Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Turn into Grumpy Cat, or How I Couldn't Even Make a Second Post Before Ranting

While assembling my notes for a future Pulitzer Prize-worthy post about how I pick my races, I realized I had essentially a whole post of things to say about what will be my first bullet point.

Seriously, my notes are a work of genius.
I only have two hard and fast rules for my 50 marathons: there has to be a finisher's medal and no Rock'n'Roll races. I will discuss my medal rule in more detail in my upcoming monster post, but for now I want to delve into why just hearing the name Rock'n'Roll (from here on abbreviated as RnR) makes me want to curl up under the couch in a defensive ball.

Because this is unfortunately not at all what RnR races are like.
This is the part of the post I assumed would write itself, but apparently you have to be Sherlock Holmes to find a history of RnR. Their Wikipedia intro is two sentences long. Now break out your Excel formulas, kids, because I'm going to say that's 14.5 RnR events per line of information. Also according to Wikipedia, they operate nine domestic marathons, though I counted 12 on the actual RnR website. (However, it is unclear whether the Wiki author is counting Montreal as an American city, so I'm going to roll with the number 12. I think there is waffling between the USA and North America to pad their numbers.) There are also many shorter distance races put on by RnR. I'm not going to discuss these here, but word on the street is they are now calling one of their 5Ks a mini-marathon, so they're probably just as evil.

I feel like the only fair way to go about this before I get to the inevitable rant is to dissect the statement RnR has carefully crafted about their races. This is theoretically their marketing message honed to perfection, so let's see if they can sell me. Up until this point, I've only gotten information from third-party sources, albeit very reliable ones. (The best comment was a forum member stating he's self-imposed a ban on all RnR events because they're so terrible.) So...can their website maybe change my mind and derail this whole post?

And you thought I managed to reference Sherlock Holmes without bringing up Benedict Cumberbatch.

Okay, round one: "The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series is the ‘World’s Largest Running Series’ with more than 500,000 people taking part in 26 North American cities each year. The series enjoys great appeal for the destination athlete, tremendous local support and has firmly established itself as a dynamic running platform."

First of all, their text highlights pink. I was nearly blinded copying in the text. I made it yellow for you, so I don't lose my millions of readers in just the second post.

I'm going to let the first sentence of RnR's statement slide, I'll just assume they're not pulling numbers of their butts. (Unrelated note - auditing is my least favorite part of accounting.) I can at least roll - haha, no - with the idea that their events draw in travelers and have local support, though I don't know if tremendous is the correct qualifier. All their events are held in major cities, and all third-party sources seem to indicate they use a massive number of volunteers. However, RnR is already losing me at the end. Jargon drives me crazy; what does "dynamic running platform" mean? I guess that their races are fun? But that three word combination seems unnecessarily obtuse if that's the point they're going for. (Or just plain awful if they wanted me to derive some other meaning, because I'm missing the boat on that one.)

Round two: "What started as a simple idea in 1998—the idea of making running fun– soon transformed the U.S. running landscape entirely by infusing music with running." Wow, just so I can allow myself to continue, I'll ignore their statement that running wasn't fun before they came along. Arrogance, heyoo. Anyway, I'll just (otherwise) basically go with what RnR is saying. I can understand how in the Walkman-era being able to more easily listen to music while in a race could be novel and cool. However, I think RnR has only begun to expand more recently, so I don't think their concept was exactly taking the world by storm until well after iPods were readily available.

Wistful exercise girl with Walkman
Back in her day, you could only listen to music while running a marathon in the snow uphill both ways.
"Suddenly, the music every mile and party-like atmosphere made long distance running approachable and more and more people participated in something they had never dreamed they could do – run a marathon." And just as suddenly, this where the sales pitch is losing me. Even if we ignore my observation above that the RnR heyday wasn't really in 1998, I doubt it made a significant impact in people's perception of the marathon. Just as an example, I looked up Team in Training, which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They were founded in 1988, a solid 10 years before RnR. It's hard to find exactly what other training resources would've been readily available in 1998, but it's clear some did exist.

Other main counterpoint - training for a marathon is not exactly easy. I'm spending four months getting myself in shape to do, after building a recent base with distance races and a more general running base for a year and a half. It's a big commitment. I'm definitely not trying to sound like an Olympian, especially since my training plan is low-key, I'm just saying I didn't roll out of bed one day and say, "Wow, I can listen to music while I run? That was literally the one thing holding me back from participating!" Uh, how about no.

