I've been having an email conversation with a race director about prize money in races.
He thew out the question to me, "do you think we should offer prize money and why?"
My answer is below but I figured some of you all might have a better argument why races should (or should not) offer prize money.
This is a good question. Let me get it out there that races can not offer any prize money and be amazing community events. One of my running claims to fame is winning the Marine Corps Marathon which doesn't offer prize money.
I think ultimately races offer prize money because they believe in excellence, want to have the best people at their event, want to inspire the next generation, and increase their profile. If your event is a race, and not just a mass running event, how fast someone crosses the line matters. I guess it's a question of how much one values running as a competitive sport.
Take any other endeavor say a concert, ballet performance, chess tournament, art show. You can put on great versions of these events with local performers, but if you want better artists, chess players, etc at your event it's going to cost money.
Take the New York City Marathon. It would be a cool running event without prize money. They'd get some decent runners to show up just because of the scale. But it wouldn't be one of the best marathons in the world without offering its prize money. It wouldn't be on ESPN, and have all the prestige associated with that.
As a kid watching on TV in Texas I wasn't inspired because I was watching a race with a lot of people in it I was inspired because I was seeing some of the best runners in the world. There is beauty and value I think in seeing excellence. How fast you run matters to some of us and is the measure of excellence in running. I think at the highest levels, the mass runners would rather run in the same race with a world record holder than one without. Financial how this all works out and whether a race should throw a few thousand dollars to get a faster winning time is a question each race has to figure out. Barely related to this I don't like how the Boston Marathon now starts the pros before the masses. Competing with the best in the world at the same time is something very unique and special about running.
I'd argue your race got more attention because it offered prize money this year. Should races even offer age group awards? Do you do that to inspire people to compete to their best ability or is it more of a financial decision that encourages more people to sign up to try and win their local age group? I don't know that answer.