In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about road racing events in Northeast Mississippi. More specifically, the state of such events.
Yes, I know it is dangerous for the wheels to start turning in my head, because there is no telling which direction my thoughts can go. But despite the danger, here is what set me to thinking.
– Barely five days before the day of their race, 5K Heart Run officials were a little worried about their low preregistration total. Yes, they had a very strong Thursday through Saturday registration, propelling them to their fifth straight (I believe) record for entrants, by a margin of about 20.
– Then I realized that the Gum Tree, Northeast Mississippi’s flagship running event and the state’s largest road race, is several years removed from its biggest entry total.
In fact last year, the Gum Tree had its lowest entry total since it passed the 2,000 level.
– And let’s not forget the Corinth Coca-Cola Classic 10K, which reached its biggest peak of participation five years ago.
My conclusion and this was pretty easy even me road racing participation is not increasing right now. My theory as to why: these events are in a tough entertainment market.
Oh yes, generally speaking, a basic athletic event like running is an entertainment event when you have to pay to participate. And these days, with all the easier entertainment choices available, a running event is a tough sell.
Now that I’ve said that most road racing events are not having an easy time building participation past the current core of runners, what can be said next? Well, what keeps people coming back to these events, and how can they attract new entrants?
To me, to keep people coming back to your race involves having a good or even great T-shirt, superior organization, and good location, parking and facilities. Weather is a factor, too, but no one can control that.
In Northeast Mississippi, the folks at Corinth have always seemed to realize the importance of the T-shirt. That is what has kept them very solid for the last five years, despite their bad weather.
Of the T-shirts I’ve seen in recent years, the Oleput 5K in Tupelo, the Pontotoc Lions Club 5K, and even the Frog Level 5K in Pratts have had T-shirts worth keeping, too.
And by the way, Corinth has another T-shirt this year that is a keeper. And my applause to the Gum Tree this year for finally not making green a major color this may be your best T-shirt logo ever.
As for how well a race is organized, perhaps runners not noticing is the best way to measure how well an event is run. Believe me, after paying money to put stress on my body for 3 or 6 miles, any little thing can upset me.
The Gum Tree always has high marks in race organization. Perhaps that is one reason why it has easily remained No. 1.
And the question of how to attract new runners? If I knew the definitive answer to that question, I would have plenty of money in the bank and would be writing this column for fun instead of money.
Sorry, no great conclusion on how to help, but perhaps other wheels can provide answers.
David Wheeler writes a monthly running column for the Daily Journal.