Oversaturation of Wisconsin marathons

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This topic contains 29 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Ryan 9 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #10684

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    I know this topic has come up here recently and I saw the topic come up elsewhere so I thought I'd look at what I can quickly find in the Wisconsin marathon schedule for 2009. Below we have the results, did I miss any?

    1/17: Icebreaker (Milwaukee)*
    4/4: Trailbreaker (Waukesha)
    4/25: Pine Line (Medford)
    4/25: Jailbreak (Wautoma)
    5/2: Wisconsin (Kenosha)*
    5/3: Eau Claire*
    5/3: La Crosse*
    5/9: Lake Geneva
    5/9: Journeys (Eagle River)
    5/17: Green Bay
    5/24: Mad City (Madison)
    7/11: Dances with Dirt (Merrimac)*
    8/8: Paavo Nurmi (Hurley)
    9/20: Fox Cities (Appleton)
    10/4: Lakefront (Milwaukee)
    10/10: Whistlestop (Ashland)
    11/1: Rails to Trails (Norwalk)

    *: Inaugural running in 2009

    That's 17 Wisconsin marathons in 2009. Note May especially. Three new marathons on one weekend, two established marathons on the following weekend, a total of 7 marathons in 4 weekends. Include the last weekend in April and you have 9 in 5 weekends.

    Obviously, some of these aren't going anywhere. Some (for example Lakefront, Wisconsin/Kenosha) will be (or say they will be) big draws for out of state runners. Others have a nice niche. Icebreaker doesn't have a competitor within months of it and has a nice hook with it being an indoor event. Lakefront, of course, is Wisconsin's largest and will continue to sell out. Green Bay has become Wisconsin's fastest and will continue to do well (all you have to do is say Sean Ryan is involved). However, as great as I think Wisconsin is for its running community and for attractions that could draw out of state visitors, can this state really support that many marathons, especially the May gauntlet?

    Some, even the established ones, are going to suffer. Unless Wisconsin/Kenosha does draw heavily from Illinois, where are the runners going to come from with an established one (Lake Geneva) just down the road the following weekend? What about Eau Claire and La Crosse? Trailbreaker was already cancelled last year due to turnover in the race management area, will they even bring it back now that there is so much competition (though that late March/early April timeframe is still available)? What about Pine Line and Journeys? Will they be able to survive the May overcrowding? I can pretty much guarantee not all, especially the new May marathons, will be around in 2010.

    Updated: Trailbreaker is on, even though the website does not reflect that yet.
    Updated: Rails to Trails brings us up to 15.
    Updated: Jailbreak brings us up to 16 and 9 in that 5 week gauntlet.
    Updated: Dances with Dirt is adding a marathon and half.

  • #26588

    ed
    Participant

    June-September is pretty open –

    May will be a bad month for the events.  I think people will go from marathon to marathon from one year to the next.  There will be little chance to predict a races numbers for the next year.  This will be tough for the events. 

  • #26589

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    I think there's a reason Paavo has the summer to itself. Not good marathoning weather once you get away from Lake Superior (and often not all that great weather up in Hurley to be honest).

    Same goes for the winter months. I would think a November marathon would work, though it would be a roll of the dice. Maybe EC or LC would consider switching from May to November if they struggle with their current dates. That still leaves a crowded May schedule, though.

  • #26590

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Note the update. I missed the new in 2008 Rails to Trails. Now, we're up to 15 Wisconsin marathons for 2009. At least Rails to Trails has an uncrowded time slot with its early November running.

  • #26591

    GTF
    Member

    The idea of oversaturation (that does not solve itself and settle upon equilibrium) sort of reminds me of the concept of deer overpopulation.  In reality it will not happen or else they will end up dying off on their own.  The market will bear what it will.  No way would I want to run a marathon in June, July, or August anywhere in the lower 48 (nor in Hawai'i) — but then I am not keen on running a marathon at altitude, either.  As a rule, seasoned vets on the scene should be wise enough to avoid a race, especially a marathon, in its first year (or three) of existence.  So, seemingly it would likely mostly be novices (including one-and-doners) filling out the fields for the new marathons for the first couple of years (should the races even make it beyond their first edition) as well as people who live in and around that town/county. 

  • #26592

    r-at-work
    Member

    Madison, Fox Cities and Whistlestop all get rave reviews in marathon guide and I think the 50 states group like the small town atmosphere… with the continued bloating of the bigger marathons it would be nice to think the smaller ones would gather those people (like myself) that don't want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with 30,000 of their closest friends for 26 miles

  • #26593

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    GTF, true that the market will reach equilibrium. The main issue is that, including Rails to Trails which held its inaugural running a couple of weeks ago, there are 5 new marathons in just over a 6 month timespan. This growth rate, with an already full schedule, is one that just doesn't seem to be supportable. I fully expect at least a couple of these to not be around in 2010 and I'm specifically looking at the May schedule.

