The Race Registration Conundrum

Posted by Filed Under: Races & Racing

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.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Jessica on April 18th at 10:36 am

    We just need more races! 🙂 But yea its getting harder and harder and bandits will become a problem. I may have to deal with that at Twin Peaks in future years because bandits and bib switching can pose a potential safety issue.

    And good luck and have fun! If you recognize any OCTR runners – they will be there. I think about 5 or 6 of them including Wendy who you might remember… I’ll be up at Leona this weekend and won’t make it down to La Jolla…

  2. Irene on April 18th at 11:46 am

    I’ve seen this happen with the Nike Women’s half marathon sign ups. The event was sold out even before it went out to people wanting to run it for the first time. was jammed and it took me well over an hour to complete my transaction. I was lucky and got in. They did open up more spots and had a lottery, there were no costs involved with the lottery, only if you won a spot for the race. Same thing with the on-line running boards with people looking to obtain bib numbers for this sold out race…

    See you in La Jolla. I’ll be doing the La Jolla Shores 5k, but we’ll be cheering friends at the half m.

  3. jank on April 18th at 2:34 pm

    Blah, blah, blah – This is the same thing that’s been happening for years with concerts, plays, and what-have-you. If anything, it’s an overall positive for the running community – more interest means more runners means more and better gear, opportunities, and what have you.

    Personally, I love the idea of being able to resell a number if I get injured in the weeks before a major race – kind of view it as “Race Insurance”.

    Pre-payment for lotteries is not a bad idea either – it’s a way for organizers to gauge interest in running in a given location. The folks running the NYC Marathon have been doing it for a while, and in recent years have launched a large number of other races due to the overwhelming demand for space on Staten Island the first weekend in November.