DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
More and more commonly, high-profile races are closing out at a record pace. What an amazing phenomenon. But is this a good thing or a bad thing?
I've heard time and time again, "Well, at least it's a good problem to have!" I don't necessarily concur. Race directors end up making more enemies than friends when hundreds or thousands of runners end up getting "shut out" of their races. It certainly is great to see so many so interested in participating in our events these days. However, have we created a Frankenstein's monster?
Recently, one of my races sold out at 6,000 entrants in 1 1/2 hours! I couldn't believe it. You'd think I would be ecstatic about this. Actually, I was just the opposite. I felt horrible. Oh my goodness, I thought, what about the thousands that got shut out? Am I going to get hate mail for months? I'm sure there are some race directors reading this who are saying, "Quit your whining," but the reality is that this is becoming an industry-wide challenge.
Given the introduction of technology — specifically, online registration — if the demand is there, then the challenge for runners becomes, "How do I log on and get in before the race closes out?" These days you have to be as fast on the computer as you are on the roads, if you even want the chance to toe the line on race day. I've even heard of people opening multiple browses leading up to the moment online registration opens, to improve their chances of getting "in."
Has it really all come down to this?
So the question we all have to ask ourselves is: What is the fairest way of conducting registration for races that are now selling out in days or even hours? Some options and considerations include:
- First come, first serves — that's it. You extensively advertise that registration is opening on a specific day and a specific time and you let the chips fall where they may. Every man for himself. Is this any different than buying concert or sporting event tickets online?
- First come, first served — with an asterisk. This means using the above method, but including a lottery. Lot of pros and cons to this concept. What if you get chosen but your spouse does not? Do you still go? Does a lottery give you false hope?
- Is it fair to "reserve" spots for designated groups — local community, sponsors, local elites, charities?
- Should you spread out the online process? That is, if you have a field size limit of 10,000, should you open online registration on one day but limit it to, say, the first 2,000 and then open it again the next day, and do the same thing for five consecutive days, thus giving folks who might not be able to get to a computer on one day an opportunity to register on another day?
- If you get closed out, should there be a waiting list? If so, what are you waiting for, exactly?
- Should someone who gets closed out one year get priority for the next year?
- What do you think about one person being able to transfer her entry to another? (This issue could -- and will -- be an entire subject for another post.)
As a firm believer that we are all in this together (race directors and participants), I would appreciate your feedback. Perhaps together we can determine the best process in dealing with this "good problem to have" in the future.