Prize money in local races has always been an issue that I have had mixed feelings about.
The one race for which we have consistently paid prize money has been the Long Island Women’s 5K Run, presently sponsored by Bob Cook and the Runner’s Edge. However, the way we have paid out the money has changed dramatically over the years.
Back in the 1980's, 1990's and into the first decade of the 21st century, the prize money structure was “front-ended," with $2000 going to the first woman overall, $1000 for second place overall, $500 for third and $500 for the first master’s finisher. The result was that we could boast of several great athletes on our list of overall winners over the years. Anne Marie Letko, who was the first American finisher in the 1996 Olympic Women’s Marathon, was a two time winner of the Long Island Women’s 5K. Even more impressive, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, who won silver medals in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Marathon and was a four time winner of the Boston Marathon, and who has been described by some as the greatest women’s marathoner of all time, also won the won the Long Island Women’s Run twice, and I believe that we paid her a large amount in “appearance money” in the second of those years.
Great runners aside, each year of the Run we were experiencing five or six folks coming from outside Long Island, taking their prize money and leaving Long Island directly after the race. The race itself in those years usually attracted 300-350 finishers, and somewhere around 2006 we started questioning what we intended to accomplish with our prize money pool and whether our prize money structure made sense.
About ten years ago we made a dramatic adjustment in the prize money pool. Since then we have paid out $500/$250/$150 to the first three overall finishers, and $100 each to the first place finishers in each of thirteen age groups starting with 20-24, and $100 each to the top finisher in each of two Athena categories. The concept was to encourage and reward top Long Island runners like Jodie Robertson , Leonora Petrina, and Lianne Farber, and to have a nice incentive for competition in each of the age groups.
Hey, it has worked! Registration and the number of finishers has increased by 10-15 percent over the past ten years, and the age group competition has inspired a couple of exciting duels to the finish in recent years. (The fact that the Grand Prize in our post-race raffle is a pair of $2500 diamond earrings generously donated by Dan Kulchinsky of Mayfair Diamonds and Fine Jewelry has also been a great contributor to the success of the event in recent years!) Yeah, we lost the allure of having National and even World class runners at the race, but I honestly think that it was the right call. Hey, we are always all about Long Island and the Long Island running community.