POP GOES THE BOOM!

1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.

1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.

The running boom is over, and you can blame the millennials.  So says an article in the Wall Street Journal quoting statistics from, among others, Running USA showing a significant slide in running event participation from the peak of 19 million in 2013 to 17 million in 2015. 

With running being one of the few recession-proof industries during the height of the 2008 Great Recession, a headline like this and its supporting statistics might come as a shock to some.  But it was only a matter of time before this bubble burst, too.

 The oldest of the baby boomers are now 70 and beginning the long generational bleed out. Gen Y is still involved, but the Miilenials are off into something else, reflecting the natural rebellion one generation mounts against their elders – “this isn’t music!” But in this case it’s also a consequence of teaching an entire generation not to compete, drilling into their skulls the idea that every one of them is special and a winner, giving them all medals for showing up, and leading them to believe that 60% of them deserve an A for “just being you!” before shoving them out into a decidedly Darwinian world. Oops, I guess we didn’t prepare them very well. 

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny

What’s particularly amazing about this is America was built on competition. From the hand-over-fist pioneer spirit that drove Manifest Destiny westward (not saying it was a good or moral thing, just noting a hard-charging, can-do national spirit), to the high-risk, big-reward entrepreneurial spirit that created the greatest economic engine in history, America thrived on competition. 

I remember being at a Super Bowl party one year, and explaining to a German friend how USA Today would rank the commercials in tomorrow’s paper, not just not write about the game. Her reply was a tersely Teutonic, “everything with you Americans is competition.” And I had to agree. “That’s how we know we’re American.  Maybe not totally self-aware, but goin’ after it with refreshing vigor.”

But sometime in the 1990s we began leveling not just the playing field, but the results’ page. Now, instead of everyone getting the same opportunity at the start and an outcome determined by individual achievement, we began engineering the same outcome for all.  Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It” inferred striving, but soon simply doing became the functional equivalent of doing well. 

Everyone is a winnerThese days, everything has to be social and protected and non-competitive until the inevitable softening begins to show.  But rather than do something about it, we began to salute what we had with plus-size models and wider coffins. Finally, competition is viewed as a destructive force.  Only then do we begin to see how a backlash can form, leading to the rise of a very unconventional candidate who trumpets a return to a greatness now gone. 

But these are the sweeps of history at play, the larger changes that only become apparent after they show up as data points. 

For the Baby Boom generation running toward self-fulfillment was in its own way a backlash against the sit-ins and marches they staged during their college days when they thought they could change society at-large. In the wake of their fractured idealism they were shown a new path by Frank Shorter at the ’72 Olympic Marathon in Munich. 

Inspired by Shorter, and informed by new medical studies led by Ken Cooper in Dallas, the Boomers began working on the one thing they had any chance of changing, themselves. But in reducing the fight to an internal one-on-one battle, in their aggregate the generation did in fact help change the world. 

And now the world is changing again as time first begins to march, then trot, then run flat out until it’s away and gone. 

END

BLAZING FITNESS

Shellie Pfohl

Houston, Texas – Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition addressed the attendees of the Running USA Ashworth Youth Awards Luncheon yesterday.  A dynamic speaker, Ms. Pfohl gave an impassioned presentation illustrating the vital importance of getting and keeping America’s youth active.  She acknowlegded the need for assistance in returning physical education to the nation’s schools.  Her message was clear and concise as she preached to what was essentially the choir.  Later, I met Ms. Pfohl in the lobby of the hotel, and asked about the flight of societal hurdles facing today’s children which I’d measured in a previous post WHAT DIRECTION RUNNING USA?

I concluded, “The President’s Council has been around for nearly 60 years, through 11 presidents and spent billions of dollars.  So how would you assess the overall impact of your agency in terms of the nation’s current health status?”

“I agree with everything you are saying,” she began. “But you see, that’s what everyone thinks, that we spend billions of dollars.  Do you know what our annual budget is?  $1.2 million!”

“You’re kidding? That’s it?”

No, in fact, she wasn’t kidding.  The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which began in 1953 under Dwight Eisenhower as a cabinet-level position, is as substantial as the Hollywood back lot western town Mel Brooks used for Blazing Saddles. It’s a facade.  Just for comparison sake, Corn Subsidies in the United States totaled $77.1 billion from 1995-2010.

Then on this morning’s USA TODAY front page I see this featured story: We Must ‘find a cure’ to Save Memories, U.S. launches war to beat Alzheimer’s by 2025”.  Yet to the left of that story, along the Newsline is the blurb, “Skip drive-thru, Burger King tries out home delivery”.

If it weren’t so tragic, I guess it would be funny.  Here we are proposing to spend a real $billion or more to combat Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that causes progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, while at the same time we publicize home delivery of Burger King. We’ve become so busy/lazy as a society that we won’t even go out to the car and drive to the fast-food restaurant anymore?  Are they going to pre-chew that Whopper for us, too?  I’d say it’s a blessing we get Alzheimer’s; it makes us forget to just shoot ourselves.

Thousands of miles away old friend Jack Waitz is in Iten, Kenya witnessing first-hand the factory like manner in which the Kenyans from the Central Highlands continue to churn out world-class distance runners.

“Eye-opening, isn’t it, Jack,” I wrote on his Facebook page.

“For sure, there are mornings with 250!”  Meaning 250 runners gathering to train.

“It’s a numbers/talent/economic/cultural equation that seems beyond the capacity of any other nation,” I replied. “Kenya builds distance runners the way the U.S. builds diabetics.”

And, evidently, Alzheimer’s patients – though Alzheimer’s is only the sixth leading cause of death in America behind such traditional gravediggers as heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.  Good thing we have that $1.2 million from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition working for us. That ought to help make that Alzheimer’s initiative that much more effective.

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