did the first race in the series in January and hope to do a couple more.
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  8. says

    I am a huge fan of local races, but I have to say that, the local races back there in the DC area are much better than the ones here in SoCal. I don’t know what it is, but the races out here are many times unorganized and chaotic. The small events back east were so well organized–miss them!

  9. says

    We are all a bit different at heart. Whereas some people prefer the 24 hour non-stop bustle of a big city, others are perfectly content to sit quietly on their porch out in the country. Just like some desire the pomp and circumstance of big city races and others enjoy the casualness of a smaller, local race.

    I prefer local, smaller races (and like to make “those” my destination race) although I may be in the minority.

    Outside of mismanaging money, I think one mistake local races make is trying to become too big. It’s why there are few around my area that I no longer run. They are still well run races from an organizational standpoint, but the course and facilities cannot handle the volume of runners.
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  10. says

    I’m very lucky to have so many quality races (big and small) around New England that racing locally is always a good bet. I’ve only traveled long distance for 2 half marathons and while both were fun I found traveling and racing to be a stressful combination. I have a couple of destination races on my bucket list but otherwise I’m happy to race around here!
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  11. says

    It makes me sad to see so many local races being bought up. A few years ago a local half-iron (mussleman) was propositioned by Ironman to be bought up and branded. They turned them down, many times and still remain a local race and non-IM branded. I did the race last year and loved it and will be doing it again. Because Musselman turned down Ironman, a few years ago they created a branded IM Syracuse half-iron and scheduled it right around the same time as Musselman. Guess what, musselman still sells out every single year. Love seeing the little fish surviving like that! Although, I am doing an IM branded 140.6 this year (Cozumel), I still think there is a lot to be said about choosing non-branded races. RNR also bought and re-branded my first marathon the year after I ran it. (now RNR USA, used to be Sun Trust National Marathon) which makes me sad.
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  12. says

    I’d love nothing more than to roll out of my own bed and be at a local, reasonably priced race not too far away. Beyond 5 and 10k though, most of the longer races are in Chicago, which takes me an hour in travel, $$$ in parking, and there’s a crush of crowds. I’ve done them all but don’t care to again. I’d rather drive up to Madison WI or down to Springfield, IL or Grand Rapids MI for smaller crowds, better prices, free, plentiful parking, etc.
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  13. says

    We have an events company locally who organise great trail events in amazing locations, and every one I’ve entered is quite honestly a highlight of my life! I’m always going to support them because I can’t live without them!
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  14. says

    I’m really lucky to live where I do. The local RRCA (read: non-profit) running club puts on 20 races a year and 15(!!! including the 40 miler!) of those are free to members ($25/yr membership for families). There’s at least one race a month, several months with one every weekend! Of course, there aren’t t-shirts, medals, or any hoopla at the free races, but do we really need all that? I race out of the area 3-4 times a year for a marathon or 50K to mix things up or go for a PR, but otherwise I stay local. Why would I want to pay for hotel, registration, travel, if I didn’t have to?!
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  15. says

    In the Chicago area, there are a couple of organizers, one in particular that has gone national with the lure of chocolate. They consistently have the highest entry fees for all their races, brag about the bling, and fail to deliver what they promise. I try really hard to run races organized by smaller race directors. In a week I’ll be running a half in Florida, and it looks to be a good time! I am thinking about a Zooma race this summer, but only because I have 2 friends who are ambassadors.
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  16. says

    I have never traveled for a race, and I tend to support races with local organizers, but since I prefer longer races it’s hard to find smaller ones. I do love the small 8k I do July 4th where you can arrive 20 min before the start and register pay in cash before you get your chip-free recycled bib to pin on!
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  17. says

    Great post! This is not something I would ever have thought about, but it is pretty important! I have not yet settled somewhere for life, so am not sure I can give enough data to weigh in. I only race a few times a year, and I have to go where the competition is high and I will get a good race…..usually against people from other coutnries, but it is rarely around me. However, while I have been in Philly, I have raced a lot here. I love the atmosphere, and especially in the marathon, I felt like the city was behind me. i was honored to be first Philadelphian across the line :) Thanks for making me aware of this, I will definitely keep it in mind now!
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  18. says

    I like to do a mix of events – ones that I have to travel for (because they’re the only way I get a holiday) and local ones. My only proviso for events is that they’re well run and this means that some of the local ones I’ve tried a couple of times (because I’m fair and like to give the organisers a chance to get it right) but won’t do again – ever.
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  19. says

    I love the local races that Potomac River Running puts on. Most are very local to me, and I see a lot of my friends at the events. My husband and I buy their 4-pass coupon every year which is good for four races, so it’s not a bad financial deal either! They do such a good job that I can pretty much be guaranteed a fun time!
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