I have run in places all around the world, and it seems as if the least pleasurable place to participate in an organized race is here in my homeland America. Though I know all cities and states are different, but where I live all the organized races cost at least 20 dollars because it is a race for charity, and they make such a big deal about signing up in advance, that at some races you cannot even participate. I compare this to other local races I have participated in other countries and remember how nice it was to wake up that day and decide to run a race, pay only 5 dollars for the entry fee, and enjoy a run with other people without the overpowering presence of advertisers, organizers, and sense of business rather than sport. Do you think that America has taken the fun out of running a race, or am I just one of the few, and the American runner feels at home in this atmosphere? Do you think that those like me can every find simpler days here in America?
It's sad but true that commercialism, with all of its good intention, snappy jingles and mind-numbing catch phrases, often eliminates the spontaneity and passion that many American runners bring to the starting line of an American run race. For many of us, a major advantage of our sport is found in the relatively inexpensive investment needed to get out there. While it's true that some shoes cost more than others, and it's already been established that expensive neon fabric can improve racing performance by an unknown factor, when it's time for us to test our limits in a race we shouldn't expect to pay soaring prices for the pleasure of the run.
I'm all for charity, most of us are. Like you, I make a number of charitable donations and financial contributions on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. These are good causes that I care about, and it feels good to help those in need, or causes that are just.
At the same time, I'm also a believer in capitalism. If you have something to sell, I think you should be able to do so, and competition should work to improve your product with the aim of profit and high quality. I also think it's good and fair to utilize advertising as a means of promoting your product, but please leave them out of my races.
In America, there are few races that do not serve specific charities and use sponsorship to increase the profitable margin for the promoters and organizers. In a sense, this works in favor of the runner, as it offers him or her a variety of events in which to compete. The downside is that each race can cost between 12 and 25 dollars in registration. For those of us who enjoy weekly competition, this so called "free sport" can quickly become a significant budget item.
I understand that timing officials, race organizers and police departments have to be paid fees to utilize the roads for the larger events, but I'm one runner who would rather make a charitable contribution to a cause, separate from the race itself.
Which brings me to my wife's thoughts on the subject. Recently, I decided to run one of the larger events here in New England, and mailed in my pre-registration form and fifty dollar fee about a month before.
"I have an idea" my wife exclaimed. "Why don't you save your fifty bucks, and we'll host a race for you right here!"
"Huh?" I asked.
"Sure" she continued, "We'll call it the Steve Walker Memorial Dash, and you can just run around the neighborhood. We'll set up a water station for you, and you can run 26.2 miles around and around the block. We'll even cheer for you each time you pass the house!"
"I dunno" said I.
"And the best part about this race is that you'll come in first place!" she offered.
"Very funny" I smirked.
"And the registration cost is minimal" she added, "Only ten bucks!".
"Ten bucks?!!" I asked, "What for?"
"Charity" she insisted.
"Charity? What charity?" I asked.
"The Give Me A Break From All These Dumb Races That My Husband Runs Each Week Coalition".
It was a nice thought, but I had to opt out of that one.
Charity is good thing, and we all should be encouraged to give to the needy; but there's a time and place for it. There's a place for commercialism and profit too. I just wish it wasn't found in the entry fee to my weekend road races. Can simpler days be found? Is there a movement towards the "good old days" of the five dollar race?
I don't have an answer for you this week, except to invite you to the first annual running of the "Steve Walker Memorial Dash". What it lacks in amenities it more than makes up with crowd support.