Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Running ain't just for affluent, cranky, middle-aged white men any more.

This article, The Slowest Generation: Younger Athletes Are Racing With Less Concern About Time,
has been circulating a few of my groups lately, and I have a lot to say about it. In it, a middle-aged runner complains at length about the decline in the number of competitive racers among the millenial generation—a new twist on the tired "Wah, wah, millionals suck, get off my lawn" theme.

Before reading the article, I said I had mixed feelings about the issue. Aren't there a number of elite and timed road racing events, some of which require qualifying times? Aren't there a number of mud run events that provide chip timing and elite waves in addition to open waves for everyone else? To suggest that greater interest in movement and fitness activities and greater inclusion is a negative thing is some snooty, privileged, disablist bullshit. Everyone who wants to should be allowed to participate in fun fitness events safely.

HOWEVER, these events absolutely need to limit the number of registrations they accept in order to maintain a fun and safe environment for everyone who participates. I've been learning first-hand in the last two years about shitty fucking races that are poorly organized, poorly budgeted, and straight-up dangerous: Patriot Games in Denton 2011, Firefly in Plano 2012, Mud Factor 5k in DFW this year, and the egregiously aggravating Neon Splash Dash in Arlington last weekend.*

On the upside, I'm planning 2014 more carefully around established and proven events, with a greater focus on half and full marathon road races than fun runs, adventure runs, and obstacle runs. But these hellish gimmicky first-time events are endangering their participants, leaving a bad taste in their mouths, and literally turning them off to running altogether.** THAT is what is doing the sport of running a disservice, not participants who are not competitive.

Since reading the article, I would like to say that I think the author draws a lot of faulty conclusions and is probably not very good at math. Because of the explosion in fun run event popularity, there are more races for competitive runners to choose from, so you're less likely to compete against the best at any one event, AND there are thousands more run-walkers and walkers registering and skewing the median and average result times without necessarily impacting the number of competitive runners out there, just the percentage.

I don't know anything about Olympic and world championship racing, but I fail to see how it is related to regular road races and fun run events, which happen to get more people into running at all levels of ability who never would have tried it in the first place. You can't open a running mag without seeing a profile on a now-competitive runner who got into the sport "for fun."

I find it interesting/disappointing that the Tough Mudder uses dis/able-ist language, calling timed races "lame," and am especially glad I passed that one up for the Spartan Beast instead.***

*I should put together a page where I review the events I've run and link it here.
**A friend of mine had so much difficulty getting to Neon Splash Dash and was treated so poorly at the event and refused any kind of refund that she has sworn off all races.
***My buddy bailed, so it looks like I'm going alone. Drop me a line if you'd like to run with me, pretty please.

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