The great Ernie Banks loved baseball so much he once said: “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”
Lately, the same can be said for running races as well. Once you are trained for a distance, why not run another? Better yet, if you doubt that you can find a way to train properly for a certain distance, why not incentivize yourself to do so? So, let’s run two…or three…or four! And, if you want to offer me some more bling in the process…
In the last few years, the running community witnessed the proliferation of the number of race challenges available to Casual Runners of all ability levels. In its simplest form, a challenge or series is where a race organizer stages multiple events and then “challenges” runners to complete 2 or more events in a given weekend or within a given time frame. And they are popular. Very popular.
My first experiences with these challenges were with the runDisney events. You all know that I love bling, and I would not pass up the chance to get a gorgeous Coast to Coast Challenge Medal for completing at least a half marathon in Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the same year. So, having completed the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon, I decided to complete the challenge at the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon.
But…that wasn’t enough, because if I also just ran the Disneyland 10k, along with the Disneyland Half Marathon, I would complete the Dumbo Double Dare! So, I would in effect be taking on two challenges at once, and I do love shiny metal objects! It was a very enjoyable 19.3 miles over two days in Disneyland, and I left with a lot of bling to show for my effort. But, to be honest, I probably would not have done ANY of these latter races without the incentive provided by the race challenges.
A few months later, I decided to run the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon and the Donald Duck Half Marathon (yes, in the same weekend) so that I could complete the Goofy Challenge. But, and there is always a ‘but,” if I just ran Pluto’s 5k and Minnie Mouse’s 10k as well, I could also complete the Dopey Challenge … I mean, after all, it is a mere 48.6 miles over 4 days! Yeah, you see how easy it is to suck me in to doing things that, to other people, would seem crazy…or Goofy…or Dopey.
Do you see where this is going? Race challenges are seriously addicting. And race directors create them because they work. With challenges and series race directors can offer more races options and excite runners to sign up and fill their slots, thus making them viable (and in the right cases, better!) events. This is a good thing as it has created more options for runners everywhere, not just at runDisney events.
I completed the Akron Half Marathon twice, and I really enjoyed my experience running Akron as it is a great race with tremendous local support (and they even have the blue line!). After my second time completing this event, I wondered whether I would run it for a third time or if I would look for a new race to try for the new experience. Well, that is when the race director sucked me back in. How else? But by announcing a race challenge.
In 2015 the race organizers announced the Rubber City Race Series, effectively taking a very good race experience, and giving runners more of it. And just like that, I was sucked back in.
Speaking about the expansion of race offerings, Akron Marathon Executive Director Anne Bitong told us: “We felt like this was a natural evolution of the Akron Marathon experience.” Bitong said that the addition of the two new event weekends to create the Rubber City Race Series, aside from giving Casual Runners more opportunities to run fun races and earn new bling, were timed to coincide with the “training milestones” that lead up to the Akron Marathon’s traditional weekend event in September. Thus, the Rubber City Race Series, aside from providing fun standalone events, was conceived to help Casual Runners naturally progress through their training program, culminating in either the half marathon or marathon event in September.
Executive Director Bitong also told us that, “by expanding into the Rubber City Race Series, we accomplished three goals: create an opportunity for new and existing runners to train to longer distances, increase the footprint that our organization serves in the Akron area, and connect with our runners for the duration of the running season rather than just one time a year.”
As a part of the inaugural year of this series, Steve and I ran the Thirsty Dog 8k in July, and we will be running the inaugural Goodyear Half Marathon (in August) and the traditional Akron Half Marathon (on an all-new course!) in September to complete this challenge series. Yes, we were motivated by the SMOs, but we were also excited by the new race offerings, courses, and experiences, which may not have happened but for the creation of this challenge series.
And, in the end, that is what makes these challenge series so great. Sure the SMOs are awesome, but the new experiences and running opportunities are even better. I may never had run Disneyland (at all) if it were not for the Coast to Coast Challenge, and I certainly would not have run the Disneyland 10k if it were not for the Dumbo Double Dare. In the end, I actually enjoyed the the Disneyland 10k much more than the Disneyland Half Marathon itself, so much so that the 10k event made its way onto the list of my Top 10 favorite races. Heck, Jennifer even talked Jake into taking her on a Disney Cruise Line sailing so they could earn the inaugural Parks to Paradise Challenge Medal! And there is still that matter of Disneyland Paris next year…stay tuned.
So what does this mean for the future of Casual Running? Well, we expect more events to improve their race programs by conceiving of new, innovative, and creative ways to encourage participation through race series and challenges. In the end, as Akron and runDisney demonstrated, this is a good thing for everyone. With new races, new medals, new training goals, and new pinnacles of physical achievements for Casual Runners, everyone wins.
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