I realize that I might appear as a proponent of the quantity argument and perhaps my recent journey to Seattle to run 3 marathons in 3 days supports that argument. If not my, 43 marathons this year alone should smack the gavel on the case. At what point do we consider a race a quality race? Is it the number of elite entrants or “celebrity” runners in attendance ? Some may consider it quality when a personal or course record time barrier is broken. As we age (yup, I am 40 and will begin to use this excuse A LOT) perhaps we can justify a quality race by using the WAVA age graded calculator. If you accept the notion that we are not just racing the clock but racing others then we might be able to give our race a grade based on the percentage of people we beat in a race or in our age group. Here, too, you may want to refer to the WAVA calculator to “beat” those youngsters who are only a minute or so ahead of us.
As I continue on my addictive quest to run more marathons I am often asked how I pick my marathons. For a while it was simply running a marathon in all 50 states under 3 hours and finding the least expensive way to get to the next state. I hoped to achieve a quantity goal with, perhaps, a bit of relative quality. Most of us in the 50 States Club don’t seem overly concerned about the glitz, glamor and hub-bub of races. Smack five people on the starting line and hope 3 people finish the race and you have completed a marathon and possibly picked up another state. I have yet to do a marathon with 5 starters, but that day may not be to far off if these larger races keep increasing fees and blasting obnoxious off-key music for ten seconds every two miles.
In my travels to over 260 marathons I have realized that the definition of quality for marathon races must be completely arbitrary and unless you are a race promotor who prides your race on a fast finish time, quality does not appear to be relative to anything other than the individual. People seem to be willing to pay hundreds to enter a race that slaps them on a road and throws a general bag of crap in their lap. Many of these races are overcharging and handing out shit swag or, more commonly, no swag. Hell, for $100.00 I can go to a concert with a professional band and get a T-shirt, CD and temporary tattoo. Make it twenty bucks for a Nickelback concert.
I do think that quality of races has been lessened by the overwhelming availability of races and the demand to participate. As Americans we do what our capitalistic country has always done when demand outweighs supply. We find a way to increase production and cheapen the product. Nevermind that the average quality of times has diminished in marathon races as we have gained over and hour on the average U.S. finishing time since the early 80′s. It’s tough to argue quality with regard to race times and seeing that many of these races have not only started charging entry fees and handing some of this money to pay for a faster finishing time. Even the prestige of Boston seems to have fallen prey to this “pay for a fast time” mentality. Remember that Boston, like many early marathons, did not charge an entry fee. In my opinion the races and the overall racing has definitely worsened as a whole. Most races seem to slap together a quick race, charge exorbitant amounts for an entry fee and then put volunteer labor on the hook for operation of the majority of the race. And before you point fingers, I have hosted many races and even volunteered.
Sadly it appears that the vast majority of runners are still willing and eager to flock to these overpriced “McMarathon” type chain races, paying silly money for low quality running thus promolgating the continued demise of real quality marathons.
My trip to Seattle offered the chance to run 4 marathons in 4 days. The first three marathons charged a combined total of $59.20. Ten-dollars of that went to a food bank charity. So for less than fifty bucks I raced three quality marathons where each race director knew me by name. We had REAL home made food at the finish line each day and aide stations with volunteers who knew what the hell they were doing. Quality racing and quality all around for pennies on the dollar.
I recognize that people may say that I cherry-picked these three races. But I call it being rational and frugal with my money and my sponsors dollars. Under fifty dollars for three marathons or $150.00 dollars for one race that would shoe-horn me into a corral like livestock. Cattle and pigs are corralled.
I prefer to run amongst friends in beautiful settings where I can appreciate the scenery without the chaos inherently present in the “McMarathons.” It’s enjoyable to get a hug from the race director at the finish line or receive my medal without a cattle prod jammed in my ass forcing me toward a tray of stale bagels and warm chocolate milk. We are runners not animals set up for slaughter. Or are we being monetarily slaughtered by marathon racing corporations?
Chew On This
I am also told that these “quality races” attract top end talent. Let’s face it, most of the big names are not attracted to races. They are paid to appear. Clamp down on the travel visas and the appearance fees and let’s see what type of “quality” shows up. I bet young American runners would make a quick return to the top of the podium.
Let’s bring back quality to marathon racing. I believe there are grass root marathons out there that have this same vision and I believe they have better quality than most races that are charging insane entry fees for rancid goody bags and less than attractive courses. RUN MORE, SPEND LESS!