Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Let's Talk about Race Registration

Last week, registration for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon went live and sold out in 2 hours and 27 minutes.  When I registered last year, I had to refresh my computer for a good 15 minutes before I could get in to the system.  The 2012 race sold on in 2 hours in 41 minutes.  At least last year, there weren't any computer issues. From The Washington Post:

Runners trying to secure one of the 30,000 spots in the 38th running of the marathon next fall reported that they were kicked off during the registration process or received repeated “error” messages. The marathon’s Facebook page was awash in complaints from frustrated runners. 
Michael Murray of Silver Spring said in an interview that he was booted out of the registration process twice and reached a point when the system froze on a third try.

“In the days of cloud computing, in the days of Google and Amazon, who deal with millions” of users, “there just has to be a better solution than this,” he said. Murray said he will try to enter marathons in Richmond or Baltimore instead. 
Race director Rick Nealis said the company that operates the system, Active.com, told him the demand for the $99 spots exceeded its capacity to process the requests. Nealis called the delays “an embarrassment for the Marine Corps Marathon as an organization,” which prides itself on organizational expertise.
There two issues here.

First, after Active's Chicago kerfuffle earlier this year, why on would anyone outsource race registration to Active?  Runners don't really have a choice in the matter, of course, and Go, Tracy, Go has thoughts on why race organizers use the system. Hint, hint: it's much cheaper and easier than managing your own registration system.  Of course, if race organizers did build and manage their own registration systems, I'm sure that we'd see a jump in the price of race registrations.

Second, demand for marathons is increasing -- which is silly because you'd have to be insane to voluntarily run 26.2 miles, right? (And, you'd have to be even more insane and decide that you actually like running that distance enough to do it again.)  With such high demand, I think we've reached a point at which all of the major US marathons are going to either have qualifying standards (e.g., Boston) or lotteries (e.g. New York City).  It makes it harder to plan to run a particular marathon, but it means that everyone has an equal shot at registration.

Thinking about my own running wish list, I'm debating entering the drawing for the 2013 New York City Marathon knowing that there are going to be fewer spots this year; 50 percent of 2012 runners chose to defer to the 2013, 2014, or 2015 race. I've been denied admission twice, so maybe the third time is the charm?  Also, if I'm denied again, I'll be guaranteed entry for 2014.

The thing is, the lottery opens up after April 9th (when the Run Disney Registration opens. It's probably another one of those races that sells out quickly).  The good news is that the Honolulu Marathon seems to have the normal demand for a marathon, so that's always an option if NYC doesn't work out this year.

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