Small races definitely do have their pros. Of course, nothing can serve as everything to everyone. The ideal situation would be an equal mix of small local races and large regional/national races. This is how a diverse running community survives and thrives.
To play devil’s advocate:
Wow, $30 is cheap? I would not want to pay $30 for a 10k no matter what it offered. Personally, I just want a race. I don’t care about the food, the freebies usually end up going in the trash at my house after cluttering up the house for a while, and the t-shirt is a nice bonus but not something worth paying much more in entry fees for. All of those things to me are just things that increase the entry fee and are rarely, if ever, worth the extra money. The largest race in the Milwaukee metro offers a well run race and plenty of competition (plus nice t-shirts) for $18. Outside of events like marathons, I have noticed that the larger races around here are usually under $20 for an entry fee and the smaller ones tend to be $20 or more. Even the largest half marathon was under $10 last time I ran it. Maybe it’s just different here than it is there.
You might be interested in trying your hand at some small track or cross-country meets. These are great for small fields and head to head competition. The competition aspect can play out either way. I can not go to a small local race if I want competition. Last time I ran a small local 10k, I was ahead of the 5k runners by 1/4 mile and didn’t see another sole until I turned around (out and back course, I got to see the whole field, starting with 2nd place about a minute or so after I turned around, on my way back). Unfortunately, small local races – when they are as overabundant as they are here – have a tendency to spread the competition so thin that it’s hard to find the competition.
As I believe Kemibe first stated, I personally prefer to keep my running and my charitable contributions separate. This way, I have control over where my charitable contributions go. I prefer when my entry fee pays for running the race and isn’t inflated in the name of giving money to a charity. Besides, I have seen the numbers at some of these races. They charge runners an extra $5-10 per entry and typically $2-4 per entry goes to the charity. Where does that extra $3-6 go? I’d prefer to keep my $10 and ensure that all of it goes to a charity I feel a connection with.
The community aspect I prefer is seeing the running community coming together for a good race and a good time afterward. At the small races I have gone to, the runners seem to disperse very quickly after the race is over. At the larger races, it seems like you see more of the community aspect of people getting together and having a good time together after the race.
Proximity is nice but the gluttony of small local races in existence today has in some cases run larger races out of town and means those of us who need larger races to get the competition we need have to travel farther.
There is definitely a place for small local races in the overall race calendar mix. I just wish that place didn’t come at the cost of the kind of high level competition you can count on finding at most large races. With the gluttony of small local races we see today, this is the precise cost that we pay.