A Turkey Trot for Everyone

Sitting around in the midst of a tryptophan- and football-induced coma on Thanksgiving evening, I tweeted, “I think if you drew a line on the road anywhere on Thanksgving, 50 people would line up.” While I was being facetious, there was more than a small grain of truth in that statement. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal chronicled the rise in participation in Thanksgiving Day races, almost universally known as turkey trots, noting that 777,140 runners had finished one of them last year, an increase of 50 percent in two years. That dwarfs the 19 percent rise in entrants in other races, a figure that itself would leave most businesses drooling with envy.

That incredible growth explains why Thanksgiving Day races exhibit what I’ve come to call the “Dunkin’ Donuts business model.” ImageThose orange-and-pink festooned coffee and cruller emporiums seem to spring up everywhere, with a new one popping up in a mall or on a street corner every week. And yet, there’s no dilution in the flow of customers; new franchises don’t seem to siphon away any business from existing locations. It’s as if a new stream of customers seem to spring up wherever an outlet is opened. Continue reading

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We’re still soft, in spite of JFK’s warnings

Today, November 22, is a date that, while perhaps not living in infamy, is nonetheless seared into the minds of Baby Boomers around the country. Even those of us whose memories of past events have begun to cloud a bit with the passage of time can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that fateful day 50 years ago.

As the anniversary of the assassination of JFK hits the half century mark, news outlets everywhere are filled with retrospectives of every sort, and the sports media is no exception. Sports Illustrated ran a story on the NFL’s decision to play its games as scheduled, and almost every other sport has some sort of tie-in to the event.

ImageRunning is no exception, although its primary homage to Kennedy is longer lasting, having been held continuously since his death in 1963. Continue reading

Hitting a Raw Running Nerve

Ninety-nine percent of the time, blogs, like this one, simply evaporate into the electronic ether, and printed columns are repurposed to line bird cages or wrap fish (assuming they still sell and wrap fresh fish somewhere in America). But once in a blue moon one of them strikes a nerve so strongly it elicits hundreds, even thousands, of reactions, and even rebuttal blogs and columns, attacking the opinions originally expressed.

That was the case this week when Don Stafko wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “OK, You’re a Runner. Get Over It.”  Social media being what it is these days, the piece was quickly shared on Facebook and Twitter, and immediately began 26.2_sticker_500x310receiving reactions, most of them negative. Writers from the running segment of the journalistic world felt compelled to respond as well. Ultramarathoner and author Dane Rauschenberg was the first, followed in rapid succession by Mark Remy’s semi-humorous reaction in Runner’s World and a more serious piece by Mario Fraioli in Competitor. And while there is good deal of justification in the indignation all the writers and posters expressed, I have to say there was more than a grain of truth in what Mr. Stafko wrote. Allowing that the truth often hurts, perhaps that’s what put so many who read his piece on the extreme defensive. Continue reading

Can Road Racing Ever Make for Good TV?

When the ING New York City Marathon takes over the streets of the Big Apple Sunday, one year after the race was cancelled in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, runners from Idaho to Arizona will be able to watch it on TV for the first time in two decades.

ESPN SportsCenter anchors John Anderson and Hannah Storm will handle play-by-play duties for the first national broadcast of the New York City Marathon in 20 years.

ESPN SportsCenter anchors John Anderson and Hannah Storm will handle play-by-play duties for the first national broadcast of the New York City Marathon in 20 years.

After years of coverage on one of the local network affiliates, and some nascent attempts at webcasting, the marathon takes to the national airwaves (or technically, cables) when ESPN makes its first foray into major road race coverage with a  three and a half hour broadcast of the race on ESPN2. The coverage will be led by SportsCenter anchors Hannah Storm and John Anderson, the latter a former high jumper at Missouri who ran his first and only marathon in New York in 2010.

As one might expect from the leader in sports broadcasting, ESPN plans to introduce some technological innovations that should make this return to nationwide coverage memorable. Most notable is videoing the race in High Definition, which should make the sweat and effort on the leaders’ faces all the more dramatic (and can you imagine if there’s some in-stride vomiting action, a la Bob Kempainen at the 1996 Olympic Trials?).

But no matter how revealing the HD camerawork is, no matter how fast or close the elite races are, or how exciting Storm and Anderson can make them seem, ESPN, even if it’s the giant in sports coverage, faces one significant challenge that no amount of technology has been able to overcome thus far. To wit: 99 percent of the time, road racing, especially over the marathon distance, makes for rather dull TV. Continue reading