How does one set expectations for an inaugural marathon? After doing some serious thinking about it, I’ve come up with the following four factors that are strong criteria runners are likely to use when setting expectations for a new race. These factors are: cost (including travel costs, hotel, registration, etc), support by local community (including the local running community); how brand name the ‘big’ sponsors are; and the expectations/hype the race itself produces (including using the course as a selling point). If you feel some other factor is missing, by all means send me a suggestion and I’ll do some digging. Otherwise, I’ll assume you agree—at least tacitly. Also, I’m not claiming any inside knowledge here. I’m just a runner looking in from the outside. In fact, I’m no longer even a Lansinite, I live outside of the greater Lansing area now.
Cost: The cost to register for the Lansing Marathon is $100. I was able to secure a time limited coupon for $20 off. One benefit of a smaller marathon to those of the mega-marathons (say Boston or Chicago or New York) is a willingness to either: 1) offer coupons; or 2) offer a tiered pricing structure with increases in cost as the event draws near. Interestingly enough, the mega-marathons never have to offer discounts and never apologize for their high prices (i.e. American non New York Road Runners will pay $255 to register for the NYC Marathon—that means you Nitmos; and yes I know this because I’ve been rifling through your mail again). My initial response to seeing the registration fee for the LM was “Wow, $100, for a marathon in Lansing?!? An inaugural marathon at that?”
But, research shows this seems to be a common price-point for Michigan inaugural marathons. Compare: The Qualifier, $105 (new this year in MI and located in Mid-MI); Ann Arbor, $85 through May 31, $95 thereafter (also new this year); and Kalamazoo, $85 (new in 2011). While other established and respected Michigan Marathons registration fees are as follows: Bayshore, $90; Grand Rapids, $90 through May 15, $100 through August 15, $110 through September 30, and $120 until race day where it increases to $130 (if not filled); Detroit is $80 through March 27, $110 until June 5, and $125 thereafter; and Martian Marathon is $60 through March 14, then $70 through May 12, then $90. And, just for your edification: Boston and Chicago are $150, whereas the Earth Day Marathon is $50 and moves up to $80 closer to race day. The Cleveland Marathon’s pricing is $90 until February 29, $110 until May 13—but only $55 if you sign up a year out (i.e. in May 2012 for the 2013 race). Finally, the Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, IN) starts at $65 through Jan 31, $75 through May 30, and mail in and late registration costs $85.
The average hotel room in Downtown Lansing is about $120 per night, but Lansing does offer several seedy alternatives at a drastic price reduction—in case you subscribe to the ‘they all look the same when I’m sleeping philosophy.’ And, although Lansing does have a local airport, typically travelers will fly into Detroit and drive (almost 2 hours) to Lansing. Flights in and out of Detroit are fairly reasonable (as reasonable as airfare is these days) as DTW us a major hub.
Local Support: Honestly, the LM will not provide the type of spectator support you will get at Chicago, Boston, or NYC, but that doesn’t mean the community doesn’t support it. Lansing has a strong running community. In this local running community there is plenty of buzz for this race. Conversations abound between runners at the local running shop, on Daily Mile, and several people have routed the course on MapMyRun. But I’d be hesitant to say the LM has created any kind of sustained buzz outside of the running community.
With under 8 weeks until the Marathon, the lack of non-running community buzz may evidence a minimal crowd turnout on race day. There hasn’t been much by way of publicity from the Lansing State Journal outside of the front page article announcing the race, which is surprising considering the LSJ has a dedicated running page/feature. Although, two additional local publications, Health & Fit and City Pulse, included brief articles about the LM months apart.
Perhaps even more noticeable is the lack of publicity from Playmakers. There are no Playmakers sponsored training runs, or any sponsored runs on the course from Playmakers.* (NOTE: yesterday Playmakers announced it will be acting as a sponsor and will be handling some merchandise for the race) But the LM does offer training runs every Wednesday. Contrast this with the Detroit Marathon, which is already running ads in the newspaper and has several metro-Detroit running shops creating marathon specific training programs. Now, I recognize that comparing a well established marathon like Detroit and Lansing is not necessarily fair, but I can say—as an avid runner—that I’ve seen and heard just as much about the Ann Arbor Marathon as I have the LM.
Sponsorship: The main sponsor is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. This is a big sponsor. Much better than Mary’s Fabulous Chicken and Fish or No-man’s Insurance Agency. As of now, there is not a major shoe or sporting outfitter acting as a sponsor. The remaining sponsors, as listed and in order, are: Two Men and a Truck, Emergent BioSolutions, Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority, Lansing Board of Water & Light, SERF, Ameri Insurance.
This list of sponsors makes me think the LM expo will be somewhat similar to the Capital City River Run (13.1M and 5K), and a step down from the Detroit Marathon or the Cleveland Marathon expos. Yet, perhaps on par with the expo you would find at the Martian, Bayshore, and Grand Rapids. If you have never been to one of these expos, a more detailed description is located at the end of this post. The lack of a major athletic sponsor can be troublesome unless you have a great local running store there to pick up the slack (i.e. Running Fit for Bayshore and Martian or Gazelle Sports for Grand Rapids), so I am very relieved Playmakers announced yesterday that they would be handling merchandising of this race.
