But one company is searching for a more satisfying alternative.
Brooksee, an events company based in Utah that in healthier times operates the Revel race series and the Portland (Oregon) Marathon, launched OYO races last month along the Jordan River Parkway in West Jordan, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City.
The offerings include a 5K ($29), a 10K ($39), a half marathon ($49), and a marathon ($59), on USATF-certified courses. The event website calls it a “self-supported race” with advanced timing technology built into the course.
Runners register online, they are shipped a bib with a timing chip, and they can do the race they signed up for whenever they feel like it. Participants also get race shirts, and for the half and full marathon runners, finisher medals.
The system is the brainchild of Lane Brooks, the company’s owner, who is an M.I.T. graduate and an electrical engineer. When the pandemic hit, the virtual race option left Brooksee employees wondering how they could do better.
“Virtual races are so uninspiring,” Jared Rohatinsky, Brooksee’s CEO, said in an interview with Runner’s World. “What can we do to give people a real experience?”
They spent the next two months developing the OYO race system. The start and finish line mats are in a private parking lot adjacent to the Jordan River Parkway. Antennae along the course, placed on private properties that abut the parkway, capture timing information at other points along the course.
Participants have to download the OYO app and run with a phone and the app operating. This is for both way finding and to prevent cheating. The app gives constant directions and splits, and it captures timing information immediately, which prevents unscrupulous people from being able to manipulate their data later. Brooksee sends a waist-belt phone carrier as a swag item with the bib and chip.
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So far, Brooksee has sold several hundred entries and has had around 200 finishers, but not everyone has raced yet. That convenience of picking the time to race is one of the most popular features, Rohatinsky said, and in some ways makes up for what’s missing in a typical race.
“It’s not intended to be a replacement for the L.A. Marathon or the Portland Marathon,” he said. “We can’t replicate the thousands of screaming spectators out there. We can’t replicate the on-course support. But what you are getting is extreme flexibility.” If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can do your OYO race another time. If you run faster at night, go for it.
The company is working to see if it can introduce OYO races in other cities. They’re also hoping to get the races to serve as qualifiers for the New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon.
Kim Kapinos, a top local runner, has done the half marathon and currently tops the OYO leaderboard with her 1:32:46. She said she appreciated the experience. “It gave me the ability to test my fitness and see where I was at,” she said. “I surprised myself at how competitive I felt, knowing I was going to have an official time. Even though there wasn’t a crowd and women ahead of me to race, I felt like I was racing.”