    Rita, Madison actually has had some issues in recent years and I've heard from some that Fox Cities is less than it used to be. I'd be highly surprised to see any of the three you listed go anywhere but, if I were to pick a dark horse, I'd say Madison isn't as safe as some on the schedule. Partly because it's part of the May gauntlet and partly because of some issues it has recently struggled through (some of the organizer's own making, some just bad luck).

    Actually, the nice thing about the Wisconsin marathons, in my opinion, is that none of them are megathons. The largest (Lakefront) has a limit of 2500 full marathoners plus a relatively small number of relay teams. Maybe that would help support the number of options. The size of the events means that people can spread out and try different ones. Even if we figure that the average event has 1000 runners, that's still fewer total runners than Minnesota's two largest marathons alone draw.

  • #26594

    blackdog
    Member

    I am not so sure you can call the Eau Claire Marathon an inaugral race.
    Back in the mid 1980's we had another Eau Claire marathon, that was in Mid May and lasted maybe 3 years at most.
    It was put on by the Indianhead Track club and just “died” due to too many other races at the time.  We also just don't have the manpower to put on a race of that length.
    Karen

  • #26595

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Interesting, I didn't know that Eau Claire ever had a marathon. I guess the previous incarnation was before I was into running.

    It sounds like you're involved with the Eau Claire marathon. Out of curiosity, if you know the answer to this, did Eau Claire and/or La Crosse know of each other's plans before deciding to hold their marathons on the same day? To me, it seems like they must not have known or they could have worked together to come up with a schedule that would ensure they wouldn't be going head to head on the same day.

  • #26596

    Anne
    Member

    One more for the list Ryan:

    http://www.wautomarental.com/jailbreak.htm

    In April.

  • #26597

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Anne, is that another new one? I definitely don't recognize that one. If it is another new one, it's amazing how many new ones are popping up in such a short timeframe. Also, another duplicate, the same day as Pine Line.

    Well, now the count is 16 marathons and that May gauntlet, if you include the last weekend in April, is up to 9 marathons in 5 weekends. I have trouble believing that kind of concentration is sustainable.

  • #26598

    ed
    Participant

    I am going to have to consider moving my race (10K and 5K) out of May – I need it to grow to help support future maintenance and growth of our new playground.

  • #26599

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Ed, marathons aren't your competition and events from the other side of the state aren't your competition either.

    Think about events of roughly the same distance you offer and, unless you think you can start drawing from outside the metro, look at your competition within the metro. Outside of being during high school track season, I believe you have a pretty good time as far as competition within the market you're aiming to reach goes.

  • #26600

    GTF
    Member

    Perhaps more of a glut, then.  Nice “problem” to have — careful what you wish for.  Where I live, we more or less have just a handful of mediocre local marathon races to choose from in the calendar year.  In this case, increased competition might be beneficial.  The older races will have to ensure the quality of their offerings to continue to appeal to their 'base.'  The newer races will have to step it up and offer what other, established races cannot or will not.  Some will simply continue to work well as niche races, serving a particular community and essentially unaffected by draws that are more remote, more expensive, more crowded.

  • #26601

    blackdog
    Member

    Hey Ryan,
    I am not involved with the Eau Claire Marathon at all actually! Although I am currently the Indianhead Track Club president.
    A women in town started her own race direction company, she directed the half marathon that was in EC last fall, that they had only one year, then no sponsorship this year I guess. I was supposed to be a fundraiser for the hospital.
    The track club as of yet has not been approached at all.
    I am not sure they knew of each others plans, Lacrosse that is.
    I have mixed emotions about it as this was done before (a marathon) and I think there are too many races to support another marathon.
    It is supposed to be a fundraiser for a new YMCA. Personally I thought a good 10k would work better for that. But again it is not an ITC race.
    Around here many organizations have races to raise funds for various things. It is very over saturated right now.
    Karen

  • #26602

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    I wonder how much they knew about what they were getting into. Personally, I don't think running events at all are great fun raising mechanisms because the entry fees don't do much more than covering operating expenses, especially for marathons where you need a lot of streets closed for a long time and the trend seems to be that you need a lot of expensive frills to bring in big crowds. A shorter event has much less overhead and can attract more runners. For fundraising, though, it better encourage runners to go out and seek donations or it's still not going to raise much.

