There’s something afoot in the world of racing in the UK – the VIP Race experience. Pay anywhere from £20 to £80 and you can get those extras – food, a better location for parking, private toilets, post-race massage, a warm tent or building in winter, and sometimes race photos.
Not everyone’s heard about it but it is a growing trend. It tends to be the bigger races – Reading Half (VIP £60), Bath Half (VIP £80), Manchester Marathon (Premium £35 or Premium+ £65), London Winter Run (Premium £25).
This trend leaves me a little uncomfortable and I’m trying to work out why. I have no issue with First or Business Class on flights (love to give it a try one day) and I’ve been known to upgrade to Standard Premier on Eurostar when the price difference is less than you’d pay for lunch and a glass of wine.
So what’s my issue with the VIP experience at races?
I’ve never tried the VIP race experience.
There is no option at most of the races I do. These races tend to be on the small side, locally run, and pretty cheap. You don’t always get a medal. Sometimes it’s a t-shirt, sometimes it’s nothing, which is fine by me. At many you get homemade cakes and biscuits, tea or coffee, perhaps even a local beer. At our club cross-country events, you don’t get the cakes etc so we take our own and make a picnic out of it.
Whether it’s a small or big race, what I love is somewhere at the front, somewhere I’ll never be, might just be a runner who falls into that elite category. I can’t think of any other sports where you’ll be in the same race with some of the top performers in the world. I love the fact that I can say I ran my first marathon with Mo Farah. OK, so he might’ve been a little ahead of me…
I think running, at its best, is a deeply democratic sport. I’ve met hundreds of people in the running community now and one thing I’ve noticed, and something I love about it, is it doesn’t matter who you are, your background, what you do for a living, how ‘senior’ or ‘important’ you are – noone gives a toss. You’re all lining up in the same queues for the portaloos!
Us and Them
At the heart of it, my issue with the VIP race experience is I worry it creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’. It takes away from the shared experience of races, the good, the bad, and the sometimes stinky experience of those portaloos. And those portaloo lines? I’ve certainly had some of the funniest chats with folks I’d never spoken to before.
It’s another way to spend yet more money on something that won’t make me a better runner.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-commercialisation. I use gels on long runs, my shoes aren’t cheap, I own a garmin. And I keep within a budget and don’t buy stuff I don’t need. I don’t need that £600 watch and the latest technical T for £40. I know some folks really care about this stuff, that’s fine, it’s just not my thing. And to be honest, that stuff really isn’t going to help me run faster and stronger despite the ads trying to convince me otherwise.
It’s another way to spend money I don’t need to be spending. And for me, I think it would take away from all those experiences that races have to offer – from the bag drop, to portaloo lines, to hanging out in sometimes hilariously grim weather, to the race itself, the finish line and the post finish line experience.
My other concern is where attention will be paid in the organisation of races. Will this split between the VIP and everyone else experience result is worse planning and organisation for those of us not paying for the VIP experience? We’ll have to wait and see.
So what are your thoughts? Would you pay for the VIP race experience? Perhaps you have already – was it worth it?