Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Friday, July 21, 2017

No trophies or stylized photos for reading this one

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of finishers of marathons in the U.S. rose from 143,000 to 509,000 -- an increase of over 350% -- and has since leveled off. (I suspect that this figure doesn't represent the number of different people, but rather, simply aggregates the finisher totals from domestic events.) During that span, the U.S. population rose by about 35%. 350% is significantly more than 35%.

Concomitantly, road race fees have risen far out of proportion to inflation. Casual runners, who obviously account for almost all of this increase in race fields, present a different set of needs and wants than those who train primarily to compete against themselves or the clock. It would probably be all but impossible to stage a successful marathon these days without the promise of things like bands along the course and nothing short of a catered meal at the finish instead of a much of bagels, water, and bananas.

I idly wonder how much the removal of two things only from the scene would drop demand for race bibs overnight:

1. Finisher medals
2. Professional photographers on the course

I honestly believe that at least 50,000 of those half a million or so marathoners would quickly lose interest without the option of broadcasting the feat of running 26.2 miles in a series of pixels of showing themselves with medals around their necks on social media. And that may be a conservative estimate.

Now add in: No T-shirt. No official pre-race expo/dinner. No goodie bags. No externally contrived memories of the event other than pictures your friends and family took and your name in the results bank.

Obviously this is a purely speculative question, but based on how I have seen running evolve in the past 20 years -- in a very predictable way based on evolving technologies and trends -- it's sort of interesting to me. People my age and older wouldn't blink if all that stuff went away, not because we're fundamentally less self-absorbed but because we didn't enter the sport (so to speak) as it exists today. There is no putting the cat back in the bag on this one.


  1. Yup, the bananas are staying that's for sure. Crazy Runners Beck. Not like us at all! Hey, when you went to Bryant the school Blackstone Millville was a powerhouse. I lived down the road on Lake CHAUGAGAGA or Webster Lake,you know. All I heard growing up as a kid was Willie Nelson and all them because Indian Ranch in Webster was outside my window! Now it's not about hearing because I gave up on listening. Only the prettiest "girlie" runners in western Ma with the them lil puppy dog eyes. I got 1 on a leash and she damn loves it. Those puppy dog eyes kill me Beck!

  2. I was wondering how it's out there for You in Colorado. The only 2 things in the US I am afraid of is a mountain lion and a Wolf. We have them here around Quabbin and of course one was killed unfortunately on a road in Connecticut. I haven't seen any Wolves around here. I guess though if I was You Kev I would be more concerned about a Wolf if You have food on You. Bad news recently. I put an apple on a licorice string and attached it to a fishing reel at a location where they keep a couple locked up in New England and believe it or not the WOLF has been getting the most upset when it doesn't get the apple. NOT THE MOUNTAIN LION. So be careful. They end up really happy though when you open your backpack at the end of the event to a brown bag and start launching fresh organic pricey apples from local farm stand where the lady is understanding and gives me a lil discount. Never had 1 problem with any species of Bear. Take care Kev.