May 11, 2017

Competition ramps up for running event participants

Anthony Edwards / Staff File Photo Wet and rainy weather did not prevent runners from participating in the annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock in June 2016.

The number of running events in Vermont and beyond has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. In May alone, there is a plethora of organized running opportunities for all stripes of runners. Those looking for a 5 kilometer race can even find one in Stowe with a beer festival at the end, while more hardcore types can tackle full marathons in Burlington and southern Vermont, or epic, multi-day endurance races in Goshen.

Whether there are enough runners to support these events depends on who you ask.

“There are plenty of folks to go around,” said Lisa McCurdy, director of communications for Gray Matter Marketing. The marketing consulting and event management agency, based in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, produces running events throughout New England and beyond. Vermont events include the Stowe Craft Brew Race on May 20, and the recently announced debut of the Vermont 10 Miler in Stowe on Nov. 5.

“There’s been a huge uptick in people participating in races and competitive running,” McCurdy said. “There are so many people and runners to go around.”

Other events, though, have felt the impact of increasing competition in Vermont and other northeastern states.

“There are many more local options now than there were 15 or 20 years ago, so some races wax and wane and we go with the interest,” said Donna Smyers, president of Central Vermont Runners. The Montpelier-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1980 to promote running in central Vermont, produces a variety of events, including the Waterbury-area Leaf Peeper Half Marathon or 5K in October.

“All of our races, as with other races across the state, have had some decline in numbers recently as the number of options has climbed across New England,” Smyers said. “We do feel competition and cannot donate quite as much to local charities as our race numbers decline. But if there are plenty of options for runners, that is OK.”

Also feeling the pinch is Batten Kill Valley Runners, a southern Vermont-based group that produces the Shires of Vermont Marathon, which kicks off from Bennington on May 21, in addition to several other running events. “The running community is steadily growing in recent years,” President Dara Zink said. “We haven’t seen that growth, however, as social media takes its toll on running groups and makes it so easy for people to set up their own group runs.

“As our group dwindles, so does the number of races we are able to host,” added Zink. “Small local races are facing a great deal of competition from larger races. Shires, for example, is notoriously difficult to get runners for as it is in direct competition with the Vermont City Marathon, which is the week after. Most weekends there are multiple races within driving distance.”

The Vermont City Marathon (May 28), held in Burlington the day before Memorial Day, remains the largest one-day sporting event in Vermont, attracting over 8,000 runners, 1,700 volunteers and 20,000 spectators to the Queen City. It also brings in an estimated $3.5 million in spending, approximately $2.5 million of which comes from out-of-state visitors.

Other Vermont marathons attract about 1,500 out-of-state runners, according to information from the state, while the Spartan Race in Killington (Sept. 16-17) brings several thousand more athletes to the Green Mountain State each year.

“We estimate that other marathons bring in approximately $500,000 in annual out-of-state spending, and that the Spartan Race in Killington generates another $2 million in spending from out-of-state visitors,” said Philip Tortola, communications director for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. “In total, we estimate that premiere running events in Vermont generate about $5 million in spending by visitors to Vermont each year.”

While most running events are designed to foster community involvement and to support running groups and local organizations, others keep branding and the bottom line in mind.

“I’d say it’s half and half,” McCurdy said. “We are a business, so we’re always looking for events that will be successful for our company. But every single event that we run, a portion of the proceeds will always be given to a local charity.” For the Vermont 10 Miler, a portion of every registration fee will go to the Stowe Land Trust, she said.

“We’re in for successful events and profit, but we also like to create a positive impact and positive relationships with all of the different towns we go into,” McCurdy added.

Central Vermont Runners takes a different tack. “Our events are not much about branding and commercial interests,” Smyers said. “People like our events because they are not about money. They are competitive, well-run events. People see each other at lots of our races and make social connections and get motivated by each other. We produce races that have character without big bands and beer tents.”

That said, Smyers agreed that “anything that brings runners to town tends to make a community more vibrant. Runners nearly always eat or drink after events, and often support local businesses. We also hope to inspire locals to join in the fun wherever we run.”

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