The separation between the sport of foot-racing and the experience of a closed-road “happening”, all under the rubric of Road Racing, has become so profound   –

A friend forwarded this YouTube video to me today.

Flash mob at the 2012 Peachtree Road Race

Though many of these people are wearing official bib numbers, when is it time to declare this something other than road racing?

What running has transformed into over these last years – well, you fill in the definition.  I, for one, would just like to see the schism made complete with people’s events and elite competitions going their separate ways.  The connection between the two has long since been broken.  And as we continue to see in the fewer and fewer race coverages on TV around the country, the charity fund-raising, costume wearing, and celebrity sightings continue to draw more and more of the focus.    Not that the pros don’t have themselves to blame for much of that transfer, but that’s another column for another day.

All I’m suggesting is giving the professional sport its due without having Suzy the news anchor go all goose-pimply as the Richard Simmons brigade toddles by sweatin’ to the Oldies at 17:00 – 20:00 per mile pace.  Not that I don’t want the brigade to get out there.  But make that a separate day’s treat, OK,  not an intrusion on my sport.  Thank you. (Nothing personal)



  1. Hi Toni,

    Are you in Chicago?

    I’ve been on Skype with Rene Kalmer about today’s world half. It is tough to figure what the IAAF is thinking in choosing the location. Look at this course map below:

    I wasn’t there, so it is tough to get the feel for the race environment, but it looks like a freakin’ race walk course. Did the IAAF really need to bring athletes coaches and officials to the Back of Beyond to end up competing on a course like this? African strength aside, you know something is wrong when only six men are under 62 minutes and only four women are under 70 minutes.

    I bring this up because of your recent blog about the dwindling lack of interest by our sports’ few remaining “fans” in the competitive side of the sport. Boneheaded moves like this by the IAAF certainly don’t help bring the best road running athletes into the media spotlight. I am sure Dave Bedford and Mary Wittenberg are doing their best on the IAAF road racing/cross-country committee, but I think they are trying to swim upstream against an IAAF hierarchy that simply doesn’t care about marathons and road racing, nor considers how to consistently present our sport’s best athletes with the same top competitive environment as they do for track and field athletes. Rene said she also noticed almost no branding on the course.

    So many great half-marathon courses and race organizations around the world, and this is the best we can do for a world championship?

    I’ll be in NYC for a full week, Tuesday to Tuesday. I hope to see you there.


    PS Rene said the South African team didn’t get their travel schedules until the day before departure. They traveled about 24 hours to arrive just 36 hours before the start; and now for the return they are staying on until Tuesday morning, finally getting home on Wednesday. It is mainly tied into the logistics of reaching a place like Kavarna, Bulgaria (not that there are many places like Kavarna, Bulgaria).

    Brendan Reilly Boulder Wave, Inc. P.O. Box 4454 Boulder, CO 80306-4454 USA Tel. +1-303-554-0597 Mobile +1-720-280-2689 Follow Boulder Wave on Twitter and Facebook

  2. I’ve been complaining about this for more than 15 years now. What took you so long to address this issue? I’ve quit running road races long ago and started competing in Masters Track meets. That’s where all the “serious” runners are. Most contemporary road races are pretty a big joke to me. No one takes them “seriously” anymore and in the long run, this will only continue to degrade the value of professional Road Racing and Track and Field in the United States.

  3. So in stead of complaining on a blog, why don’t you start organizing road races for elite runners only?

    Secondly, if you run fast enough, you don have to worry about what the slower people behind you are wearing or doing.

  4. In spirit I agree but practically wonder how you’d make it happen. Having a particular time you need to better to get into the “serious” race is going to leave out a lot of older, serious runners. Of course you could do it like Boston does and have various qualifying times for different age groups but that creates a lot of administrative work and I suspect it would be much harder checking on those qualifying times at distances other than the marathon. It could be done but I’m not sure a lot RDs would want to do it.
    And you have to wonder what the impact of eliminating those far from serious “runners” would have on the overall size of a race’s field and how that would impact a race’s revenue and ability to offer prize and appearance money to the best of the “serious.”

  5. One word….cutoffs. If you don’t reach the first mile “X” time, you’re pulled from the race. That’s what they do in Ultramarathons and it works. Let’s keep the flash dance scene and real road racing in 2 separate arenas please!

  6. Toni, I usually like your posts, but the reality is – these folks in the back of the pack are funding any semblance of competition. We need to bridge the gulf better.

    Yes it’s annoying to see a race turn into a parade, but next time you go to a professional ball game take a look at the freak show in the stands. They are having fun painting their faces, stuffing their faces and dancing. That’s why they come back.

    Fun makes money. If we keep trying to separate the two audiences, the sport will wither on the vine.

    It’s Spinal Tap then Puppet Show. Competition then parade. It’s ok to have both. We need to do what we can to wrap the completion into the package that is considered fun. Then we might have something. Unless of course we alienate the closest thing we have to an audience.

    1. You’re exactly right, Nich. What the sport needs to do is make it just as much fun to watch / attend a race as it is to participate in a race. All those people in the back of the pack enjoying the party have no idea what’s going on with the elites up front – and don’t really care. And that’s why (to respond to another comment a few notches below here), despite the huge increase in participation rates and race revenues there has not been a corresponding increase in prize purses. Elites don’t add value to the races, in large part because the fans / participants have no way of watching their performance. So what incentive does the race director have to offer them more money, rather than spending that money on a headline band or some other gimmick? You’re absolutely right that “fun makes money” and we can’t separate the two audiences – but we need to match our audience to our athletes so money from the former will make it to the latter.

  7. Absolutely dead on, sir. The event race industry has driven a wedge between the athletes and the fans by turning fans into participants (a phenomenon I’ve coined “fanticipants”). When I talk about “where are the fans of running / track & field” I can’t escape the conclusion that they’re the ones who’d rather pay $100 to participate than $10 to watch. Why watch a race when you can run a race, er, equivalent distance at a non-competitive pace?

    I think the sport (the actual competitive side) is starting to recognize this schism between the sport and the participant activity, and the consequences it’s had on our professionals. Organizations like Bring Back the Mile, the TFAA and elite track clubs – as well as individuals within the sport – are working to restore the balance and re-professionalize the sport; and start to address these issues publicly within the broader context of sports business, rather than health / fitness / mass participation, e.g.

  8. YES! I love this! Thank you, Toni, for calling it like it is.

    I think it’s so funny when people say they are going to a “race,” when they either don’t even run, or even if they do run, don’t give 100% effort towards either finishing time or finishing place. Call it what it is…it is simply a run, or a walk, not a race.

    You are welcome to do this (take it easy and just participate to get your medal or t-shirt or earn your facebook status update that your inactive friends will “like” to the moon and back), but don’t cheapen the integrity of real competition by calling what you are doing “racing.” Racing occurs when real athletes, regardless of their ability, (yes, slow runners can “compete”) push themselves to or near their limits to answer one of the following questions:

    1) How good can I get? What is my maximum potential in this sport?
    2) How fast can I finish? Can I beat my time from last year or 10 years ago?
    3) How high can I place? Can I beat the other age-groupers? Can I beat my buddy?

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