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Operator of Philly Half Marathon Cuts Appearance Fees for Elite Runners

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Copyright 2013 Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC
All Rights Reserved

The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 8, 2013 Sunday
CITY-D Edition
SPORTS; Inq High School Sports; Pg. E15
1162 words
Running: Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon cuts appearance fees
By Jen A. Miller; For The Inquirer

The Philadelphia Distance Run technically died in 2010, when it was turned into a Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. But now any remains of what had been one of the greatest and fastest half-marathons in the world have been burned away thanks to a business decision by a private equity firm that just happens to be in the race business.

Right before Labor Day weekend, the Competitor Group, which operates 38 Rock 'n' Roll races, told elite runners that they would stop paying appearance fees and travel costs, effective immediately.

This decision means that elite runners who were promised a paycheck for running in the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon next Sunday just had that money taken off the table, less than three weeks before the event (though any travel arrangements already paid for will be reimbursed).

This is bad - like a publisher changing its mind about paying for a book after a writer has just wrapped up research. That's why, in publishing, there are advances. In professional running, those are appearance fees. They're supposed to support the work that goes into getting ready for an event, and the Competitor Group just blindsided the professional running community.

"I don't think it's fair to the legacy of the people who built the event," said Tony DeSabato, who was one of the early organizers of the Philadelphia Distance Run. "I don't think it's fair to the elite community. I don't think it's fair to the recreational community."

The Philadelphia Distance Run was founded in 1978 and quickly became one of the most, if not the most, competitive half- marathon on the racing circuit. Olympic medalists Lasse Viren, Rod Dixon, and Michael Musyoki raced here. In 2005, Deena Kastor broke the American women's half-marathon record that had stood for 20 years, right here on the streets of Philadelphia. And amateurs were attracted because they could run with the fastest runners in the world.

This was all done at a race put on by a group of volunteers, including DeSabato. The race was then sold to Elite Racing in 2005, a group that held the same ideas about putting on races that supported professional runners and allowed amateurs to run with them in the same race at the same time.

In 2007, Elite was bought by the Competitor Group, which started as a conglomerate of endurance-sports-related companies including VeloPress, which publishes books for athletes, and Competitor Magazine. The Competitor Group is now owned by Celara Capital, a private equity firm. CEO Scott Dickey describes it as "a media company as much as we're an event company."

According to Dickey, the end of elite appearance fees was a business decision.

"We've gotten to the point that we invest in the experience for all of our participants, and not just those at the front of the pack," said Dickey. "We've been paying appearance fees for athletes just to show up and use the races as a training mechanism. It's a disproportionate investment. We're putting those moneys back into the experience."

They will still pay winners' fees, and keep a handful of what he calls "partnerships" with runners at the very top of the sport.

"We're still going to have an elite field, but a more sized-down elite field than we have had historically," he said.

I wouldn't have as big a problem with this decision if they changed the fee structure of races they grew themselves. But they bought a cluster of races under the umbrella of Elite Racing, and, after years of tugging, ripped out its spine.

"When you're in a sport like that, you do have an obligation to support the sport, and clearly [Competitor] doesn't think that they are in the sport. They think they're in fitness. Well, open a fitness club," DeSabato said.

I may not be fast, but when I race, I race. I don't want to wear a tutu, be shot in the face with colored corn starch, crawl through mud pits, or ward off zombies. Those events have their purpose. They can be a fun thing to do with friends, a corporate team-building exercise, or a chance for someone hesitant to try running to dip a toe into the sport.

And that's fine, but these aren't road races. The Color Run isn't even timed. A 15,000-person fun run has replaced a race that supported and developed professional runners who went on to represent the U.S. in international racing.

Dickey said that the decision by Competitor has been in the making for a long time. If so, why wipe out appearance fees less than three weeks before one of their marquee races? This was a decision made with absolutely zero consideration to professional runners who would be most affected. Then again, Competitor appears to be on a cost-cutting spree. Even though the Philadelphia event is sold out, Competitor recently announced it was canceling the St. Petersburg and Pasadena Rock 'n' Roll half-marathons because of low participation.

Running is a community sport, with a mix of amateurs and professionals, and each side of the pack cares about the other. For an organization that has already created so much ill will by turning beloved local races into expensive events, cutting elite support is only going to deepen those scars of resentment, especially in the city where the Philadelphia Distance Run used to be.

Running: Racing Schedule Sunday LBI Shamrock 5K, Ship Bottom, N.J. 9 a.m. start, registration $30.

Sept. 14 Patriot Day 5K, Exton. patriotday5k.com, contact Mia Toschi at mvtmedia@live.com.

St John the Baptist 5K Lake Run, Lake Nockamixon State Park. $20 preregistration, $25 race day (7:15 a.m.) Kids half-mile run (free), 8 a.m. Race starts 8:30. m.active.com

Run for the Art of It 5K, Atlantic City, 8 a.m. start at the Music Pier

at the north end of the Boardwalk. $25 entry fee, 70+ top age group.

Dustin Deckard Memorial 5K, Pennsville, N.J. 9 a.m. start,

$20 pre, $25 post. 49 Lakeview Ave.

Sept. 15 Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, formerly known as the Philadelphia Distance Run. Free Health & Fitness Expo at the Convention Center, Sept. 13-14. Registration and information: RunRocknRoll.com/Philadelphia

Battle the Beach 5K, Wildwood, 8 a.m. start, $20, but runners must fund-raise $75. Obstacles on beach, get splattered with dye, etc.

Sept. 21 RSDSA 3.65-mile Fun Run/Walk, Cooper River Park Stadium, Pennsauken, 9 a.m. start, $25 preregistration, $35 race day, SJTiming.com,crpsrsdwalk@gmail.com.

Cape May Beach Front Run 5M, 2M, Cape May, 8:30 a.m. Mile start, 9:15 a.m. 5-mile start. $20 pre, $25 post. Start/finish at the Cape May Convention Center on the beachfront.

Virtua Health/Fitness 5K, Mount Holly, 8:30 a.m. start, $20 pre, $25 post.

5-year age groups. Starts at 520 Jacksonville Rd.

Deborah Hospital Foundation 5K, Medford, 9 a.m. start,

$20 pre, $25 post. Starts at Freedom Park

RBG Rotary 5K, Runnemede, 8:30 a.m., $20 pre, $25 post.

Starts at Triton High School

E-mail date, name of race, site, time and fee, plus registration information, to sports editor John Quinn at jquinn@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @JenAMiller

September 8, 2013

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