July 14, 2013

Maine fun-run promoters race to cash in on fitness craze

The arrival of the for-profit events in Maine has some runners concerned about the future of traditional charity races.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Participants are doused in orange-tinted cornstarch during The Color Run in South Portland earlier this month. It is one of several in Maine this year being put on by for-profit companies, reflecting a national trend. Some worry that the fun runs will compete for participants with traditional local road races.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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The Color Run made its Maine debut in South Portland on July 7.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The South Portland Color Run also paid $90 in city permit fees, $2,700 to hire a dozen off-duty police officers for crowd and traffic control and $1,800 for eight firefighters and two ambulances, according to city officials.

The TD Beach to Beacon, an annual 10K in Cape Elizabeth that has become the best-known road race in the state, has to publicly disclose its finances because of its nonprofit status. According to its 2011 tax filings, the race generated $622,065 in revenue -- including $280,000 in entry fees -- and recorded $617,778 in expenses. The event generated more than $65,000 for the Center for Grieving Children, including donations raised by runners.

The TD Beach to Beacon chooses a different charity to support each year. More than 6,000 runners participate and the registration fee this year is $45.

The Maine Marathon, a nonprofit event, last year raised $60,000 for STRIVE, a South Portland agency that serves youth with disabilities, and another $15,000 for other local charities. As many as 3,500 runners participate in the marathon or half-marathon and individual fees range from $50 to $85, depending on which race is run and the registration date.

Howard Spear, marathon co-director, said he's not surprised that the fun-run trend has reached southern Maine, though he worries about high registration costs associated with for-profit events.

"You're seeing it more and more here because this is a great venue here in southern Maine to put on running events. People are putting more thought into physical fitness," he said. "Running has gotten really huge and everyone wants to start a road race. We just worry about what it's going to do to these nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, if (runners) have to choose between all these races."


Amber Cronin, the girls' cross-country coach at Cape Elizabeth High School, brought seven runners from the team to The Color Run. Cronin had participated in the event last year in Massachusetts and wanted her runners to share in the fun, party-like atmosphere of a noncompetitive race, she said.

"I think the biggest draw is it makes fitness more fun," she said. "While a lot of people, myself included, like to run for fun, most people find it a chore. An event like The Color Run turns something many people loathe into something exciting."

Emily Faria and Samantha Feenstra, members of the Cape cross-country team, said it was obvious many of the runners were participating in their first 5K. The Color Run estimates 60 percent of participants are running their first 5K.

"I think it's a good way to get started with running," Faria said.

None of the members of the Cape Elizabeth team thought too much about the charity component of the run, but they were glad some proceeds benefited the children's hospital.

"To me, having a larger company come in to run the race isn't a huge deal as long as the money raised goes to the designated charity," Cronin said.

Thomas, of Willpower Enterprises and the Dance Mile, said fun runs can motivate people to start running, then move on to competitive races.

"The unique thing is that it's not necessarily cannibalizing traditional running events," he said. "Those events are doing well, too, with participation growing."

Thomas said he also sees the growth of businesses putting on such events as a good thing, as long as they disclose that they are for-profit ventures and are as transparent as possible about charitable donations.

"There may be some differences in opinion about how much is OK to donate or not, but it is their prerogative. I think it's OK as long as they are clear up front about that," he said. "As long as we're encouraging community and people being out there with their friends, I don't see a downside."

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:


Twitter: grahamgillian


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