2018 and 2019 Changes

Our 2018 season has been finalized and you may find some surprises. Most notably some races are conspicuously missing from our calendar, namely Tushars Ultra, Grand Canyon Half Marathon & Everglades Half Marathon.

After an incredible 2016 season we noticed attendance at some of our events shrunk for the first time ever. The thing with events is there is a high fixed cost of doing business. Many of our costs we incur whether we have 200 runners or 2000 runners. For example at an Ultra, it is the same amount of work to mark the course, and setup aid stations regardless of the race attendance. For a road race, we have to pay to close down the roads regardless of how many people sign up. This means that when attendance is down, it can be difficult for the race break even and can jeopardize our ability to function going forward.

With Tushars, it is a race we love and want to see it continue. The challenge is that the forest service has limited us to 300 participants, total. This has caused to lose close to $30,000 each year. The cost to produce the race is significant with remote aid stations, and extremely rugged terrain. That means we went out and worked our asses off for days only to lose money as a company. Obviously this isn’t sustainable. The fix is one of 2 things:

  1. Increase the overall cap, to help us better cover our costs.
  2. Make the race a 100k only, which would increase revenue at the event and would help us focus our attention and could reduce some costs.

We like offering the marathon and half, if for no other reason than they allow flexibility for some people who underestimate how challenging this course is.

We have been working with the forest service on #1 but have not been able to find resolution yet. To be fair to them, they are overworked. We value our relationships with the forest service employees and wish they had more resources to do their job. So as anxious as we are for resolution, I am not upset at them for not being able to address this issue more timely.

So we fully expect to back in 2019 with our Tushars event. What it will look like is uncertain, but we expect to make an announcement before Summer 2018.  

Everglades is similar in some ways. We chose to cancel the 2017 race because our course was flooded, and we were worried that moving the race would have diminished the experience for everyone. While super disappointing to some people, I still think it was the best decision.

Going forward though, we feel like there is not enough interest in the race for it to be an annual event. Interest in the race waned significantly after the first year, and despite our best marketing efforts, registration dropped more than 30% from 2016 to 2017. The permitting agency (NPS) limited the number of participants for this race, and because of this we had to keep our race fees unusually high which probably exacerbated the problem. So 2018 isn’t going to happen, but it may be back. I’ll explain below.

First let’s talk about the Grand Canyon Half Marathon. One would think that because the Grand Canyon is this incredible destination it would be a sell out every year. This has not proven to be true. Could it be that because our race on the south rim provides no canyon views that runners are not interested? Well, we had a race on the north rim that was right on the rim of the canyon, and still registration was tepid.

Furthermore, we decided to move the Grand Canyon race just a week apart from the Lake Powell half marathon. The thinking was there is so much to do in these areas, we thought runners would love to do two races on back to back weekends with a week to enjoy all the grand circle has to offer. What ended up happening is that registrations at both the Lake Powell and Grand Canyon race shrunk in 2017, making two races that don’t break even rather than a single one that is sustainable.

While I love going to the Grand Canyon, we feel like there may not be sufficient demand to hold an annual race there, especially in October.

So where do we go from here?

We love all our races, including some you haven’t seen in a while like the Capitol Reef Ultra. What we are starting to think is that some of these races may not be able to happen every year. So here is the tentative plan: We are going to hold off on the Grand Canyon Half Marathon in 2018 but plan to bring it back for the Grand Canyon Centennial in 2019, and depending on what happens it may be an every other year event.

For those still wanting to run in Arizona in October, we have you covered with our Lake Powell Half Marathon on Oct 20 in Page. For the few people who have run the entire series, we constantly hear that Lake Powell is the best course we have. The variety of surface to the jaw dropping scenery, it should be near the top of everyone’s race bucket list.

That brings us back to the Everglades. If we see that an every other year system works out, we’ll likely figure out a way to bring back the Everglades half marathon in the future. We can see an every other year or every three years system working for many of the races we have. Some events like the Zion Half Marathon, Yosemite Half Marathon, Antelope Canyon Ultra would happen every year while others would rotate. Some events like the Capitol Reef Ultra might only happen once every five years.

We would issue the calendar 2-3 years in advance so you could plan for which races you wanted to attend.

We would love to hear some feedback on this idea. We are not aware of any other events that happen on a rotating basis as every event I know about happens annually. Would this change make any difference to you? Let us know.

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Salem Stanley

Salem Stanley is the founder and CEO of Vacation Races. He loves the personal growth that comes from athletics and physical challenges. He also is in love with National Parks. He received a BA in Business from Southern Virginia University where he was an All-American track athlete. He recently graduated with an MBA from BYU.

  • Keith Walker says:

    Certainly understand that tough business decisions had to be made. I missed the Everglades Half, however, I’m not a huge fan of out and back courses. Perhaps the December date was too close after Thanksgiving and close enough to Christmas that this hurt interest.

    As for the Grand Canyon, rotation (Lake Powell & Grand Canyon) I would give this a chance if it could happen at the North Rim. Although I’ve never heard of races rotating, however, I’ve heard of course rotations (reversals) at some ultra marathons, and it seemed to be pretty popular. Slightly off topic, a pretty popular air show in England and France rotate the host country.

