Friday, September 19, 2014

Omaha Corporate Cup 10k: The Party Is Over

I raced the Omaha Corporate Cup 10k again this past Sunday. After thinking about it for a week, I'm afraid to report that when it comes to running in Omaha, the party is over. At least at this race.

I wish I didn't have to wax nostalgic, but running used to be sexy in Omaha. There used to be lots of races, real races, not those so-called color runs, or mud runs, or dressing up as gladiators, vikings or warriors and pretending to run. Those events may have their place; just don't call them "runs" or "races", because they are not those things. It's actually a disgrace to real running. Real running is where grit in the soul matters more than grit in your teeth from crawling through a sand pit. Ugh.

Anyway, where a runner's true grit used to matter most was on Omaha's largest running stage, The Omaha Corporate Cup 10K.

The Omaha Corporate Cup 10k used to be able to claim they were one of the premier 10K races in the country, let alone Omaha. It used to draw over 10,000 participants. It used to be televised locally in the running heydays of the '80s. But even as recently as three years ago, professionally sponsored runners, and several former UNL runners used to duke it out with local amateurs for cash and all the glory. It was quite a scene, and I can attest how electrifying it was to toe up to the starting line.

Unfortunately, those years are now long gone. The run has since moved from downtown. It now features a course filled with hills and off-camber turns. It doesn't flow well for a 10k course. As a result, attendance is dropping: only 2,630 finished this year's 10k. That's down from 3,116 in 2013 and 3,901 in 2012-- the last year the race was downtown. I could only find numbers going back to 1998, but the trend is telling:

10K finishers (data:
Year 2003 was an aberration due to a heavy thunderstorm. The uptick years between 2008 and 2012 was a result of larger cash prizes for winners and/or breaking course records. Years 2013-2014 coincided with relocation/new course and the decision to drop the cash prizes.

The Omaha Corporate Cup used to be a fun race because it rewarded the runner with a 10k PR on the flattest 10k course most will ever run on. There was no better place to get a PR than the downtown course. The best runners regularly ran under 31 minutes (4:59/mi avg). It didn't matter if you were elite or not. If you wanted to know your fastest 10k, that's where you got it done.

Fastest Male/Female times (data:
While the original downtown course was flat with one turn (a turnaround), the new Aksarben course is the exact opposite, featuring 19 turns greater than 90 degrees, and seven hills having a grade of at least 5%. As a result, the fastest male/female times are off by 90 seconds from the downtown course.

The Omaha Corporate Cup used to be a fun race because it awarded prizes. There used to be a cash purse: $500 for the male/female winners and $1000 for the course record. One year, they had a Fiat as a door prize.

Now, without cash prizes or 10k PRs, runners are deciding not to do this race anymore.

One thing for certain: it isn't due to a lack of running interest. There aren't any less recreational runners out there than there used to be. At least it doesn't appear to be so. But the trend for 10k races has been slowly declining for several years.  For some reason, either shorter distances (walks) or ultra-distances: half-marathons and above, are more popular. That, and the color/mud/warrior events.

The decline of the Omaha Corporate Cup 10k is a harbinger of bad things to come for the Omaha running community. Unless the race organizers redesign the course and infuse prize money back into the mix, this race will fade away from its once greatness.

I hate to wax nostalgic, but the Omaha Corporate Cup 10K used to really be something. Judging by this year's lackluster attendance and mood at the starting line, I'm afraid this party is over.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday


  1. Yeah, but ...
    The photo from Sunday has to be among your faves of you starting a race. There's only one (maybe two) guy(s) in the front who is marginally taller than you, making him (them) look like a big oaf(s). In the one from when "The Cup" was cool - you don't even know the race started yet. It looks like you might be paying attention to a plate of pancakes or something. Maybe it was the pancakes that made the Corporate Cup fun back then. I bet it was the pancakes. Because that's what it always was back when RAGBRAI was cool.

  2. I'll have to check with my Mom on that one, for she's the ultimate judge on who is nice and tall.

    You know, I think you're right. I want to say that this race used to have the pancake man do his thing afterward. I'll have to check the archives to see if there's a correlation between the pancake man and better attendance.

  3. I ran the Corporate Cup in 2004, during the height of my running fastness. I was 27th overall in a good-sized field. And yeah, that's my 10K PR, too.

    That said, that course was brutal. Super boring and very ... umm ... industrial. I actually used to run it once a week because I ran during dinner break at the World-Herald. Oh, the good old days.

    I also wrote 3/4 of a book during that time. That last quarter is the real bitch.

  4. I was riding with Kent and company when we passed a group of runners coming toward us on the Keystone trail. After passing them, Kent remarked that he didn't understand why running was as popular as when "nobody smiles when they run."

    He has a point. Running really isn't much fun. It certainly doesn't evoke the free flowing smiles like riding a bike does.

    So when it comes to foot races, that's why I liked the old course better. Sure, it wasn't as scenic as running through hilly Aksarben Village. But honestly, who cares about scenery when you're running a race? My goal is to end the misery by getting it over with as soon as possible.

    When it comes to foot races, fast is best.

  5. I read an article about the World Record Marathon pace happening yesterday in Berlin. It seemed to agree with what you're saying. Marathon runners flock to this course because it is known to be fast.