(This post is a conversation between Cate and Tracy).
Cate: So we’ve been talking about this story that’s circulating about a town in Texas that’s hosting a 0.5K race, complete with a beer at the start line and donuts halfway through. Now, here’s the thing. This is supposed to be playful — their site presents the “race” this way:
- The um, “Run” will start at River Road Park, just across from the Dodging Duck. Conveniently, the Duck has offered all participants a free pint of beer before the start of the race, so get there early. Yay beer!
- The um, “Race”, will then head down the River Road Park walkway, underneath the Main Street Bridge where you will finish in a blaze of glory.
- We will then head to the Cibolo Creek Brewery to relive the experience, brag to our friends, take selfies to post on social media “I DID IT!!! I’M A FINISHER!! LOOK AT ME!!!” Conveniently, CCB has offered all participants a free pint of beer at the end of the race. Yay beer!
Now, sure this sounds fun and everything, and I get why it sold out. It’s just a fun send up of “real” races But for some reason, hearing a story on CBC about this irritated me. I’ve been thinking about why — and I know this makes me sound totally churlish — and I think it’s because it buys into the trope that everyone “secretly hates” exercise.
One headline about it was “this town is hosting a 0.5k race because running sucks.” I think I’m kind of sensitive about the shade I sometimes get about working out a lot from people who don’t — the implication that I’m some kind of masochist or showing off my virtue or a “fitness-aholic.”
Did it bug you?
Tracy: Yes, it bugged me too! My first encounter with this story was in a link to an article entitled “This town is hosting a 0.5K race for people who hate running,” but when you click through appears to be the same article as the one Cate just linked to (with one with “…because running sucks”). My reaction right away was, “FFS why don’t they just find a different activity?”
I said that before I read the article. A closer read: it’s about fun. It’s for charity. It’ll “afford you the opportunity to experience a winner’s finish without even breaking a sweat.” Because we want that finish line experience even though, according to the article, we all know that “running blows.”
So why did it annoy me? Like Cate, I just don’t buy into that narrative. If you think running blows, then don’t run.
But then what’s wrong with all the other stuff? I often find myself on the wrong side of fun-promotion (I get irritated when people talk about goat yoga, for example). Why begrudge people that “finish line feeling”? And the charity aspect, raising money for Blessings in a Backpack, a charity that feeds children in need on weekends. Or the “VIP” option where you can skip the 0.5K altogether and get an even bigger medal. I have no objection to play, but I think the whole thing pushed my philosophical buttons.
Cate, I want to hear more about your negative reaction. It’s comforting that I’m not alone.
Cate: I think I feel like you do. On one hand, I get that it’s a playful thing, and if they were trying to get attention, it worked — it’s a tiny event in a small town in Texas and they got media coverage in Newsweek, the Washington Post, a national CBC show — and they sold out. So from a marketing point of view — and from a fundraising perspective — it was a huge success. And it’s the inversion of the normal race that got them that attention. And I’m sure it was a fun event — who doesn’t love a good doughnut?
But I agree with you that there’s something at the centre of it that niggles me — something about the notion that you can skip right over the actual experience of training and running to enjoy “being a finisher.”
Partly this bugs me because of the implication that the only enjoyable part of running is crossing the finish line — like it’s all hell but at least you get to brag about it. It’s part of this whole narrative that if physical things are hard, they are inherently miserable. That’s not my experience. I thrive on hard, long, windy bike rides or tough runs, and find something deeply satisfying — and yes, enjoyable — to truly work my body to its fullest. It’s me at my most human, and I’d never want to skip over that.
And when I dig underneath, my reaction is about this bigger notion that life is about collecting experiences and knocking them off the list, not about being truly present in the moment of things. It’s the same reason the concept of bucket lists bothers me. I travel a lot, and I keep a running tally of how many countries have been to, but it’s not about collecting them — it’s about savouring the mystery and the privilege of being able to see such a profoundly amazing and diverse world.
Tracy: There is a thought experiment in philosophy called “The Experience Machine.” It lets you program in any experience and if you’re hooked up to the machine you experience 100% indecipherable from reality. The question is: would you choose to spend the rest of your life hooked up to the machine (you can’t go in and out — one decision, yes or no?)? The “right answer” for most people is “no, I wouldn’t.”
Why not? Because, so the argument goes, we value more than experience. We value actual achievement. It’s not enough to be convinced I won a Pulitzer. The experience only has value if I did earn a Pulitzer. This event purports to “afford you the opportunity to experience a winner’s finish without even breaking a sweat.” I understand that it’s just a small variation on the argument against finishers’ medals (that they’re not really “earned” and medals should be reserved for the top 3). But somehow having the experience of finishing a race without actually finishing takes it one step too far. When I get a finishers medal I am under no illusions: I have not placed 1-3. But I DID finish. And I earned that much, at least. But this… nope. There is no accomplishment.
Now maybe this view just means I’m so steeped in a cultural narrative about merit and desert that I need to take a step back and lighten up. But there is a further thing that I think is potentially lost when we make light of running (or any activity) by offering a no-benefit option. It’s not just about accomplishment. It’s also about making light of the real issue of inactivity and sedentary lifestyles that carry with them actual health consequences.
This race, apparently, even has a smoking zone. And beer. Everything in me just wants to scream “no, no, no, no, no.” I’ll take the Colour Run over this any day (and I’m not keen on the Colour Run either — for myself. Its very existence doesn’t bother me but it’s not my kind of event).
There are lots of other great ways, fun ways, to earn money for charity. Right, Cate? We brainstormed a bunch at the Guelph book launch the other day, remember?
Cate: Yup! Go bowling, have a silent auction, make art, have a disco-themed gala, invite an inspiring speaker, organize a cabaret, have a rock paper scissors contest, a thumb wrestling championship, euchre tournament, three-legged race — the world is stuffed with experiences you can fully inhabit. You don’t have to mock one of the things that’s an actual goal for a lot of people trying to become healthier.
Curmudgeonly Cate signing off ;-).