The Cost of Stage Racing

People looking at getting into stage racing experience sticker shock at first.  Many question the price of entry into an event and do not understand why  it is so high.  “I am only getting a tent and water, why do I need to pay thousands of dollars/euros/pounds?”  They are usually comparing stage races to a typical ultra event and find the disparity between entry fees shocking.

Let us break this down and you will begin to see why this is an expensive sport (and why there are few people that do multiple stage races a year).  It is not Formula One or large yacht racing but it can run you some coin.

Let us start with the big ticket items.  The first of these is travel.  Most stage races are in remote regions of the world.  Getting there is typically not easy or cheap.  Depending where you are coming from and going to you can be out some serious change.  Don’t forget you may need land transportation from the airport to the race check in and depending upon your schedule there will most likely be some hotels.  Of course if a significant other accompanies you, these costs will be doubling at a minimum.

Now there is the entry fee.  Yes they are typically high however one needs to understand the costs associated with putting on one of these events.  The race organizers face huge  outlays just to find a suitable location and will front large amounts of funds to develop the race, obtain permission from landowners and government agencies, coordinate with emergency services, advertise, recruit staff, obtain equipment (tents, start/finish line, check point gear, communications, computers, etc.), as well as massive amounts of coordination and planning.  This all needs to occur in order to put on a successful event.

Race Organizers have some large up front costs!

Then there are the costs of actually conducting the race.  You should realize that this involves keeping literally hundreds of people out in the field for a week.  Included here are things like:

  • Race documentation
  • Insurance and permits (camping in some areas is as expensive as hotels!)
  • Flagging route
  • Feeding and caring for staff
  • Support vehicles
  • Some paid staff (even with volunteers)
  • Transportation to the bivouac for everyone
  • Transportation from the finish line in some cases
  • Support in the field in very remote locales
    • Your tent set up, taken down and transported to the next camp
    • Hot water provided (usually)
    • Potable water supply
    • Sanitation
  • Trophies and awards
  • Contingency transportation in case of changes in the course
  • Storage of equipment between races

Additionally, you are getting more than a tent and water.  Some things that figure into the equation includes:

  • Hotels (one night each before the start and after the finish typically)
  • Secure luggage storage
  • A pre-race welcome meal
  • Post race meal and party (this can be quite extravagant)
  • On call medical support 24 hours a day for a week
  • Cyber communications to the outside world
  • Live tracking in some cases
  • Special entertainment (even in the field!)
  • Typical race swag
Pre-race welcome dinner

Now there are some other cost to consider such as obtaining a reasonable kit.  This can be relatively inexpensive (if you already own suitable gear) or run you a fair amount if you are looking for some nice stuff.   Some equipment (like packs) will need to be replaced on occasion depending upon how much you use/abuse it.  Once you have made this initial investment, your kit will typically last many years if taken care of and you may be using some of it for more than stage racing.

There is also the costs of race food.  This will be more than what you typically spend on a week of food however freeze dried food cost more than “normal” food.  Plan on spending up to 100 USD or equivalent.  Not a big cost but one that is required.

Other incidentals that can add up include visas, medical checks, trip insurance, travel funds, specialized clothing, and lots of shoes.

So you can see that this all starts adding up very fast.  It can be unfair to compare an ultra where you are racing for only 24-36 hrs to an event that competitors are out for seven or more days. A stage race is typically a production and of course there are production costs.

One should also realize that unlike a one or two day ultra event, it is difficult for stage races to depend upon an all volunteers staff for their labor since this is a huge commitment.  Volunteers typically give up at a minimum of 10 days and usually two full weeks of time to support these events.  If you would like to see what stage racing is all about without the entry fee, consider volunteering for a stage race.

Finally, a big cost of participating in stage racing is your time.  This should not be discounted since you can be doing other things besides stage racing.  You can expect to dedicate at least 10-14 days to compete given travel time, check in, movement to the bivouac, the race itself plus any post event time you may wish to spend in a far away land.  It can be a real drain on you vacation balance!

So with all of this bad news why do it?  The answer is simple.  In the end almost every single stage racer will tell you it is worth it.  The experience, the sense of accomplishment, scenery, the opportunity to visit different parts of the world, the friends you will make are all some of the intangibles in the plus column.  All of these and more will tip the balance sheet in favor of going for it!