Monday, November 15, 2010

Jef pays the price

One of my smarter friends and readers (which is like the Pope saying "one of my more pious cardinals and bishops") just sent me this article from the San Jose Mercury News about the high price of competition in the endurance-sports department.

It's a really interesting story. They all are. And I don't know what this says about the once (or allegedly) simple and cheap sports I love, but it's one of many articles pointing out that they've become about as simple and cheap as golf (which, come to think of it, was probably once simple and cheap). At least I don't have to pay to practice. Unless you count the health club with the pool. Um. Er. (Or with the stationary bicycles and treadmills, which I avoid until I don't.) Or the coach. Gee, this is uncomfortable.

What cracks me up is that, when asked why these events cost so much, no one gives the Occam's Razor-simple and Occam's Razor-accurate answer: Because people will pay it. Exhibit A: Cheap, simple me. I'll be racing the Boston Marathon this year. I wasted a full morning trying to register, and I was one of the lucky ones who got in before the race filled -- eight hours after registration opened six months before race day. Registration fee was $130 plus God knows what service charges. (Which, at about 25,000 racers, nets the promoters $3.25 million before sponsors get involved, rather squishing the argument that it's all those lifeguards, most of them volunteers, who make triathlons expensive.) But that will barely show up as a blip on the next Visa statement, buried under the hotel reservation (imagine what 25,000 runners and their entourages do to hotel rates on Patriots Day weekend) and airfare (ditto). This is seriously going to eat into my ability to purchase the overpriced "Look At Me I Qualified" Boston Marathon windbreaker I will absolutely, positively be buying at the race expo.

Two weeks before Boston is the Martian Marathon in Dearborn, Mich. The Martian, like Boston, is exactly 26.2 miles long. It will be impeccably, professionally organized, accurately timed and luxuriously supported with fluids along the course, food at the finish line and a high-quality, if a bit loudly designed, shirt. The start/finish is less than a half-hour drive from the house -- mine, as it happens -- where I'll be staying. The entry fee is $69, and nobody has to blow a morning of work time trying to register before it fills.

I could have signed up for that one. In fact, I did sign up for it the past three years and things came up (hernia surgery; USO tour; Alcatraz swim). I could have signed up for it this year instead of Boston, but instead I opted to be one of those guys I used to think I could snort at. I'd love to think I'm choosing to pay the big bucks to be a part of a grand tradition, to be part of arguably the greatest footrace in American history. And I am. But that's hardly the whole story. What I'm doing is joining a club I once thought would never have me.

I can't wait to feel the buzz on the starting line. I can't wait to pass those hallowed landmarks, and I can't wait to cross the finish line. But I also can't wait to show up at a group run with my Boston Marathon jacket. To picture some of my friends and peers accepting me as, well, not elite, but perhaps competent. And maybe to inspire some other runners to eat right, train hard, focus, persevere and catch some lucky breaks until they, too, can blow many hundreds of dollars on a race they could do for the price of a nice dinner out.

It's lunacy. The problem is, it's worth it.


Dee Wolter said...

Yup, people will pay to play!...and in a big hurry too! 16,000 bibs sold in 18 minutes?

Jef Mallett said...

Wow, Dee! Nordic skiing gets it, too. No sport is immune (though that is like the Boston Marathon of skiing). You know, every fall I find myself wishing I lived where it was snowy enough to take Nordic skiing seriously. And every year that feeling is eventually replaced with relief that I'm forced out of one more expensive, time-consuming obsession. But man, I love that sport.

Lars Larson said...

I love your reminder that The Martian is exactly 26.2 miles long as well. And maybe it is just sour grapes on my part, but I will say the same thing about Kona versus Coeur d'Alene. I do think that it all needs to be de-mystified.

That said, I simply can't believe that my wife's Boston shirt has remained IN THE CLOSET ever since the day she ran it. She has left it there because she qualified, she trained and she ran it FOR HERSELF. I have tried and tried to get her to understand that even though SHE might think of it as boastful to wear it, other think of it as inspiring. But I would have held you in just as much esteem had you qualified and then NOT gotten a spot...and had to run Martian instead.

Ed Rush said...

Dee's citation was about Nordic racing. Just skiing has become an example of the "people will pay to play" comment. When I started cross-country (XC) skiing, the skis were a few bucks and I wore the same wool pants and layered clothing that I already had for cool-weather backpacking. Then the same folks who made Alpine skiing so trendy and expensive got hold of XC, with special clothing, expensive equipment, and pricey trail passes. Playing hockey never was all that cheap, at least in recent times, but the same sort of feature-creep has happened there, too. Bah.

veloben said...


I am more than willing to help sponsor (I know you were not fishing for individual sponsors, but hey you're a good cause)some portion of your trip east.

What's your rate for a spot on the back of your wetsuit?