ON MARCH 15 the inaugural Run Before You Crawl 5K took place in Dover. The race kicked off the new Dover Race Series and had more than 750 finishers.
Four weeks later, on April 12 and 13, two more Dover Series events were held and, despite being held on the same weekend, had larger numbers than the year before.
On May 11, race number four in the series, the Moms On The Run 5K, more than doubled its number of finishers, from 594 to 1,235, making it the largest race in Dover history.
By all indications the Dover Race Series is a huge success and the remaining seven races can look forward to large turnouts.
On the other hand....
Other races held on the Seacoast, particularly those in Dover or communities bordering Dover, are seeing a drop in attendance. One race saw a decline of 300 runners from a year ago. Another event cancelled due to low signups. On its website the race director stated he'd been told runners weren't attending his race because of the Dover Series.
The discussion of this situation can not continue without applying the word "competition." However, it is also important to apply the legal term "spirit vs. letter of the law."
Technically, when two races are held on the same day, at approximately the same time, and are a few miles apart, runners have to choose one over the other. That would mean the races are competing for participants but this isn't satellite TV vs. cable.
No race that I know of has ever used a marketing strategy that says "our race is better than theirs.'' The folks who are part of the Dover Race Series are taking delight in their large turnouts but are taking no pleasure if other races are taking hits. In the spirit of things it might be better to use the word "conflict".
Some race organizers embrace the word "competition."
These are wonderful times in the Granite State. More people are turning out for more races and having a blast doing so. But it is also forcing races, and race directors, to take a look at what they are doing.
As the calendar continues to fill up, race organizers have to ask themselves, "what do I need to do to get runners to attend my race?"
The answers to that question may have to include a look around at what other events are offering. As one race director told me, "If I see what else is going on in the local road race scene, it forces me to keep up. So, yes, I think I am competing with other events."
Whether its competition or conflict it is also creating some bad feelings behind the scenes. On more than one occasion I have heard race directors of an existing event voice displeasure when a new event is planned on the same day, same weekend, or a week before or after.
There seems to be an "I was here first, how dare you" attitude among these folks. Of course, with the increased number of races on the schedule it is almost impossible to find a date that doesn't compete or conflict with another race (unless someone wants to try Christmas Day!).
A boss once told me "don't bring me problems, bring me solutions." As some races grow, particularly in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, some are shrinking. So, what to do about it?
To a certain degree there has to be some acceptance of competition, conflict, or whatever you want to call it. As long as runners and walkers have more than one choice on any given day, or weekend, no race is going to bring in everyone. Any race director is mistaken if he/she that thinks runners and walkers will continue to return to his/her event when other races are popping up nearby.
It is to be expected that the numbers will drop as the schedule becomes busier.The real issue is when does the acceptance end? Is there a point when "competition" becomes more of a reality than "conflict." Any race that sees a drop in attendance needs to take a look at what is happening and see what actions need to be taken to reverse the trend.
That race director who told me he embraces the concept of "competition?" He is constantly researching the industry, checking the trends are, searching for what the people want. He knows there are times one of his race might be going head to head with another event. When that happens he has no problem telling himself he has to create an event that will lead participants to his race instead of the other race.
He also believes the race he might be competing with will do the same. He likes to invoke the phrase "a rising tide lifts all ships." If all races feel increased pressure to attract runners then everyone will benefit.
It is also worth pointing this out. The percentage of Americans that participate in road races is miniscule, well below ten percent. In any community that has a lot of races there a lot of people who stay home on race day. If races start tapping into that population there will be plenty to go around.
- - - - - -
Running shorts: The Granite State's women's contingent continues to shine. New London's Jen Mortimer was the overall winner of the Fisher Cats Mother's Day 3K, the third female in two weeks to be the overall winner at a New Hampshire race. On the same day Manchester's Mary Garrity Klene was top female at the Maine Coast Marathon in Biddeford. ... How fitting. Nacho Hernando was the winner of the Cinco De Miles 5K in Bedford on May 4. Hernando, last year's New Hampshire runner of the year, is graduating from NHTI and going to his native Spain for a few months. We may not see him at a New Hampshire race for awhile. ... Tip of the hat to the Gate City Striders, the Nashua based running club. On May 12 they held their annual Henri Renaud Award ceremony to honor the top New Hampshire male and female at the Boston Marathon. I was honored to host the event. ... Coming up next week is the Runner's Alley/Red Hook race at Pease Tradeport. A case could be made it started the trend of current party races. As one runner told me in 1998, the race's first year, "This is going to be a classic."
He was right.
Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at email@example.com.