Fastest course in the west.

CIM Entry Surges: The Boston Factor

Story #18 in a series of 25. Written to celebrate the CIM’s 25th Anniversary on December 2, 2007. By Cynci Calvin.

Growth Trends
CIM entries over the years show a gradual increase, beginning with close to 2,000 in the 1983 inaugural running. A drop occurred in 1988, following the infamous “stormathon” of 1987, but other than that, by 1994 the entries had modestly increased to around 3,000. A big exception to this occurred in 1995 when the entry numbers jumped to more than 3,500.

As the Boston Marathon approached its 100th running scheduled for April 1996, the entire distance running community rallied behind this historic milestone. It is difficult to come up with another people’s sporting event that is comparable in scope or influence. If you consider longevity of running events, the still-held Delaware Turkey Trot 8K was established the year before the Boston Marathon. The Dipsea (established in 1905) is the oldest cross-country race. Venerable though they may be, the overall impact of these two races has been limited. The next oldest marathon is the Yonkers Marathon established in 1907. Looking around the globe, Scotland’s Red Hose Run 3K has been held annually (minus a few cancellations) since 1509. Ever heard of it?

Indeed the hype surrounding “The Hundredth” had been building momentum for several years. The event was well established as a primary running goal for serious distance runners around the world. This was due not only to the event’s age, but also because it was restricted to people who had “qualified” by running a marathon under a certain time according to the participant’s age and gender. These were quite strict in the early years – sub-2:50 for open men and sub-3:20 for open women, and the average Boston field until 1987 consisted of only about 4,000 runners. In the later 1980s, with sponsorship mandating that the event grow in numbers, the qualifying times were relaxed, but this simply meant that the “Holy Grail” of running was available to more people and still a relatively speaking select group. It worked and the fields grew to around 10,000. As The Hundredth approached, the B.A.A. made a momentous decision: they would cap the entries at an astounding 38,000 runners. Entries would close at a specified date and any entries remaining would be awarded to non-qualifiers using a lottery system. By early 1994, the race-within-a-race to train and to qualify to run the 100th Boston Marathon was the talk of the running community.

Runner’s World Magazine researched U.S. marathons and in late 1994 published an article listing the top ten with the best conditions for achieving a Boston Marathon qualifying time. The California International Marathon was ranked 5th, due to the gently rolling hills, the wide, well-paved streets with few turns, the net elevation drop, the runner-friendly atmosphere of a small city marathon, and the excellent race management. As the CIM Board President was quoted, “You can’t buy advertising like that!” The event had always been promoted as having a fast course and was popular with runners seeking a personal best time or a Boston or Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, but this popularity was heightened by the extensive publicity generated by the 100th Boston.

Ever since 1995, the CIM’s recognition as a Boston Marathon qualifier has grown. As recently as 2007, in the Runner’s World May issue, a survey of Boston Marathon runners revealed that the CIM was a top choice as one to run for their qualifier.

After the 3,500 surge of 1995, in 1996 the CIM’s entries dropped back to the 3,000 level, but since then the growth has resumed and from 2004 to 2006 increases have been in the larger increments of 500. Reasons can be divided into two categories.

The national “mini-running boom” due to:

  • Increased awareness of running as a fitness tool
  • Celebrity runners: Oprah, Al Gore, P. Diddy, Will Ferrell all had well-publicized marathon experiences.
  • Charity-based running groups.
  • The war on childhood obesity.
  • Changing demographics with more women running than ever before.

CIM related reasons include:

  • More and better marketing – in 2001, when the newly hired promotions coordinator reported to the CIM Board that runners at regional Expos were asking her “Where is Sacramento?” and telling her “I didn’t know there was a marathon there!” a heightened campaign was launched to get the word out. This has included attending larger out-of-state running event Expos (like New York, Boston, Chicago), and dozens of local and statewide events.
  • Population growth in Northern California
  • The Gubernator Factor – Governor Schwarzenegger has definitely put Sacramento and California’s beautiful State Capitol on the map.
  • The CIM has always emphasized the marathon as its premier event and has not added a half marathon (in races that add half marathons, overall entries increase, but marathon entries decrease).
  • Not only maintaining, but also seeking new ways, to steadily improve the CIM’s runner-friendly atmosphere. Our data reveals that the most common way people learn about the eCIM is from CIM runners.
  • The CIM’ s use of the Internet, including a comprehensive Web site and dedicated, caring and timely email responders.

Early in 2007, after reviewing the recent increases in the CIM entries, the CIM Board of Directors voted to cap the number of entries for the 2007 event. This was a difficult decision because the CIM has prided itself on having no entry limits, and the course alone, with its wide start and wide streets, can support well over 10,000 runners. The difficulty lies in the logistics of growing too fast and the potential of compromising quality for quantity. Leaving the entry numbers unlimited means that the logistics (aid station supplies, shirts, medallions, etc.) become impossible to predict and the event either suffers financial loss due to overages or disappointed runners due to shortages.

As the CIM’s 25th Anniversary approaches, entry numbers currently show a 35% increase as compared to last year. Right now we can only speculate about the reasons why. The event’s 25th Anniversary offers one explanation – runners enjoy celebrating milestones like this, as evidenced on a much larger scale by the 100th Boston. Perhaps placing a cap on the entries has encouraged runners to enter early, and an entry drop-off will occur, bringing the CIM final entries back to relatively normal numbers. Perhaps the marketing campaigns have built the momentum to produce larger and larger entry increases and a field of 6,000 will toe the start line. Unsolicited publicity can’t hurt either . Last year Runner’s World listed the CIM as one of the “World’s Best Small Marathons,” and in early 2007, the CIM was featured in Running Times “You Should have Been There” Section.” In September ’07 during Runner’s World Online show “At the Races with Bart Yasso,” Bart states “It’s time for someone to say it… the California International Marathon is a very fast, if not the fastest, course in the country.” A recent article in USA Today has the CIM listed in the top 10 best fall destination marathons.

Whatever the reasons, the final numbers of the 2007 CIM have yet to be determined. Will the 6,000 cap be achieved by the event’s pre-Expo deadline of November 17? Will there be a limited number of entries available at the CIM Expo? Will there be angry runners unable to enter, who will have to be turned away at the Expo? I will update this with some answers after the November 17 online entry deadline.