Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Running of the Pasty Accountants – JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge 2009

Last week, I participated for the third time in the Boston leg of the annual JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge - a 3.5 mile run / walk that now takes place in 12 cities around the globe. Here is my analysis:

The JPMorgan Corporate Challenge raises a little money for charities and, by my quick calculations, a pile of money for JPMorgan Chase (it's possible that, in the current banking environment, the race is JPMorgan's most profitable arm). 12,000 people took part in this year's Boston event. The idea behind the corporate challenge is that, for one hour a year, it's fun to coax a bunch of the city's pasty professionals from out of their cubicles, see their reaction to the sun, and watch them try to trudge up and down Back Bay. Watching this race is probably every bit as entertaining as watching the Boston Marathon, albeit for different reasons.

Finish times this year ranged from just over 17 minutes to a bit under a week. Some participants always walk the whole course, which is fine, but those taking up the extreme rear of the group have to keep an eye on the ambulance that follows the last person. It's hard to drive a motorized vehicle that slowly, and the slightest spasm of big toe on accelerator can cause an ambulance driver to run over the very people he's supposed to be looking out for.

There are always some hardcore runners that take part in the race, but there are a lot more people who, for the 364 days between the last race and the current one, have not burned more calories in any one day than it takes to flick on the power switch of a dictaphone. Going from that to self-locomoting their own bodies over 3.5 miles of asphalt has to be a shock, and I am positive that there are hundreds, possibly thousands of fatal heart attacks during the race each year. Yet I've never heard a report of a single person dying during the race. My guess is that JPMorgan uses some of the funds raised in connection with the race to "disappear" the victims like they used to do in South America. Maybe agents, dressed up as cheering fans, run out to the victims and, pretending to give them big supporting hugs, pull them off the course, Weekend-At-Bernie's-style, and dump the carcasses into some discretely circulating sanitation vehicle. If a lot of families are curious mid-June of every year as to whatever happened to that guy who used to be at the breakfast table every morning, maybe they just never got around to asking any questions and realizing that similar things were happening all over town.

As implied by the name of the race, only employees of companies can participate; no individual stragglers are allowed. There are detailed rules about who is considered an employee, and minimum sizes for the teams. The quest to come up with the best, funniest, most stylish and most pithy company tee shirt is a major component of the race. What better way could there be to build company team spirit and get people to sign up for an after-hours work event than to promise a free, colorful, all-cotton tee shirt! The main categories of tee shirt hilarity are: post-race beer drinking jokes ("if found, return me to 222 Berkeley St., and please settle my tab"); industry-specific references (Superman glyph that says "New England Properties - able to lease tall buildings in a single bound!"); and plain old boring ("Acme Accounting - running for a brighter tomorrow"). It's not a surprise that most of the shirts are so milquetoast. Whatever strengths big companies may have, coming up with edgy, amusing tag lines is not usually one of them. And so it is also not surprising that the best tee shirt I have ever seen at the Corporate Challenge, hands down, looked like it was homemade and was worn by what may have been a vigilante non-corporate-affiliated runner. It said: "pass me and our intern loses a finger." Now that is funny, but most definitely not something you're going to see make it through a law firm vetting process.

The Corporate Challenge does not differentiate between types of corporate participants, which is, of course, highly unfair. The winners are always people who work at Nike or City Sports or Healthworks. For those types, whose corporate culture encourages going out and doing an Ironman triathlon at lunch, running 3.5 miles is about the law firm equivalent of making a copy or sticking a label on a file folder. On the other hand, bragging to other runners about kicking ass in the corporate challenge is, I imagine, about like bragging to rival gang members in the prison exercise yard about beating up a kindergartner and stealing his lunch. Not something that wows crowds.

Overall, it's great to see - and the whole point of the corporate orientation of the race is to promote - people out there getting some exercise who otherwise wouldn't. That being said, there is a reason we dress our executives in full suits and ties - so that we only have to see about eight square inches of their flesh. It's good to bond with your coworkers, but there's something to be said for making it through your whole career without ever having to see a skimpy pair of running shorts riding up the top of your boss' pale, hairy, naked thigh. Never mind. Try to forget that thought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good blog on the Corporste Challenge. Clever, well-written and funny. Enjoyed it.