by Elan Paulson
In the past, folks may have exercised, partied, and donated money within the four walls of their homes, but the party run phenomenon has taken all three of these activities outside.
On September 24th, I’m participating in a local Mudmoiselle 5K race. My initial reasons for signing up were a) fun/novelty, b) exercise/personal health, c) social time with soccer teammates, d) charity support. Friends and family have generously pledged donations, particularly to honour the lives of those we’ve both loved and lost, and so that’s been another added “feel-good” reason.
But I’ve noticed that a popular industry has developed around the Have-Fun-Exercising-With-Friends-While-Doing-Good formula. To participate in one high-demand New York race (where the medals are Tiffany diamond necklaces), you have to win a place in the run by lottery. And the scope and size of these events can turn 35 minutes of 5K runninginto an entire day or weekend dance party, music festival, or girls’ retreat–so I’m calling them not fun runs but full-out party runs.
Speaking of girls, many of the party runs target women by offering “girly” end-of-race items like chocolate and champagne, wine and appetizers, shopping, elaborate swag and gift bags (with paid VIP pickup) , manicures and massages, even handsome men bestowing medals or roses at the finish line. There’s often a dress-up component, but that too can reinforce well-worn gender norms (at the Disney World race, runners dress as their favourite princess). I agree with FIAFI bloggers that women’s only runs are good for women. But I’ve also blogged before on the double-edge sword of tough-but-girly names and practices that risk participant exclusion, and these abound in party runs like theDiva Dash, Pretty Muddy, Island Girl, Dirty Girl, and Gritty Goddess.
And for the boys? You may not be surprised to find in Warrior Dashes or Spartan Races obstacles that are weirdly violent or dangerous (e.g. first, barbed wire, live electricalwires), and end-of-race activities like drinking beer, eating turkey legs, and wearing Viking hats. Most of these runs are for women too, but their gendering can turn them intothe equivalent of blue and pink Toys ‘R Us aisles…but for adults.
There are certainly personal health and social benefits to party runs, not unlike the gaming-gone-public craze of Pokemon Go, which I have also blogged about. And who could begrudge a party run race with a hug station? But, not unlike PG, gendered stereotypes and corporate agendas bleed in to party runs, as also do the interests of large charity organizations.
In particular, the Canadian Cancer Society makes available a content management system (Convivo) and other event tools at what seems to be no cost for event organizers.While this opportunity may be effort and time saving, I imagine this exchange of tools for official charity status gives the CCS and other “have” charities more exposure andaccess to sponsorship, making it harder for smaller and more local “have not” charities to break into the arena of party run fundraising.
I don’t even have a clue what all this intentional muddying of run sites and weekend festival/campouts mean for their environmental impact (though I’m pretty sure this run’s balloon release is not a good idea for nearby wildlife).
You can say to me, “Elan, today’s feminism can mean choosing to be fit and still pretty,” or “Elan, as long as people are getting exercise and it’s for a good cause, there’s no harm.” But the idea of exercising while dressed as a princess seems utterly ridiculous to me, while the prospect of running 5K while eating donuts turns my stomach. At what point are health benefits of exercise negated by all the food, the booze, and the krispy kremes (which you may or may not count as food)? At what point does team-buildingdevolve into a corporate sponsor shopping sprees? When does “doing good” become really just a feel-good excuse to party and spend?
Please don’t think me an exercise purist: I’m still excited to run in the Mudmoiselle for all the ways it will make me feel good. But I recognize that by party running (run partying?) I am also complicit in the ways in which this event may also have negative impacts—culturally, economically, and environmentally. And I may choose my runs a little more carefully in the future.
We can bring the party to the outdoor run, but—just like those old-fashioned “indoor“ parties—someone will still have to clean up whatever mess is left from the previous day.
Elan Paulson is less fit than feminist but plays recreational team sports, tries any new form of exercise, and chases after her two cats when they jump the fence. She works at her stand-up desk as Director of the EdD Program at Western University’s Faculty of Education.