    I would sunset Everglades and rotate the Arizona races. Florida does have some pretty great locations at State parks to host an ultra marathon that are breathtaking and near major cities.

    Ryan, I’ll send you my contact information if you want to talk.

  • Kristie says:

    I ran the Grand Canyon in the mudfest year and it is a fantastic course. Didn’t need Grand Canyon views. Every other year would still be ok.
    Can you advertise more. I just heard about this series from a friend and I am on target to do all halves within a couple years. As much as I hate to let the secret out about your fantastic events I think more advertising would increase your numbers.
    Good Luck!

    • Ryan Jenkins says:

      Hi Kristie, thanks for your comment. We do spend quite a bit of money advertising but are always interested in hearing suggestions for improvement, especially when it comes to spreading the word about our events. Are there particular places you think our advertising budget would be well spent?

  • Standclark says:

    Any hope of bringing back Monument Valley,ultra? Also, can’t find results link to the 2016 MV event?

    • Kaelee Clifford says:

      Hi – Unfortunately, we will not be able to hold the Monument Vally Ultra in the future due to permitting issues.
      As for the 2016 results, we have changed registration systems and still need to upload the 2016 results, so they are not publicly available yet.

  • Karen Girard says:

    I registered for the Gator Double Everglades 2017 race and transferred to 2018, but since 2018 has now been cancelled and wont be able to do another race due to a job loss, how do I obtain a refund?

  • Sabrina Hoops says:

    I’ve only run one of your races (Smokey Mountains) and it was great!! If Irma hadn’t foiled my plans I would have been there again this last fall. :o) I do think a rotating system could work. If so, it would be helpful to have a good online calendar with plenty of advance notice. I also might suggest – if you can find suitable locations – to hold races in the southeast. I’m a Florida girl, and to be honest, the costs of flights to get out west just aren’t doable on a regular basis, at least for me at this time. I run a race 10 months of the year, sometimes even two in a month, so I’m either running here in Florida or in both Carolinas, Georgia, and even Kentucky. Although I want to do your other races out west, that kind of trip requires me to plan to be there longer and with greater overall cost. I more easily get away to anywhere in the southeast for the weekend and I can bring the kids on occasion. I think the southeast states are fairly runner-friendly, so maybe you can find additional success there. Thanks!

  • Clare Greiner says:

    My sister ran the coyote double last year and I was along for the ride. The races were great! I volunteered at both events and saw the incredible amount of work that goes into these events. I feel that the races are a great event but you need to do what will work for you guys as to not lose money and potentially no longer do. In the long run I don’t think most people are going to do all the races every year so if you had to alternate that is fine. I’m looking forward to doing the my first 5k at the Smoky Mountain event in September!!!!!

  • Beth says:

    Everglades is still on my bucket list and I didn’t care about the out and back. I was crushed when it was canceled and an now even more crushed. For me, it was the wildlife opportunity. I was ready for the gators! I would live to see it rotate and think it would gain more interest that way. I would still love to see it on your schedule. I travel to giur races from WY and for me… the biggest factor is travel costs. I can only afford to do one of your races a year. I did Yosemite and spent a lot of money to fly to CA and stay—- the vacation part of vacation races. I did the same With Everglades… still had a trip and ran a different race. I honestly think people didn’t register because of the hurricane and you may always battle that there. Plannig to run Great Smokey this year!

  • Jeff Kenney says:

    I ran the first Everglades race, would love to see it come back. Every other year is fine.

  • Kelly Haun says:

    My Husband and I sighed up for this, due to Mother Nature was not able to happen. Continued on our vacation race,
    turned into ymca 5K Jingle Bell run, we explored the Everglades and would recommend.

  • Greg Hunger says:

    Have you considered adding level awards for number of races run (Similar to RNR Series). I don’t know that there are enough to justify yearly, but maybe some special award if one runs all the races or doubles, etc? Maybe a cool looking shirt with all the races on the back that we could wear at other runs to help spread the word?

  • Deb Domack says:

    My first vacation Races were this year and happened to be the coyote double (Grand Canyon and Lake Powell). And ironically was I was hoping to Everglades was on this year to sneak away for a long weekend.

    You are making reasonable business decisions. I like the concept of rotating the races so that there is s I’ll opportunity to run them.

    I would love to run all the races every year but things like work get in the way (hahah).

    I am on the path of participating in 1-2 races a year minimum. Looking forward to Shenandoah and Smokey Mountains this year.

    Your concept of getting people to the National parks is working. Keep up the great job.

  • Kristy Tarsha says:

    For me rotating races would be a positive. I only do one-two out of state races a year. Rotating races would help me plan which races to do as I would like to do all the 1/2 marathons Vacation Races offers (I’ve done 3 with 2 more on the calendar for 2018).

    Has Vacation Races ever co-hosted or participated in #BibChat on Twitter? I recently became aware of the weekly running focused chat and there are lots of runners on that weekly chat could go quite a ways in getting the VR name to a larger audience.

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