This upcoming Sunday I’m joining 5,000 other runners in the La Jolla Half Marathon, a scenic and challenging seaside course that everyone must finish in under three hours. Some will likely be running with someone else’s number because they didn’t register for their own before the popular race sold out.
How do I know? For the past two weeks local running boards have been buzzing with late-comers asking if anyone’s got a La Jolla Half bib to spare or sell. One said she’s coming all the way from England to run it. “I really didn’t think it would be a problem,” she wrote to explain why she hadn’t registered earlier.
Problem may be an understatement, and not just for those coming to La Jolla. Major running events are selling out within months, weeks, even hours of officially opening thanks to online registration. Even those with access to a computer, though, may be disappointed. Some hopefuls get shut out because the site’s servers are
overwhelmed by the sudden surge in traffic and they can’t get through; some suffer an unexpected power or Internet service outage. Those still applying by mail increasingly find their checks returned because the field closed by the time the application arrived.
There are benefits to signing up so early. Biggest is that you are in, of course, and now have something specific to tailor training around; you also tend to save some money with early bird fees (when offered) and first dibs on preferred hotels if it’s out of town. But there’s a risk that an injury will lead to a deferment (if you’re lucky to have that option) or financial loss, which is why some runners prefer waiting until closer to the date to register — as close as the morning of the race. It’s also hard to predict in February what yet-to-be-determined event (a
best friend’s wedding or a loved one’s funeral, for instance) may supersede that October marathon.
Race directors like pre-registrants to fill up a limited field, and quickly. It helps them gain the proper permits and plan resources accordingly. But if a race sells out too soon, they also likely have bandits that can upset aid formulas, overwhelm volunteers and parking, and exacerbate course congestion. And if a sell-out is imminent but not well publicized, you have a race weekend registration nightmare on your hands.
Now we even have races in which you pay for the privilege of entering a lottery. And if you don’t get in? One possibility, where applicable, is to run for a charity that’s secured ample slots. You not only get to run your race, but you help raise money and awareness for a good cause. Another is to just find an alternative race
that’s still open, thus helping another organization fill its often-smaller field and maybe even snagging an age-group award or random-drawing prize. A third, where sanctioned, is to run with someone else’s number.
The new reality of race registration is changing where some people decide to send their money. How about you? I’m curious what everyone else has observed over the last few years and the impact it’s had on race plans, maybe even dreams.