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home > community > viewpoint > pub race coming of age portends a culture shift

Pub Race Coming of Age Portends a Culture Shift
It required a swim in the Atlantic Ocean, but I got my “Hangover Classic” glass.

Pub Race Coming of Age Portends a Culture Shift
Heading for the Atlantic

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By Christopher J. Russell
Posted Thursday, 8 January, 2004

That makes two. I got one last time I ran this New Year’s Day event three years ago.

Much had changed. The venue was new. The course was different. The field was larger. The race felt different. It was like when you see a familiar youngster after a long separation and they are a foot taller. You are still glad to see the niece or nephew but you are forced to say, “My Goodness, look at you!”

There are many ‘pub’ races in the area. Most pub races were started as an excuse to drink beer in the time honored tradition of sports and alcohol. They are the result of members’ efforts to smear a veneer of legitimacy across the act of hanging out in a bar with your running buddies all weekend.

I’m sure the original guys who decided to run a 10k and go swimming in the ocean on New Year’s day never thought it would grow into more than 680 participants.

One of the things I noticed this year was that the crowd was a lot better dressed. This was not the motley collection of sweatshirts and ski caps that greeted me in 2001. All the local clubs were in their matching uniforms, like at the Mill Cities Relay. There was also an abundance of Boston Marathon logo-wear.

It impressed me as slightly odd that runners should be making an effort to look good for a pub race on New Year’s Day. I was intimidated that I would soon be competing against all these apparently proud veterans of many marathons. I introduced myself to two healthy looking young gentlemen in matching Boston 2003 outfits while stretching.
“So, you guys run Boston?” Says I,
“Yeah, last year.”
“How’d you do?”
“Well, Bob hear ran a 4:15, but the heat got to me…”
It turns out these guys earned their stripes by raising $5,000 bucks for a charity. Looking around, I thought there was definitely a culture shift going on.

I’m probably the last one to notice, but the sport is becoming mainstream. It is either a ‘good’ thing or a ‘bad’ thing, depending on your point of view. But, regardless of my or your point of view, change is happening and it is a symptom of a broader cultural shift.

I wondered how the numbers had changed in three years, and if they support my hypothesis that a broader swath of the American public no longer sees running on New Years Morning as aberrant behavior?

I did some research. I compared the results from the two races I ran. The 2001 race had 620 finishers. The 2004 race had 689 finishers. That’s a nice increase of 11% overall.
But, are more ‘new-runners’ running? Or are these races just getting better pull? One thing that supports the ‘new-runner’ hypothesis is that the number of 10K runners was almost exactly the same this year as three years ago, however, the less-taxing 5K participation jumped by 25%.

What about the quality of the field? I took a sample reference point from the middle of the pack. This guy, (we’ll call him AverageGuyRunner) ran 41:33 in 2001 for a 56th place finish. That same pace in 2004 would have put him in 56th place. No change in the mid pack.

I bet that if someone (who can figure out the formulas in Excel) did a statistical survey of local results over the last 5 years, they would discover some trends. I bet the overall average pace is dropping as participation increases. I bet there are substantially more women running. I bet the field is getting older, on average. That’s what it looks like to me.

Now, getting back to whether it’s a ‘good’ thing or a ‘bad’ thing… It’s definitely good for local events that are reaching more people. It’s definitely making the sport more accessible and inclusive. It raises the quality of the sport for everybody.

It makes you wonder what is going to happen when the sports marketing people smell money in the trend. What bombastic marketing barrage will we be subjected too? Will we be seeing J-Lo sporting a B.A.A. cap at a press conference? Are we to become, heaven forbid, ‘trendy’?

I would also venture to say that these trends are bad for the traditionalist. The reclusive recidivists who, despite their warm talk, like to think of their sport as a ‘fringe’ activity. They will just have to continue to find refuge in their ultra-marathons and other extreme variations.

Perhaps I think too much. I had a blast at the race. The race was fun. The course was flat and forgiving. The weather was warm, (for New England). The race was well organized. The après party was happy and hopping. The free beer flowed. The people were nice, and the water was cold, but felt great on my tired old legs.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if those two young men in the nice active-wear would be surprised to know that Bill Rodgers won Boston, (and set a course/American record) in a T-shirt that he hand lettered with a marker before the race?



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