Self Hype: The LM boasts an elite Kenyan with a sub 2:10 marathon time. Mr. Raymond Kiplagat Kandie will be blazing the course in what I’m sure he will consider cool Michigan April temperatures. This is pretty impressive. The LM webpage (and Healthy & Fit article) describe the course as ‘flat.’ Flat is always race hype for any marathon course because flat means easier to BQ. Ah…flat. The most subjective word in the running vernacular; even more so than ‘fast.’ I’ve done four training runs of substantial distance on the course thus far, and I would not call it flat. Chicago is flat. Is the course ‘flat’ compared to Boston or the Flying Pig (in Cincinnati)…sure. Does the course lack massive bridge climbs such as New York and San Francisco…yep. If you lived in the mountains, this course would seem flat. Perhaps if you lived and only ran in the hilly parts of Michigan (say certain parts of downtown Grand Rapids or outside of Atlanta—the elk capital of Michigan) the course would seem flat. But I wouldn’t call this course flat. Perhaps I would go with ‘gently rolling’ with a few meaningful climbs. But if you come in from out of town and assume it is flat, when you round the corner of Aurelius Road and Jolly Road right around mile 8 (and after the several medium climbs on Aurelius) your first thought will be: “Flat my ass.”
Back to the hype. The LM is doing some charity related work, but as usual that doesn’t generate a ton of hype (unless your event is so huge that sponsorship spots become coveted (i.e. Boston, New York, and Chicago). There is no ‘music on the course’ hype or a Flo Rida concert to hype the event like some other marathons. So, all in all, outside of the super fast Kenyan there is little to be hyped about. And, having traveled and lived on multiple continents, any hype about the beauty of Lansing and the surrounding community should be taken with a serious grain of salt. The course will offer some nice views, but I wouldn’t call miles 18 through 24 scenic (especially the part down Pennsylvania). Certainly more scenic than the Martian Marathon, and on par with what The Qualifier and Ann Arbor Marathon will offer, but not a picturesque as Bayshore or an novel as Detroit (a bridge and a tunnel and an island). Admittedly, I don’t really look at the scenery (crap, the two times I’ve done Boston I’ve missed several of the ‘must see’ spots).
In Conclusion: Comparing the cost, the local support, the sponsors, and the LM’s own hype, my expectations are that this marathon will be worth the value. This course offers an opportunity to be quick by not presenting any massive climbs, but enough elevation variations to provide a challenge. I’m doubtful that you’ll walk away from the expo with an awesome LM shirt (or other product) that your other runner friends will find awesome and be runner jealous, but you are unlikely to run this race for that reason. So long as you are not dependant on massive crowd support to carry you somewhere past the 20M mark, you will not be disappointed by the crowd support (or lack thereof).
Having served on a race committee for one of the larger Lansing 5Ks, I know how difficult organizing a race is. I can forgive the small errors or omissions I’ve pointed out, because I’d sooner have water on the course and volunteers present than an ‘interactive map.’ And I’m excited about this race.
A marathon is a major commitment. And most of us are of the one-to-four marathons a year runners. We invest a lot of time and energy into our training and want to exert as much control over the marathon as we do our own training. Alas, we can’t. So when we fork over $70, $100, or $225, we want to know that our money will guarantee an opportunity to have a great race. And, as we get to a point where we can see the end of training—we tend to begin to obsess about the race. This is where an inaugural race is at a disadvantage.
I believe this race will be good. Not great. But the overall experience will be good. There is something enjoyable about a smaller race, a smaller expo, a runner’s marathon (as I’ve heard people use to describe other marathons) where you can feel like you are in a race without having to dodge runners every mile of the race.
Michigan Marathon Expos: The best expo offered at any of Michigan’s marathons is the Detroit expo. It has a large selection of about 90 exhibitors, including major athletic brands. It all takes place in a major arena. National brands and companies set up shop, such as a Women's Running; even other marathons set up booths. The Martian Marathon takes place in a much smaller venue, and has far fewer exhibitors. There are a few local running stores that sell merchandise, but only one that really targets the race itself…and there are only a few variations of the race specific gear that is offered. While the Bayshore Marathon has its expo in a high school gymnasium, and has even fewer exhibitors, Running Fit offers an amazing variety of race specific gear (especially if you go to their store in downtown Traverse City—only about two miles away from the expo and close to several awesome places to eat your pre-race meal). But, aside from Running Fit, the Bayshore expo doesn’t have much going on. The Grand Rapids Marathon is located in the YMCA (where the race begins/ends). It is larger than Bayshore but somewhat smaller (fewer exhibitors) than Martian. It has a good selection of race specific gear, but no major athletic brand exhibitors.
*Playmakers does sponsor several training programs, but none are specifically advertized or directed towards the LM; that I’ve been able to find.