SBJ/April 8-14, 2013/In Depth

New activities come running to event schedule

Race organizers are turning their events into destination experiences, going the extra mile by offering additional activities to make sure runners have a good time.

Offering family activities, pasta dinners, trade shows, bicycle tours, even wedding ceremonies, organizers are enticing racers to arrive early, stay later and mingle with others who enjoy the running lifestyle.

South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Resort, which holds a full and half-marathon in December, brings the island lifestyle to participating runners.

The resort offers a bike tour of the course the day before the event, a “pasta bash” dinner on Friday night, and a runners expo held during the bib number pickup. For runners with prerace jitters, the resort has a complimentary yoga session the morning of the race taught by a resort yogi guru.

After the race, a complimentary finish line party is stocked with soup, pasta, desserts and drinks. The emphasis is on staying local with a table assortment stocked by area farmers and featuring Charleston, S.C.’s own Palmetto Pale Ale.

“About 80 percent of our runners are not from the Charleston area, so it is very much a destination race,” said Liz King, Kiawah’s outdoor program director. “This past year we had runners from 46 states and 11 countries. They’re coming from all over, and a good majority of them stay on the island.”

Kiawah runners can buy a package that includes resort accommodations, entry to the pasta bash and a race entry. Race participants who don’t stay on the island still can ring guest services, mention their bib number, and get 30 percent to 60 percent off golf, tennis, fishing and boating offered at the resort.

For those runners who dig the desert more than the coast, the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas full and half-marathons are held each November. The Competitor Group stages 83 races a year, including the Las Vegas event. More than 90 percent of the runners who participate travel from outside the city, including runners from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.

“These are fun, hip, party races that are replacing the draw for your classic marathon,” said Dan Cruz, public relations director for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series. “It’s no longer just a race, it’s an event. And it’s really what consumers are demanding. They want an experience and they want to do things together.”

With that camaraderie in mind, the weekend entails concerts, special offers at nightclubs and shows, a race-day brunch, post-event spa specials, a health and fitness expo, and a pasta dinner.

For those who think no Vegas experience could be complete without eloping, there is even a Run Thru Wedding
Participants in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon can pause to get married.
Photo by: Competitor Group
Ceremony, a three-minute ceremony for couples to either tie the knot or renew their vows and still keep up with their pace.

For runners trying to get into the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and celebrate “The King” himself, the race presents one of the largest groups of Running Elvi.

Cruz said each of the races staged by the series caters to the location and desires of the participants. “For the price of your entry fee, you’re getting 72 hours of entertainment and perks and discounts on all the hottest nightclubs and restaurants and tourist attractions throughout the city of Las Vegas.”

For runners looking for a more family-friendly destination, there’s the Walt Disney World Marathon. The resort goes full throttle on engagement, offering numerous packages for its Kids Dashes, Mickey Mile, Family Fun Run 5K, half-marathon and full marathon in early January.

In addition to the races, the weekend includes a health and fitness expo, a pasta dinner and a postrace Cool Down Party at Downtown Disney. There were record numbers for all the entries this year, and more than 100 vendors were on-site to outfit their needs at the expo. Those vendors included 11 sponsors that back the race, including those that sell running merchandise and other races touting registration for their events. The expo has grown so large that it now covers two buildings.

The Race Retreat is Disney’s answer for a VIP race-day experience. For $120 to $200, it offers runners and their families a temperature-controlled tent in the unpredictable Florida winter featuring food, private restrooms, Internet access, changing tents and massages. This past year 1,800 slots were available and all sold out.

Decked out in mouse ears and Tinker Bell wands, 10,000 participants ran in this year’s 5K, 27,000 in the half-marathon and 25,000 in the full. Diehard runners could take on the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, running both the half and the full on consecutive days. More than 10,000 runners subjected their bodies to the grueling feat, yet another record.

Disney has decided to give another nod toward the runner experience that has nothing to do with adding activities or boosting revenue. Disney race director Jon Hughes said the resort will cut the number of entrants in the half-marathon by 10 percent, to 25,000.

“We’re trying to contain it at that point,” Hughes said. “We know we could sell more, but we want it to be a better experience for the runners.”

Theresa Manahan is a staff writer for sister publication SportsBusinessDaily.com.

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