Local charity races compete in crowded running schedule

04/12/2014 2:46 PM

04/12/2014 2:46 PM

More than 150 running events will be held in the Wichita area this year, which means plenty of people are getting lots of healthy exercise.

It also means the running scene has become crowded in terms of dates available to put on events while also reducing revenue for the nonprofits many of the runs benefit, leaders in the running community and organizations say.

At the same time, they are encouraged by so many people getting involved in running and that outweighs concerns of juggling schedules and sharing participation.

Clark Ensz, founder of Run Wichita, a clearinghouse for events, estimated there were about 50 runs in 2008.

“It’s really crowded now,” he said. “Certainly more than it was five or six years ago.”

Adding to that crowd are national events, which have been tagged with such terms as novelty or color runs. They come in different forms, such as having a white T-shirt splashed with a variety of colors as the runner covers the course. No actual timing is usually involved.

About eight to 10 are held each year in Wichita after first appearing in the area about four years ago, Ensz said.

While most of them partner with a local charity, not as much of the money stays in Wichita as it would if the event was handled locally, said Mark Chamberlin, a board member with Run Wichita.

“We support any and all events,” he said, “because they encourage people to become more active, whether it’s running or walking.

“But the national events do take out of the local market place. They also have more money to promote an event.”

Competing for runners

About 90 percent of the runs serve as a fundraiser to some degree for a charity, Ensz said. Most have entry fees ranging from $25 to $35, although fees for longer races are higher, he added.

Victory in the Valley, a Wichita nonprofit that provides support and services for people with cancer, will hold its 23rd annual benefit 5K and other runs May 17. It’s the organization’s only fundraiser of the year and all the money goes to helping people, said Executive Director Diana Thomi.

So when national companies have asked whether they could put on the event for Victory in the Valley, Thomi has said no.

“The return is small for what we would get,” she said. “It’s good for our community that it’s so exercise-minded, but every race has its own mission.

“We don’t try to make big splashes. We just keep our heads down and serve patients. We’re wholly supporting our community.”

Ronald McDonald House in Wichita had a benefit run for the first time last May, when it was the charity partner of Color Me Rad, a national company that holds such events across the country.

The nonprofit received $25,000 from that colorful run, Executive Director Susan Smythe said. That amount included a percentage of the registration fees and $7,500 for providing volunteers, she added.

About 8,000 registered for the run, but cold weather cut the actual turnout in half, Smythe said. Color Me Rad will put on another run for the McDonald House this year on May 24. The group continues to hold its annual benefit golf tournament, which will be on June 2.

While Smythe said she has heard concerns about the national companies competing for local running dollars, she added, “We’re just kind of a fun run where people don’t mind getting colored starch on them.

“It doesn’t compete with timed runs, the more serious runs. I’m happy so many people are getting out there and running with their friends and family.”

Run or Dye, a national company, will make its first appearance in Wichita when it holds an event May 3. Its charity partner is Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Wichita, a company spokeswoman said.

Local leaders don’t consider the annual Komen Race for the Cure held in September to be a national event because the group has a Wichita office, Ensz said.

Event costs

Organizations that put on local fundraising runs have noticed that participation numbers have dropped. Leaders cite various factors.

Last fall’s Prairie Fire running event had 3,300 participants, including the marathon. That was down 1,300 from the previous year, said Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Great Wichita Sports Commission, which puts on the event.

The Prairie Fire runs were held on a Sunday in October, the day after a national company put on an event.

“I’m sure that took some runners away from us,” he said.

Victory in the Valley has had as many 3,500 for its runs, Thomi said, but the turnout last year was about 2,000.

She cited the increase in the number of runs as one reason, as well as little flexibility in moving to a better date to be more accommodating. Victory in the Valley has already moved its event twice to avoid a conflict with larger local runs.

Slicing the pie thinner has taken its toll, Hanson agreed.

“It used to be that all these organizations and charitable events would hold golf tournaments,” he said. “Now they hold running events.

“I guess they think it’s easier, but it’s more expensive to put on running events than golf – if you do it in a first-class way.”

That includes purchasing T-shirts, pizza and bottles of water for volunteers. The sports commission spent $10,000 on its volunteers for the Prairie Fire Marathon last year, Hanson said.

Fees and costs to blockade more than 200 intersections for the marathon are a big part of the expense, he added.

Since taking over the old Wichita Marathon five years ago, Hanson said the commission has spent about $1 million in the community to put on the Prairie Fire events.

“But we’ve still donated $68,000 to charities since we started,” he said.

A crowded field requires organizations to be more creative in marketing their events and searching out solutions.

Last May, the Sports Commission also put on a spring event for the first time – a Prairie Fire half-marathon and 5K. About 2,000 runners participated. As of Friday, about 1,500 had already registered for the spring runs on May 4, Hanson said.

That puts the registration pace ahead of last year, a fact Hanson attributes partly to giving runners a discount if they do a back-to-back sign up for both the spring and fall Prairie Fire runs.

He thinks another reason runners may be pulling out of the Prairie Fire Marathon is because they’ve run it numerous times and want to try another marathon in another city.

“So what we’ve tried to do is reach out to other cities, like Dallas and Omaha, and market ourselves there,” Hanson said.

The commission will also continue targeting Oklahoma, which has traditionally sent the largest number of out-of-state runners to Prairie Fire, he said.

Notifying neighborhoods

More races, of course, means more runners on streets and sidewalks of neighborhoods. Some streets are temporarily closed.

The Riverside area sees runs regularly coming through its neighborhoods.

“Some in the Riverside community have told us it seems like they have a race there every weekend,” Hanson said. “Some residents get upset, but everyone is great for the most part.”

City Council Member Janet Miller, whose district includes Riverside, said, “Part of the ambience of living in Riverside are the runs, walks, park activities and concerts.”

She said the only time she gets complaints about runs is when residents aren’t given advanced notice that access will be limited. As part of obtaining a required city permit to hold a run, organizations must notify residents about the event and which streets will be blocked.

“They’re telling me, ‘I don’t mind the races. I just want to know when they are so I can adequately plan for them,’ ” Miller said.

No one is expecting runs to decrease. Leaders say it’s best if everyone tries to work together, including with the national companies.

The local events could feed off the national ones.

“That would certainly be my hope,” Ensz said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out, but I’m still at that hopeful stage that everyone can profit from what’s going on.”

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