Race Fees: A Triathlete’s Perspective

Following on from my personal experience on race fees and my decision to give myself a price cap, today we’re hearing from my friend Simon who is a runner and triathlete about his view from the tri side! Over to you Simon.

My experience with race entry fees are primarily triathlon based, I imagine most people reading this are pure runners, so I’m using this as a chance to convert you to the wonderful world of triathlon!

Generally we get better value for money as triathletes than runners do when entering events. While there are basic costs associated with hosting any event (as I will explain later), condensing 3 sports into one will obviously incur better value for money. I’ll start by breaking the costs of each sport down.


Breaking it down

The most expensive aspect is the swim, they need to hire the lake or apply for permission to use the beach/river, rent giant swim buoys, provide kayaks and find specially trained volunteers to marshall the swim. It all costs time and money to organise.

The bike is also a very difficult and time consuming discipline, the route must be given the green light by the local council(s), be tested by competitors, signposted and marshalled. While the swim is the most expensive, the bike is the biggest drain on time and resources. Larger races such as The London Triathlon also have motorbike officials and/or neutral support vehicles who will repair/rescue a stricken rider and their machine.

The run is the simplest and easiest aspect to organise as athletes can run pretty much anywhere at any time without being confined by the rules of the road in the same way. A marshall at every junction, some water stations and you’re good to go.

There are also seemingly minor costs such as timing chip hire, safety barriers, bike racks, the finishing gantry, medical teams, even that medal they hang round your neck, it all has to come from somewhere. Sponsors will foot some of the bill to subsidise your entry fee to an extent, but individual entries still cover the majority of the costs.

The Cost

For a triathlon I’d expect to pay between £30 for an independent sprint distance race up to 3 figures for a prestigious Olympic distance race or iron distance of any description.

Some races operate on a not for profit basis, that are often set up by ex professional athletes who are interested in getting people interested in the sport, {Steph Edit: I didn’t know this – this is interesting!} with anything in their back pocket at the end of the weekend being an added bonus. Other events run by companies such as Human Race, Ironman or F3 Events are run for profit. {Steph Edit: we are not saying there is anything wrong with that}. The entry fees will be more than you’d be paying for an independent, and while you’ll get a better goodie bag and a feel of polish to the event, a lot of your entry fee will go towards the advertising of the race, staff salaries e.t.c rather than being spent on the course.

Triathlon, especially Ironman can be seen as a rich boy’s hobby for many people, who after dropping £8,000 on the latest triathlon bike won’t blink at a £400 entry fee, but for those of us who are simply in it to get fit and have some fun, smaller, more independent races will often be more fun and have a better atmosphere.

“But it’s not a proper Ironman race!” I hear you cry. Why do you feel the need to run an Ironman branded event? Because they’re well known. Why are they well known? Because they have a massive advertising budget, where did they get the money for the advertising budget…?

{Steph Edit: I had to ask for clarification here as I thought ironman was a distance, how wrong I was!}

Ironman (note the capital I) is a company run by the World Triathlon Corporation, who have trademarked Ironman for their iron distance races (3.8KM swim, 180KM bike and 42KM), Ironman is a household name and is recognised by millions globally, however they are not the only company who run iron distance triathlons, dozens are run over the UK each year for much less than the £325 you need to make it to the start of Ironman UK. I haven’t heard bad things about Ironman’s races, but they are very much a business. When I (hopefully!) complete my first iron distance race next year I will reserve the right to call myself an ironman (note the lower case i), regardless of the organiser.

Once an organiser has covered the costs to put on a super sprint distance race, the cost to put on a sprint or Olympic race aren’t significantly higher. Yes you’ll need more marshalls, more swim buoys, more water stations and more of the all important red/white tape, but a race that is four times the distance shouldn’t cost four times as much to enter. The message seems to have go through to cycle sportive organisers who will only charge around 1/6 extra to upgrade to “epic” distance, but some events will try to charge over the odds for a long race. My advice is to do some research and find the average price for your distance, then assess how much you’re willing to pay for a specific event. If you’re only planning to run one event this year then your priorities will be very different to someone such as myself who races at least once a month..

Decision Making

SimonTriFor my money location is more important than entry fees. Living in London I’m blessed with a myriad of races local to me, and I admit I dropped over £100 on the ITU triathlon in Hyde Park and The London Triathlon at the Excel centre, both less than 10 miles from my doorstep. I’d rather spend £100 on a race that is close to home and have the money put into the race, rather than spend £40 on a race in Leeds and blow the difference on fuel, meals and accommodation.

For those who are really struggling to afford races, join your local running/cycling/triathlon club. They will often run various races throughout the year for free/ a subsidised rate for members.

Whatever your ability or budget there is a race out there for you, check the race calendar in 220 Triathlon and ask what races your training partners are running this year. Triathlon isn’t the cheapest sport when it comes to equipment costs, but there’s no need to break the bank with extravagant race entry fees.

Hopefully you can apply these principles to your decisions regardless of your sport, if you have any questions or are looking for race recommendations, drop me a tweet (@Simon_Olney), I’m always up for a chat!

Thanks Simon, I completely agree with your advice at the end, I recently volunteered at my clubs novice distance triathlon and we got amazing feedback from the competitors some said it was the best race they’d ever been to!

How do you decide whether to enter that next tri or not? Does the price put you off?

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