Destination Races and Privilege

key-westAs we got ready for the Key West Half Marathon last weekend, Rebecca and I had a chat about the unquestionable privilege involved in seeking out “destination” races. We stumbled upon the Key West Half Marathon when exploring the possibility of meeting up somewhere to do a race together.

Since Rebecca lived in DC and Anita and I live in London, Ontario, someone has to travel if we’re going to do an event together. We have had our eye on Las Vegas in November, where you get to run down the famous strip. So that’s where we came up with the idea of looking for races in places that would be cool to travel to anyway.

Now, it’s no question that this is not a race plan that can work for everyone. Clearly, doing it this way requires means that we are privileged to have. Just last week I wrote about luxury gyms and whether there is something wrong with them. So it’s not as if I’m completely unconflicted about the class implications of fitness culture.

The destination event is not the only thing that challenges the sensibility of those who care about access and the way it can turn on many things including financial means. Even on a more local level, most events costs money to participate in. A simple running event in London, Ontario can cost upwards of $80 if you miss the early registration and want the t-shirt. Triathlons are even more expensive, and the equipment makes it prohibitive for many people. As someone who ventured into that world for a few years and is now backing out of it, I have a bunch of pricey equipment that I need to unload. So I’m acutely aware of the cost and even the investment. Triathlon isn’t really an activity you can just dabble in.

But running is different. You don’t need to invest a bunch of money into it. Yes, you need more than a pair of shoes, but you can get away with not much more than a pair of shoes. Entering races is the next step for most runners. And the destination races are an added luxury. Key West wasn’t outrageously expensive as a race, but getting to and staying in Key West is not a cheap prospect. Disney races are even more indulgent. The registration fee itself for most Disney events is at least $200 and can be much more than that if you do the Goofy. And a weekend at Disney is likely to cost about $1000 on top of that.

A different way of looking at it is that many of us travel anyway and are not going to give up travel any time soon. Since we travel anyway, why not throw an event into the mix or even let events determine to some degree where we might end up going for a weekend with friends? In that respect, we thought of Key West as a weekend away with friends, a January escape from the cold, with a half marathon added into it. In some ways, the half marathon justified with trip, but in other ways the trip justified the half marathon.

I don’t have a clear view about this issue and I confess that it sometimes makes me uncomfortable, as does any reflection on one’s privilege and whether exercising it perpetuates unjust social and political practices, attitudes, and structures. I understand well that I and many of the people I know live privileged lives and that some of the choices we make and opportunities we are able to access are not available to everyone. Does that mean there is something wrong with taking these opportunities?

In the scheme of things, these are higher end but not the highest. Today when we dropped Rebecca and Dan off on shore we docked in front of a brand new 200 (or more) foot super yacht. The dock hand told me the owner had paid $100,000,000 for it and that it was privately owned by an individual. I don’t even know what to say about that level of wealth other than “OMG.”

Some might say that yes, when we consider that systemic privilege often has unjust social structures as its source, there is an important social and political sense in which there is something wrong with luxurious opportunities that are not available to all. Others might say that acting on privilege is not wrong if it’s not directly at someone else’s expense. In response to luxury gyms, for example, some said that as long as there are also affordable gyms and activities available as well, then the luxury gyms aren’t depriving people of opportunities so much as creating “higher end” opportunities for those who wish to indulge in them.

Is there or is there not something unseemly about that kind of inequality of opportunity? I think it’s a difficult set of questions that are more complicated than I can tackle in this one post. But I’m happy to hear from others as to what they think. Let us know.



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