I love running, and I still say this.
Round three: "Today, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series continues to celebrate the run and not just the finish, featuring live bands along the course, cheer teams and entertaining water stations. The outdoor festival encapsulates cities in their entirety and culminates with a finish line festival featuring some of the best music acts around." Okay...I'm glad RnR wants to celebrate more than the finish, but the finish is honestly the point. I doubt anyone who has something bad happen and DNFs is going to say, "Well, too bad I didn't finish, I'll just celebrate the miles I did get!" No, they're going to be pissed they trained for four months and DNFed. (And yes, yes, I'm sure there are exceptions, but I'm generalizing. This is RnR's sales pitch, it shouldn't make sense only in certain highly specific contexts.)

Also, as a strong introvert, I don't see the true need to have cheer stations or live entertainment. I think either of these could work in a case-by-case basis for themed races. I'm pretty sure my Mississippi race will be the Mississippi Blues Marathon, which I believe has live blues bands on the course. That's cool because it relates to that one specific theme.

"But, wait!" you're crying. "RnR races should be able to have rock'n'roll music then, under your parameters." To which I say, no; RnR is the brand Competitor dumps on every race, not one theme. I would accept sub-themes, say if RnR Dublin had only Irish music or something, but you can't have rock'n'roll everywhere all the time and call it a theme.

Now, I also don't want to sound like some of the nay-sayers who think any changes to running since 1900 is evil. Obviously, based on my above example, I don't think live music on the course (or something similar) is inherently evil, but I do think automatically including it or assuming it is necessary to increase participation hurts a sport that's supposed to be about mental toughness and tenacity. Even if you're trained, it takes a good amount of time and exertion to cover 26.2 miles.

If only there had been rock'n'roll music for Bannister, he could've made history.
And...that's the pitch. I have to say, I'm fairly underwhelmed. RnR has basically guaranteed me the same race, no matter where I go. There will be a major city as the destination, lots of volunteers, on-course entertainment, and a finishing festival. Nothing in their statement in any way tells me I will get to experience something unique. In other words, I should run one of their events because it's a RnR race, not because it's a race in (insert city here) or about (insert unique theme here) or even just cool because reasons.

But just for fun, let's say this sounds good to me. Maybe I had some sort of awful race experience somewhere else, and I want something familiar and comforting. Let's say I decide to register for the RnR Arizona Marathon in January. I absolutely love the Southwest and hate the Michigan winter chill, so I'm trying to pick the most favorable event possible.

I can't say I associate Chinese food with Arizona, though....
Alright, let me just grab my credit card. Whoa...pump the brakes, son, it's going to cost $120? (As a point of reference, Sleeping Bear was $65ish and MDI was $95ish, though it would've been $75 during initial registration. Hatfield-McCoy set me back a whopping $50.) Well...maybe $120 is worth it.... Tell me, what do I get with that? I'm sure it's awesome, right? What I get is as follows: a course, live on-course music, on-course cheer stations, a Brooks running shirt, a finisher's certificate, a finisher's medal, a swag bag, course support, free admission to the post-race party, and free admission to the expo. (And yes, the descriptions were just as generic on the race website. I only omitted non-essential words for brevity.)

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. You're trying to say some of the benefits including in my fee are entrances to the expo (where you're requiring me to go anyway for packet pick-up and is basically a store) and the finish line party, where I by definition have to, you know, finish. I'm also thrilled I get a course and volunteers, since, you know, those are always up in the air. I hate signing up for a race and not knowing if there will be a course!

Hmm...but wait, RnR RDs, what happens if I cramp up and have to get picked up by the sweeper bus? I'm going to miss out on almost everything my fee paid for! Huh, what's that you say? The sweeper will drop me at the finish line so I can still get my finisher's medal? Why didn't you say so? I'm obviously in!

I went and changed to my glasses just so I could make this same gesture.
No. No, no, no, no.

I have to stop this hypothetical exercise here before my own brain puts me in a self-protective coma. No race should be able to get away with charging that much money to put runners on a generic course with generic entertainment and guarantee them a medal. Running a marathon is going to be tough, but I want to know that I earned my finisher's medal and saw something cool along the way.

I didn't even have to dive in to all the third-party material I spent the afternoon collecting and reading, but for anyone who wants a good cry, I can recommend the following:

Want to read about all the insane extra fees you'll pay on top of that grossly high registration amount to pick up someone else's packet for them because you're a nice person? How about their crazy medieval rules about bib transfer? And my personal favorite, the utter failure that was their first Las Vegas race. (Everyone, check this last one out for reals. It's what led me to research the topic and really decide I would never do a RnR race.)


tl;dr: RnR sucks. If I'm going to spend my disposable income traveling around the country, I want to see awesome stuff at reasonable prices. Not listen to rock'n'roll music in a giant cluster of humanity.

Because if Hell exists, this is what it looks like.

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