The Rock ’n’ Roll series is more about the lifestyle than the sport
September 2, 2013 8:41 AM   Subscribe

The Competitor Group/Rock 'n' Roll race series announced this weekend that they will no longer pay appearance fees or travel expenses for elite runners in its North American races, effective immediately. The new policy will first affect the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half marathon, which takes place on September 15th.

The races have previously come under criticism for forcing slower runners to take a "sag wagon" to move up several miles, dropping them off before the finish line and awarding them medals.

The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas marathon in 2011 also got a ton of bad press when hundreds of runners fell ill after drinking water on the course.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To correct that last assertion, the linked article states that exposure during the race was not the cause.
posted by domnit at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2013

Hundreds of runners fell ill after breathing the ambient air along the course.
posted by ftm at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll races are terrible, there are WAY too many people, they charge huge fees for subpar support and they extract all of it - they're for profit as opposed to more community-oriented charities and nonprofits that have traditionally put on foot races.

Not supporting elite entrants a low concern for me, but it's yet another example of how they're extracting dollars and profit.

I honestly do not understand why people run their races.
posted by letitrain at 10:45 AM on September 2, 2013

Thank you for this post roomthreeseventeen.

Some more context: The Competitor Group has been taking over big races all over the country over the past decade. They have taken over longstanding races like the National Marathon (now the Rock 'n' Roll USA), the Philadelphia Distance Run (now the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia) and the Carlsbad 5000. These races were founded in part to bring high-level running competition into their local communities. Now, a big part of their original mission is being pulled out from under them. In many cases, appearance fees and travel expenses are being pulled from athletes just weeks before events they had agreed to race in.

Now, I am pretty far from the front of the pack in the events I have competed in, but I believe that a high level of competition helps and inspires all competitors. The fact that someone can run a 2:05 (men) or a 2:15 (women) marathon may not mean much to me personally, but there's someone running 15 minutes slower than that who strives for that level of excellence. And someone running a 2:45 is inspired by that person, and so on and so forth.

And for all Competitor's insistence about being about 'the back of the pack', IMO they do a pretty terrible job catering to that back of the pack. Other than the Vegas situation, at the Rock n' Roll race I did (Rock 'n' Roll USA, which used to be the National Marathon) there was a terrible dearth of volunteers. At one volunteer per water station, they couldn't keep up with the volume of runners, and they ran out of prepoured cups of water by the time the 2:00 half marathoners/4:00 marathoners were coming through. People (yes, including me, in the interest of full disclosure) actually had to wait in lines if they wanted to get a cup of water on the course. Competitor blamed the weather (it was cloudy).

I didn't run it for the 'Rock 'n' Roll experience', it was a good time of year for me and fairly close to home. I don't have a car so if I have to race outside my city, I tend to look at big-city marathons where I can get around using public transit, and that one fit the bill. After that experience, though, I would never run another race with them, and I tell anyone who asks me the same thing.
posted by matcha action at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Toni Reavis has a very comprehensive blog post that really goes into the history of the founding of Elite Racing (The company that would become the Competitor Group) from the first races it started through its acquisition by private equity. The Competitor Group CEO responds in comments.
posted by matcha action at 11:38 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've run the Philly Half-Marathon. I had fun.

I didn't know about the "sag wagon", though. I'm not sure how I feel about time cutoffs. I don't suppose I've ever really thought about how to deal with that kind of issue. Does the sag wagon exist only because they don't put in enough resources to be there until everyone has finished? Isn't it normal to have some kind of cut-off for time? Am I wrong?
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2013

Isn't it normal to have some kind of cut-off for time? Am I wrong?

You're not wrong. What RnR does that's different is that rather than cutting off people for time violations, they pick them up at say mile 8 and drop them back off at mile 10. So they get a medal for running 11 miles.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2013

Ah. Well, going forward, couldn't they just deactivate people's tags when they get aboard the sag wagon? Either way, it seems like you'd have to be a pretty big dorkus malorkus for bragging about your medal, when you only received it due to vehicular assistance.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:44 PM on September 2, 2013

Thanks for the context and link, matcha action. As Competitor Group's CEO says, they are about the running lifestyle, not the sport. Expensive "lifestyle" races aren't really my bag, but fine, I won't begrudge vehicle-assisted finisher medals or calling the 5 mile fun run a Mini Marathon.

However, this comment (in reference to the former Philadelphia Distance Run, now Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon) makes a good point about why this is a shitty move: it is an affront to the competitive athletes you claim to respect when you buy up events with storied competitive histories and strip them of their competitive status.
posted by domnit at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2013

Yes, domnit, I think that is what has people angry. I think most people don't care if there is a company putting on races that doesn't pay elite athletes appearance fees, but they do care that these races with long histories of top athleticism are being turned into something different.

Of course when you turn over the race you started to a for-profit company, you take your chances, but I am sure that most of the race directors who started these events would never have sold them if they knew that this would happen. They sold to a company they thought would keep the traditions and history of the event. It just so happened that that company would later be bought by a private equity firm, and profit would become the top priority, without regard to development of the sport or the athletes.
posted by matcha action at 1:28 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obviously, I'm a totally non-competitive athlete, but I've run a whole bunch of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathons. It's a good scene: they generally do a pretty solid job on these races, but, given the escalating costs, it's hard to see the appeal of doing another one.

That's pretty lame, though, getting rid of prize money. For me, part of the thrill of these races is that I get to battle some of the best runners in the world. Sure, I generally lose by... uh... at least an hour, but it still gives the event a cache it wouldn't ordinarily have. 'Sides, it's not like these races are getting cheaper by not paying the pros...
posted by ph00dz at 4:24 PM on September 2, 2013

Thank you all for helping me understand the effects of this change, which I was having a hard time doing.

But the cause (from the Runner's World link) was pretty obvious:
Competitor grew out of the California-based firm Elite Racing, which launched the Rock ’n’ Roll series in San Diego in June 1998. Last December, Falconhead Capital, which formed Competitor in 2007 when it bought Elite Racing, announced that it had sold the company to Calera Capital, a private equity firm.
posted by jamjam at 5:45 PM on September 2, 2013

Strange, I would have thought this mixture of Capitalism and competition would naturally produce the best of both worlds.
posted by sneebler at 7:15 PM on September 2, 2013

What's really odd is when a 5k pays appearance fees. You run against some guys who finish the whole race in 14 minutes.
posted by smackfu at 5:31 AM on September 3, 2013

Sorry to add yet another link but this is my favorite take on the situation so far (and rang very true to me):

"It’s in listening to their (the elite athletes') stories that I’ve decided to change my own mind about what’s possible for me. It is in understanding their accomplishments that I’ve chosen different, more difficult paths for myself.

And it’s in witnessing their greatness that I feel more power in what I’m able to accomplish in my own much smaller universe."
posted by matcha action at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2013

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