Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marathon Matrix - Free Beer and Running for God

When people ask me how I liked a certain marathon, I tell them that the course was such and such and the fans were blah blah blah and the organization and hills and expo and weather were yadda yaddda. All nice but, ultimately, unsatisfying. What about the cold hard numbers? How did the race stack up, in a concrete, quantifiable way, with respect to the others I've run? In order to more efficiently convey to people the essence of a race, I've developed a patented, validated, reliable, research-based, generalizable statistically significant method of marathon evaluation. Here is the six part matrix:

1) Granola / Corporate Ratio:

Giant, corporate sponsored races tend to be well organized but impersonal. Small, grassroots races tend to be heartfelt but sloppy. It's great to have clocks throughout the course, lots of water stops and, as is the case in at least one race, an iPhone app that lets people track your progress real-time. But it's also great to have impromptu live bands, people banging on pots and pans in their yards, kids passing out orange slices and the general sense that the people in town are actually glad to have the event going on.

A "5" rating on the G:CR means perfect equality between granola (guy running the marathon dressed in a full-body banana suit) and corporate (glossy event program listing location of each porta-potty and GU station). A "1" rating means total lopsidedness towards one or the other end of the spectrum (no information about where to stay when you're in town; silent fans holding pre-printed "Go Runners" signs with corporate logos;).

2) Running for God / Charity / Because I'm Such a Serious Fucking Badass Factor:

In a democratic society, all citizens have the right to express their opinions by voting and wearing custom-printed wicking tee shirts. A marathon takes a long time to run - usually about 4 hours in my case - so you have lots of time to read about why exactly each person has decided to run. It usually has something to do with God encouraging this sort of thing (through some convoluted interpretation of a Bible verse), trying to raise money for people who have lost arms in combine accidents, or just to prove to the world what pain-resistant, odds-defying specimens of machoness they are (read more about running for charities here). There may not be anything wrong with all this, but I hate it. Why why why can't anyone take part in a race for the sole, unique reason that they like to run?

A "5" rating on the RFGCBISASFB factor means a relatively low percentage of prosthelytizing running shirts (or at least funny ones, like "Running for Mustache Awareness"). A "1" rating means that every single goddamn runner has to make it publically known what holier than thou reason they have for showing up.

3) We're All In This Together Factor:

In case it hasn't become abundantly clear to you yet, I am a cynical, cynical person. But the atmosphere at the beginning of a race makes me all soft and mushy, and I always start thinking about how great humanity is and how nice it is that we're joined together to take part in a common event. At least until everyone pops in their iPod buds and disappears into their own personal parallel universes. A lot of races have also started offering VIP tents at the end where paying patrons can have hot meals, cocktails and massages in a roped-off tent away from the unwashed masses. What kind of team spirit is that? At the end of a race, we're all unwashed masses; let's hang out and stink together!

A "5" rating on the WAITT factor means lots of chit-chat during the race and maybe even a high five with a stranger at the finish line. A "1" rating means running groups that only cheer for one another and excessive use of personal music devices. One single runner talking on a cell phone during a race (this happens; I'm serious) can lead to an automatic "1" rating.

4) Boredom Factor:

You might assume that if the city hosting a race is a boring city, there's not much they can do about it. Not true. You'd be surprised - when you've been running for a few hours and are verging on delirious - what kinds of things can be interesting. Pretty natural landscapes, nice skyline views, interesting paths through neighborhoods - all good. But equally interesting can be a fresh piece of roadkill, a funny sign, a loud domestic disturbance. Anything to break up the monotony. Race organizers don't necessarily think about this much, but any little thing that might cause a brain synapse to fire can make a race easier and more enjoyable.

A "5" rating on the B factor means varied landscapes and good signs ("run like you stole something", "you've got endurance; call me"). A "1" rating means a long slog through nowhere, with nothing to think about but your chafing nipples and blistery feet.

5) Free Beer at the Finish Line Factor:

This factor is simple. There either is free beer at the finish line or there is not free beer at the finish line. Note to race organizers who may try to game the system once my rating methodology becomes the global standard - this is an easy element to manipulate. Buy a keg, put it at the finish line, give beer to runners, don't make them pay for it.

A "5" rating on the FBATFL factor means there is free beer at the finish line. A "1" rating means there is not. There are no "2", "3" or "4" ratings on this factor.

6) Swag Factor:

It's pretty obvious that people love cool, free shit. Free is free, but the level of cool can vary greatly. (Of course, nothing is really free. With marathon entrance fees now often pushing $100, you are paying for every piece of free shit you get. But, since there's usually a six month gap between paying the fee and getting the shit, the shit feels free). And the cooler the free shit is, the more likely it is that it will be used beyond race day, thus potentially affecting future recall about how great the race was in the first place. A shirt and some kind of bag are pretty standard fare. Shirt quality is important. Weave, stretch, sizing, wicking-ness - all make an impression. The heft and design of the finisher's medal is important too. The ideal medal is beautiful, heavy and massive. You should feel equally comfortable hanging a medal in your living room and killing someone with it.

A "5" rating on the S factor means clothing made of beautiful rich, supple fabrics, and trinkets and accessories that turn heads on the subway. A "1" rating means a bunch of coupons for 15% off a footlong sub and a pair of last year's socks.

So, next time anyone asks me how a marathon was, I'll just reply with a number between 6 and 30. That's all they'll need to know. If it's a 30, I was welcomed with open arms into a beautiful city, saw mountain peaks and roadkill, made 50 new best friends, and drank beer all afternoon while wearing a magnificent new shirt. If it's a 6, I slogged through a desolate corporate wasteland and I'm now bored, angry and thirsty with nothing to show for the whole endeavor but two chapped nipples and a bag full of crappy coupons.

Note from the editor: the research and evaluation methods discussed in this post were created solely by Dan Janis, are all fucked up, jumbled, half-baked and don’t make any sense. Nothing contained herein has in any way been endorsed by, or is representative of any of the work of, Dr. Leslie K. Goodyear, Ph.D.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Clarifying point requested: (1) important not to go public with why one runs, aside from the love of running (which is so inspirational - I think Bill Belichick coaches football for the love of coaching....feel the energy!) as that is annoying to you, but also (2) important to embrace the "unity" vibe. Doesn't achiving one negate the other?