Thursday, February 07, 2008

Short Race, Easy Win, Long Battle for Earnings

Kelly Faris made finishing as the top female at the Team Ortho Monster Dash 5K look pretty easy last October. The former University of St. Thomas all-American ran nineteen minutes flat around the Lake Harriet course to better her nearest female competitor by more than 30 seconds.

Getting paid the prize money she earned from the race, however, took Faris quite a bit more effort.

After petitioning to get her name in its rightful place in the results after a race-day registration mix-up and after being told by race director John Larson in the days after the event that prize money would be awarded only to the fastest times from all three Monster Dash events taking place that weekend, the two-time MIAC cross country champ still found herself writing numerous e-mails to Larson asking for her money.

Only after her situation rose to the attention of a wider circle of Minnesota running community leaders in late January, three months after she crossed the Monster Dash finish line, was a check for $100 finally cut for Faris on February 1.

“Man what a fiasco,” Faris said to DtB about the situation. “The whole thing still seems a little shady to me, as in if I hadn't really pushed the issue, it would have never gone anywhere.”

Faris documented for DtB that between November 6 and December 19 five consecutive e-mails she sent to Larson went unanswered. Faris sent another three e-mails in January before finally seeing the matter resolved shortly after she told of Jack Moran of Raceberry Jam about it.

“I was glad she brought it up to us,” Team Ortho’s Larson explained to DtB when we reached him by phone. “I thanked her a lot for bringing it up and we sent [the check] out to her on Friday. I apologized for the delay and told her I appreciated her patience. We’re a very small foundation; we’re doing a lot of races, so the error was mine. I think I apologized twice in my e-mail to her.”

Team Ortho, the charitable organization behind the Monster Dash events, describes its mission being: “To improve and enhance the lives of orthopaedic patients through our commitment to supporting research, education, and advancements in orthopaedic technology; and to promote good muscular, skeletal, and joint health by encouraging an active lifestyle including training for and participating in amateur athletic events.”

The organization held Monster Dash events on the same October weekend in Wausau, Wisconsin and Eugene, Oregon as well as Minneapolis. Larson was not present at the Lake Harriet race, himself.

“It’s not that I care about getting the money,” Faris stressed, “it's the principle of it. If you're going to have a race that advertises prize money to the winners, and to force those people interested in winning the money to pay a higher entry fee, then you better have the prizes to back it up! Right?”

The Monster Dash, which has already decided not to award prize money in its 2008 events, appeared to be an odd duck as a prize-money event. Prize-money was paid only in the event’s “World Fastest Trick or Treater” division which charged a higher entry fee ($35/45 on race day) than the 5K Fun Run ($30/$40) and required racers to pick up a bag of “treats” during the race. The cash prizes to be awarded were not comprehensively advertised, although Larson confirmed that he had offered them verbally.

“We basically, after we announced it, talked about it early-on,” he said. “I couldn’t find in writing where we talked about the prize money. But I know that I had mentioned there would be cash awards to the top people in each of the divisions overall. We hadn’t put that in writing because we’re about making events that are approachable for everybody.”

“Kelly was the only person to approach me about the prize money,” he continued. “For most people, the prizes weren’t a big motivation; they wanted things like the bone – because there’s a cool bone that we give away -- and for the World’s Fastest Trick or Treater we did a bone-foot, and people seemed to like that a lot.”

The multiple venue nature of the competition for prize money was a novel aspect of the race that even Larson admits didn’t work well.

“It sounds like racing is pretty much a local attraction,” he said. “The reason we’re not doing it again is there seems to be very little interest in areas competing against other areas. I guess it’s because there are fundamentally different courses and people like to see their competition. To be honest, I thought it was an interesting idea, but people didn’t seem to care much.”

The unanswered e-mails aside, the Monster Dash's prize issues seem emblematic of a gulf that appears to be growing between events focused on the participatory aspects of road racing and those more focused on the events as competitive contests.

“Our races are very much about getting as many people involved as possible,” Larson stressed, “because we promote an active lifestyle. I personally don’t come from a competitive race background, so it’s good to be reminded about what all the different people in races look for.”

The 2008 Team Ortho Monster Dash is scheduled for October 25.

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