    I wish them the best but, based on what I'm hearing from you and a couple of others, I think Eau Claire could very well be on the chopping block. They very well could find that it's not the fundraiser they were hoping for, they picked a time with too much competition and a distance with too much overhead, and their fundraising efforts could be put to better use in other ways.

  • #26603

    grasshopper
    Member

    It would be nice to see more 10K, 15K, 10 mile, and half-marathon races as stand-alone events rather than as adjuncts to marathons. 

  • #26604

    blackdog
    Member

    I agree with both the last two posts….
    More people can do 10k etc.
    I think some people see these mega marathons, Chicago etc. And think wow we should do that. They must be a money maker.
    They have no idea the $$$ to get those races to what they are. Plus most have great courses in big cities, etc.
    We can bring this up next year and look at the calendar for 2010!
    Karen

  • #26605

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    We can bring this up next year and look at the calendar for 2010!

    I was planning to do that, also to see what new ones might be added to the list even while others are disappearing. Maybe it will prove some of us right, maybe wrong. Either way, it will be interesting to see.

  • #26606

    sueruns
    Member

    WI needs more stand alone half marathons.  (Oshkosh half numbers grow in spite of a train crossing every year.  I believe it's due to timing.  April. rec runners are eager to get out there and local competitive runners want to tune up for May Marathons).

    It's unfornuate that the new marathons picked the spring and not the fall.  When Lakefront fills right away, another marathon could benefit.  Madison in May draws because it's Madison, it's rave reviews are because people have a good time in the city, I personally cannot believe it's the race.(I wasn't impressed with the course or organization)  Green Bay isn't going away while it's under such good leadership and the course can handle more entrants.  Lakefront's numbers are limited and Fox Cities numbers if they grew would limit itself, they don't cap the numbers, but every year runners complain about the walkers in the last few miles and every year the half numbers grow and full numbers shrink (but don't expect the race to nix the full, there's always been a full and always will be, our area doesn't like new ideas)

    LaCrosse and EauClaire should have went with half marathon a few weeks before successful marathons in their area.  Nothing like a good, hilly, scenic half before a marathon.  🙂

  • #26607

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Sue, agreed on the stand alone half marathons. South Shore is in April but that's a long drive for a relatively low key, though very well managed, event for a lot of people in Wisconsin. It also couldn't handle very large numbers even if it could draw more due to the course layout. As already mentioned, there is a real lack of those distances between 10K and marathon (and even, to some extent, the 10K itself) in this state and that includes the half. Instead of getting more marathons, I'd like to see the state get more halves or other mid-range distance events.

    These marathons are going to crowd each other out. If some of them went with different distances and possibly rescheduled a bit, they might stand a better chance of survival.

  • #26608

    deej2020
    Member

    I am the Event Manager with the Fox Cities Marathon and wanted to respond to some of the comments regarding our race.  Our numbers have gone up a lot each of the past couple years and we ARE addressing the walker/runner issue this year that has been a problem in the last couple miles of our event.  We are planning to start the Half Marathon at 7:00 a.m. and the Marathon at 8:00 a.m.  Although we give up the brilliant start with everyone, we will now have a course that is easier to navigate in the last few miles and is safe for all participants.  We will still have lots of bands and entertainment on the course and give everyone the fantastic experience they have come to expect in the Fox Cities!

    If anyone has any comments regarding our plans to change the timing on these races – I'd love to hear it!

    Thanks!

  • #26609

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    deej2020, I think we can all appreciate your comments here. It's not often an RD will directly address runners in this way.

    I'll stipulate up front that I have never run your event yet, though I would like to at some point in the future. However, I do have a question. How long do you typically see half marathon walkers on the course? For a half marathon walk, I'd expect to see a fair number of people out there for 4 hours if not even longer. Based on your 2008 results, you had 5 runners finishing in under 2:40, another 5 in under 2:45, and a total of 36 runners in under 3:00. The faster the runner, the greater the speed discrepancy between runner and walker, the more dangerous the situation. These are the people who are most affected by walkers on the course. I realize that staggering the times will help the situation to some extent by getting all the walkers who can finish in under 3:30, give or take, off the course before the marathon runners come in but I don't see it solving the problem.

    If you don't mind a suggestion, would it be logistically possible to separate the marathon and half marathon courses? Even something like giving the marathoners one side of the street and the half marathoners the other side? Or have a lead vehicle somewhat well ahead of the marathon leaders instructing walkers to give room to pass and leave room to pass the rest of the way? The biggest problem when it comes to mixing runners and walkers is that walkers like to walk in large groups, shoulder to shoulder, stretching all the way across the width of the course. Anything to cut down on this behavior, at least to the extent that there is room for the runners to pass without drastically altering their routes, would surely be much appreciated by the runners who do encounter walkers on the course.

