On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Friday, September 6, 2013

In which I have nothing profound or unique to say, but I rant anyway.

It's no secret that I hold an unhealthy amount of disdain for Rock 'n Roll races and especially their sponsor, Competitor Group. Their "races" (I have to put that in quotes since what they actually throw, in my opinion, are more events than competitive races) are lowest common denominator events aimed at giving the non-serious runner an expensive medal - minus all the bad parts of competing, like, you know, pitting yourself against other runners in a competition.

Their for-profit drive has, in my opinion, single-handedly been responsible for a massive increase in race entry fees over the past few years. Yes, the crazy demand for race entries (held against a relatively fixed supply) has enabled events to still sell out despite high entry fees. But by taking over so many local races to add to their stable of races, Competitor has managed to create somewhat of a monopoly.

Beyond buying up smaller races and then raising entry fees, Competitor also designs their races in such a way that much of the competitive edge is stripped completely out. Starts are staggered to an extreme, depriving runners of the competitive "gun" feeling of crowding that to many of us means "run your ass off." The course is lined with bands and cheerleaders and Team in Training coaches and all sorts of encouragement telling you that it's okay to be slow and steady. If you want to pay $100+ to go to a running party, by all means do it.

And now... in their latest move, Competitor has pulled all support for elite athletes, including travel and appearance fees slated for races this month. As RunBlogRun outlined, 71 of the 300 Olympic marathon qualifiers raced with Competitor. 23 runners who ran their races have set world records and 10 have won Olympic medals. No more. Competitor doesn't support you if they need to pay you; they only support runners who are willing to pay them.

Here's a little secret for you: running is a competitive sport. When you pay money to enter a race, you are entering a competition. There will be a winner at the end of it. Can you imagine if the NFL said, "You know what, guys? We're not paying our athletes anymore. They should play just out of love for the sport. The games will still go on, but the athletes can get there themselves. And oh yeah, you'll still pay $100+ a ticket." Let me tell you what would happen: there wouldn't be any more people willing to risk concussions for a life of football, and no one would attend games as the quality of the players declined.

Runners, especially distance runners, peak later in life than many athletes. After they leave college (and even during college, as compared to football/basketball, but that's another story), there is little to no support for professional runners. Rare programs like the Hansons or the Nike Oregon Project support some runners, but even the (few) runners you've heard of are barely making enough money to support themselves.

So let me be clear, in case you've missed it: Competitor doesn't care about running as a sport. They care about making money off of you. My RnR medals have never felt so hollow as they do now that there is no real winner in their races and only thousands of losers.