Vegan or carnivore? Democrat or Republican? My father always suggested that I discuss things that do not involve religion, politics, income or sexual orientation. So with this most recent and timely blog, I’d like to honor his request and talk about size.
In 2013 I’ve run races as large at 17,000 runners and as small as 22 runners and in towns with residents numbering in the millions down to less than one-hundred residents. One thing that stands out to me, and I may have others contradict my statements, is that the small towns and the small races seem to cater to the runner much more so than larger races and larger towns.
One of the most phenomenal “small” races I did earlier this year was the Running with the Bears Marathon in California. Over the past several years I’ve tried to find new and unique marathons and Running with the Bears is a clear STANDOUT in this category. I have had BBQ in Greeenville, Mississippi and the Spinx Marathon in Greenville South Carolina. But Greenville, California seemed as remote as the moon. The drive to the race from Coos Bay was worth every minute of the drive.
The reason SMALL is so big is that so much of the race depends on the individual runner and their experience. Running with the Bears, like a few other small town marathons, put on the race for the runner and a GREAT CAUSE. These SMALL town races are not about the race lining their pockets but rather about a charity that is near and dear to the race. It’s not just some lottery of charity to draw in runners on a “choose your own charity” run. How many runners do you know that choose a race and then choose a charity to support for that race. To each their own. This is a race that chose a charity, or perhaps the charity chose the race and they are sticking to their guns. I was captivated by the motivation of everyone from the race directors down to the people involved with the pre-race expo and the post race luau. I would try to write a race report that would do this SMALL town race BIG town honors, but it would be an encyclopedia about how BIG town races should think and ACT much more like this small town race. TREAT EVERY RUNNER LIKE THEY ARE THE WINNER BEFORE THEY EVEN CROSS THE LINE. I was floored with the outpouring of support at packet pick-up. Beyond floored that the race committee had arranged for a multitude of runners to stay with locals as this small town was sold out of $59 rooms. I KNOW! It’s a far cry from the $469 that can be rammed down the runners throat at BIG city races. Why? I don’t know. I’ve run some of the biggest marathons in the world (New York, London, Chicago) toured the expos, started in the elite corral at Chicago and the “just under 8 hours” at the same race the next year. To this day, I still do not understand the mentality of bigger is better when it comes to marathons. The smaller races usually allow parking at the start and finish, they charge a nominal entry fee and I saved hundred by switching to Geico. Gotcha! Just making sure you are paying attention to the message. The money I’ve saved by running the smaller races has, literally, allowed me to run 15 more races in 2013 than I would have had I stuck to my plan to run and travel to 5 of the big city races this year. I managed Boston this year only due to the generosity of friends. And, of course, after nearly losing one of my close friend (a mere 41 seconds) I will return to Boston so long as my legs allow me to earn my entry with a qualifying time. But that’s another blog.
Does size matter when it comes to marathons? Perhaps you won’t have the crowds along the path or at the expo. I say enjoy the journey, your journey. This is YOUR race and we will ALL celebrate when you finish. I hope you will celebrate your accomplishment despite overwhelming crowd support. It is, after all, your journey. You trained. You ran the mileage. After all the work you’ve put in, do you really need a million spectators to convince you that you can do it? Perhaps, but I believe you have come this far and that you are strong enough to see it through. If you doubt yourself, the aide stations will show up at the critical moments and nudge you in the right direction. Your sense of accomplishment will be magnified ten fold the more you rely on yourself.
What I learned at Running with the Bears is that I was strong enough. I only need to step outside my door to run more. Despite having to back track near mile 17 due to a large bear crossing the course, I could move forward. No one told me I had to go on. I simply knew that I could. I didn’t need the thrashing about of an expo with 100,000 runners and spectators in a frenzy over some weird flavor of rice or the latest running fad to hit the runners wallet in the last month. I just need the race, an opportunity,and an entry fee that won’t cost me more than my college tuition. Small makes so much more sense to me. It’s logical. To get EVERYTHING delivered with amazing aide stations (again a place for another blog) phenomenal race accoutrements and race directors, well, this is one marathon that you WILL run and you will know that you are a better person for having been a part of something special. My first Little Rock Marathon wrecked me in such a manner. Running with the Bears will astound you with the unique and scenic course and PROOVE beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only does size NOT matter, but that a smaller race may over deliver on your expectations of most any large town marathon for about ten percent of the cost.
When you finally recognize that you want to bail on that big box marathon and run more marathons next year, you will certainly find a diamond in the rough in Greenville, California. Tell Josie that MJ sent you.
P.S. Bring your BIG camera because the scenery will blow your mind. Watch out for bears.