    Again, your taking time to address the concerns raised and your willingness to listen to feedback is much appreciated.

  • #26610

    rehammes
    Member

    I see where you're going Ryan.  I am envisioning a situation like the Jingle Bell Run in Madison.  Definitely not a safe situation when a fast runner is most vulnerable.

  • #26611

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Rob, that's one of the races I had in mind actually. As far as Jingle Bell goes, after an especially dangerous situation with very icy conditions recently, I specifically suggested that they consider keeping the 5K participants to the right and the 10K participants to the left when the courses join about 1/4 mile from the finish. The logistics of this would work fine for Madison Jingle Bell. I'm not sure how that type of scenario would work for Fox Cities but it might be an option for them to consider. If nothing else, a less formal separation by asking to the walkers to leave room for runners to pass might work. I've seen events do this and, with enough reminders along the way, I've seen pretty good results.

    The holy grail, though, would be separating the runners from the walkers if possible.

  • #26612

    sueruns
    Member

    ryan-

    I'm sure dj can explain the specifics, but what makes the race great, is the support of going right through the cities.  However, as with any city, some people aren't runners and don't see how a marathon benefits a community and they don't want to be bothered for a day. 

    Traffic 'has' to remain open on one side of the road.  The course has been reversed so there isn't as much congestion amongst the runners and walkers at the end like previous years.  However, the finish is a thorn among some residents that want to be able to drive around town easily.  These residents are big fish in a small community and they have places to be, if you know what I mean… ::)

  • #26613

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Ahh, yes. I originally come from a very small town so I know how the politics of small communities works all too well. Honestly, though, this isn't just a small town thing. Even Lakefront has to go to one lane at times and leave the road at other times (sidewalks/trails late in the race) because the locals can't give up their streets just for a bunch of runners. Anyway, that's another discussion.

    In the interest of exploring ideas that may be of help to dj (I hope the unsolicited exploration of options isn't unwelcome) how much room is the course given? About one lane, I'd guess? Even in this scenario, it might be possible at least to have people along the course constantly reminding the walkers to give room to pass. People who are already out there fulfilling other jobs could likely even handle this additional task without too much trouble. With the change in start times, the runners shouldn't be encountering as large of packs of walkers as otherwise but even the smaller packs would be a big deal if the whole road isn't available.

  • #26614

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Who remembers this thread? Add another one to the list, Dances with Dirt is adding a marathon and half this year. At least it's in July, not much competition around that time of the year. 17 marathons in the state this year, including 5 inaugural runnings. Apparently, the Wisconsin marathon industry is one of the few that's at least not expecting to see a downturn.

  • #26615

    I remember. I've never run a race there but presume not all of these are mega-events. Some are clearly trail races and would have limited numbers (500-750 maybe). I'd guess at least a few of these marathons must fill up for organizers to take risk by adding more races. I think it would be great if all these races could generate enough participants to survive, but I'm skeptical.

    On a related note, I was surprised to read that 2010 will be the last year for the Gasparilla Marathon. I was even more surprised that they are still keeping the half marathon, along with their traditional 5 and 15K races on Saturday. They cite costs to the city (it's a co-sponsor) and the current economic climate as the reason to cut the marathon. Only time will tell if they reverse the decision.

    Given the growth in half marathons, I'd be looking to see if some marathons just cut their distance or find ways to offer both. 

  • #26616

    GTF
    Member

    I do suspect that a substantial number of entrants in WI marathons will be those who no longer have the interest or the inclination to travel even to Chicago or Minneapolis just to run a marathon.  It could be somewhat of a redistribution of entrants from destination marathons back to more local marathons. 

    Once they dropped the elite prize purse from the Gasparilla 15K years ago (before they ever added the half-marathon, etc., it had been world class 15K, as opposed to the regional event that it is now), it was clear that the stability of that race was questionable.  Florida also enjoys a relative glut (17, according to marathonguide.com) of marathons, especially through the winter months, which makes for a rather competitive environment for drawing potential entrants.  The end of February/beginning of March not only comes at the very tail end of the Florida marathon season, but also is closer to the part of the year with unideal marathon weather than essentially all of the others (which explains why that is the tail end of the Florida marathon season).  It also costs a lot less to close a course for 13.1 miles than for 26.2 miles, especially in an urban area.  Given all that, it should come as little surprise if Gasparilla had not been seeing the entrant numbers, even in a good economic climate, trend in the direction that would make continued investment into putting on a marathon race worthwhile.

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