Dear Race Directors

Sometimes, prizes are more than plastic trophies and baked goods.

Dear Race Directors,

You want to bring in fast runners to get some exposure for your race. You decide to offer prize money. Great. Believe me, I love prize money. For sub-elite runners, those smaller prize purses can really help offset race entries and travel costs. And by being able to afford to race reputable races, runners can build their resumes, which helps with sponsorships and getting into even bigger races.

But if you’re going to offer prize money, you gotta do it right.

First, write the checks the day of the event. You don’t have to do this, but it is preferred. If you want to gain a good reputation, this is the best practice, especially for a smaller race.

Not all races do this, for various reasons. I get that. But like with any business transaction — because in reality, that’s what this is — you should pay your invoices on time. I think two weeks is an acceptable amount of time for a local road race.

Notification in advance (like the Mill Race Marathon does) or at the awards ceremony is appreciated if the check is, as they say, in the mail.

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For a larger race, 90 days is perfectly acceptable. There are drug testing protocols, and those things take time. For example, I ran the BAA 5k in early April and received a gift card in the mail for winning my age group. The gift card arrived in early July. Usually larger races mail out medals and other prizes to age group winners, and I’ve always received those awards within 90 days.

And, even smaller races (see Mill Race, above) are stepping up their anti-doping game. That’s great news!

But, it is never okay to take 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, or more to mail out a check to your winners. If a runner has to write multiple emails or take to social media to get their money, you’re doing it wrong. And if you really mess up, you could go viral for the wrong reasons.

One race director asked runners to give their prize money back when he made a mistake, and the LetsRun trolls got ahold of the story. Eventually, he changed his mind and made up the difference with $9,500 of his own money. This is an extreme case, of course.

The road goes both ways, of course. There’s an etiquette for the runners, too. If you receive a complimentary entry to a race, it’s a good idea to formally write a thank you note or email. The same goes for if you win prize money, or if you just enjoyed the event. You don’t have to, but it’s a nice thing to do, and can’t you hear your grandmother now? You can also write a note or review on the event’s Facebook page or other social media outlets — they’ll definitely appreciate that!

If you’ve had a bad experience or good experience at a race, whether with prize money or otherwise, let’s hear it.

I’ll start. Freihofer’s Run for Women, you are a prestigious event, but as of September 20, 2017,  you owe me $400.

I'm a mom and business owner from upstate NY. I love running, coffee, and adult beverages. Also chocolate. I'm currently training for shorter distances (mile-5k) but my big goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the marathon.

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  1. Congrats on winning your age group at the BAA 5K!

    The only bad experiences with RDs I’ve had is the local Fleet Feet. They sell out of every race, yet each year it seems the prizes are like donated old stuff…maybe I’m missing something but charging $90-$140 for a sold out half marathon (5,000+ runners) should give you at least a bit of leeway to provide prizes right?

  2. Ugh! Pet Peeve, I won a local half marathon series, $1000!!! Series ended in March, and we were told “check’s in the mail” and I was so stoked, it would cover my Boston trip because we all know Boston means $$$$$. It took 4 months and many unanswered subtle messages to get our money. I’ve run other smaller ones where the RD has written a personal check right there on the spot.

  3. I love a cash award for age groupers. It’s amazing how many races I’ve chosen based on a chance to win $10-$20. It makes me feel like a speedy runner when I get to spend it (probably on more running supplies).

  4. I signed up for a half marathon and trained to win the event. The website clearly stated that winners would be determined by gun time, so I positioned myself at the front of the pack. I was in first place the whole time and ran the entire race solo. Towards the end, a woman almost caught me but the unexpected competition gave me the kick I needed to finish strong. I ran a PR, broke the tape, got my medal, was interviewed and went home elated. I got an email the next day from the director saying that, sorry, I didn’t actually win the race, that the woman who came in second did. Apparently they were only using gun time for the winners of the 10k race. The woman who won started 10 seconds behind me, but her chip time was two seconds faster. Needless to say, I still feel cheated out of my victory. I mean, aren’t you the winner if you are first to the finish line?