Is Ragnar Relays stealing races?

Paul Vanderheiden thinks so. Mr. Vanderheiden claims Ragnar Relays is acting unethically by violating an unwritten code of ethics.


…there is an unwritten code of ethics between race directors that you don’t steal someone’s course, and you don’t piggy back on an established race’s date with a nearby, similar event.


Whether a race course is intellectual property and whether it is immoral to plan similar events near already established races are interesting questions. I understand planning a relay race is not a trivial task. However, every business makes decisions under uncertainty, faces barriers to entry, must navigate down learning curves, find returns to scale, etc. To the extent that new entrants learn from incumbents, costs can be minimized. Although I am not sympathetic to Mr. Vanderheiden’s views, I am not surprised he is frustrated: the history of business is filled with pleas by incumbents who find their competitors’ ethics questionable.

Putting ethics aside, will consumers (i.e. runners) be adversely affected by Ragnar Relays? I think the answer on the whole is unambiguously no. While some will not like what Martin Potter fears will be a “Wal-Mart” effect on running events, the average runner will most likely benefit from Ragnar Relays in the same way the average runner benefits from the rise of more corporate races. The popular Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons might be huge corporate events, but they certainly do a great job of motivating runners who would not otherwise run a 26.2 mile race.

Counterintuitively, Mr. Vanderheiden may even benefit from Ragnar Relays. If Ragnar Relays succeeds in growing the market for relay races, an entirely new generation of relay runners might emerge in much the same way the marathon has grown in popularity in recent decades. Consider the words of Mr. Vanderheiden’s governor in Colorado, John Hickenlooper, who in the 1980s owned a restaurant in Denver and actually advertised other nearby restaurants in his own restaurant: Our competitors are not other restaurants but TV sets.”