Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Road Races That Aren't

Generally, I’m a running purist. I prefer running outdoors, I view my watch as a necessary evil and I choose races based on distance and location more so than who’s running or who’s sponsoring the post-race beer tent.

I increasingly find myself in a minority. Twitter explodes whenever there’s a race at Disney, and it seems clear that, for those runners, it’s less of a “race” and more of an experience, complete with mid-race pauses to pose for pictures. I also increasingly see friends signing up for Tough Mudder, Spartan, Electric Light and Color Runs, none of which describe themselves as races per se.

I’m honestly torn. The cantankerous side of me, the Statler or Waldorf (take your pick), sees it as a bit of a soulless way to take money from people who genuinely want to get into shape but aren’t motivated the same way that some of us are to train for and participate in no-frills road races, trail runs or triathlons with small crowds, little race support and no live band at the post-race party. (And take money they do: Those races are expensive. Buyer beware, too.) If I pay to run, I plan to run hard.

The optimistic side of me sees it as a refreshing way for people who genuinely want to get into shape but aren’t motivated the same way that some of us are to train for and participate in no-frills road races, trail runs or triathlons with small crowds, little race support and no live band at the post-race party to, you know, get in shape. The novelty of running doesn’t work for some people, but crawling through the mud, getting pelted with colorful powder or partying with an 80s cover band does.

I can’t say I’ll never run a Disney race. My wife and I vacation there often (she’s celiac, and it’s one of the few places she can eat without fear of a hospital visit), and one of our trips will inevitably coincide with one of the growing number of races in the Run Disney empire. (I also let my wife stay home when I race, since, let’s face it, the only thing more boring than running a road race is watching one, especially when your husband is a skinny white guy with dark hair wearing black shorts in a sea of thousands of skinny white guys with dark hair wearing black shorts, and a Disney race is arguably the only one that would entice my wife to tag along.) But will I actively seek out a Disney race? No.

I can’t say I’ll never run a novelty race, either. Right now, I have specific running goals. Sliding ass over teakettle down a muddy hill will ruin those plans. As I get older, and the odds of a road race PR drop to nil, who knows? But right now? No.

Heck, aside from some dollar-store garland handed to me a couple minutes before a Christmastime race a couple years ago, I’ve never even run in costume. I show up, get my bib, sit in my car, tighten my shoes, toe the line, run my ass off, finish, take my medal, grab free food and drink, stop for coffee, and head home.

That’s the way I’ve run, for the most part, since high school. (I appreciated iced coffee less back then. So, so stupid.) It works pretty well for me -- and, judging from the folks I encounter at races, it works pretty well for a lot of people.

It doesn’t work well for everyone. In fact, for some, it doesn’t work at all. If sparkly bottoms or a picture with Mickey or a military-style obstacle course or rolling around in the mud motivate people to run, I see no reason to stop them. Sure, I think it’s silly, but I suppose that doing a road race just for the running part and not the social part seems silly to a lot of people, too.