Are there any plain ol' 5Ks any longer?
Really, I have to ask. Doesn't anyone ever just run a 3.1-mile race from Point A to Point B (or if it's an out-and-back course, from Point A to Point A)?
I get a lot of announcements about upcoming races. I love those, by the way, because it's the sign of an active, healthy community. The more races being offered, the stronger and more vibrant a running community there is in an area. So don't get me wrong: it's always good to know there's a market for recreational runs.
Only, really, people? Remember regular 5Ks? You came, you ran, you got the T-shirt, you went home with the happy feeling of having exercised and socialized?
Now it seems as though races are in competition to outdo one another. It has been a while since I saw a promo for a race that didn't include some kind of gimmick. Generally, they fall into categories:
Messiness: Wear as much clean white stuff as you can because it's going to get ruined. You can get pelted with tomatoes, sprayed with colored dye, swim through mud or something else. What's next? Getting hosed with liquefied garbage? Showered with beer? Hit with water balloons? (Oh, wait, someone actually thought of water balloons; never mind.)
Weird Venues: It seems the open road is passé. Today's runners can try to make it up the steps of a skyscraper, through all levels of an entire sports stadium, through a tunnel or over a bridge. Flat surfaces? Meh.
Obstacle Races: You actually need a description? They're everywhere. Google "5K race" and then throw in a few key words like obstacles, challenges, fire, electric shocks, jailbreak, zombies, barbarians - or anything else that sounds tough. I'm honestly kind of afraid to provide links to any of these races because someone will accuse me of leaving one out.
So the question becomes: now that we're seeing a trend, do you think the regular theme-less 5Ks - the ones where you wore regular running clothes and ran for T-shirts, bananas, bottled water and the joy of the occasional random prize - are becoming an endangered species? Are the newer (and let's face it, more expensive) races crowding them out?
What worries me is something I mentioned in a previous column: the fact that in some areas, the number of races exceeds the community it's intended to serve. While that blog dealt with obstacle racing, it's not too hard to imagine a lot of big-name theme races going head to head in the same area in a compressed time, and crowding out the smaller, less flashy events, particularly those serving as key fund-raisers for local organizations.
Pessimists say the new trend isn't indicative of races in general, and that the theme races are not going to get people into running as a whole. They believe that people who are gearing up to run in a prom dress or get splattered with paint don't actually train to do so, and just look at this event as something for the bucket list, with no expectation of running another race.
I tend to be more optimistic, or perhaps Pollyanna-ish. I think for many, running is a try-and-buy sport. Crossing that finish line is a feeling that, once experienced, creates an addiction (the good kind). And maybe it gets people into recreational racing on a regular basis. That crowd develops a love for the no-frills races because of their benefits like lower registration fees and less chance of sell-outs. Then of course, there are the ancillary bonuses of smaller races: better parking, better chances at a faster time, better chances for random prizes, you name it.
I hope the little local 5Ks don't suffer in the wake of the big flashy ones. In general, though, I'm in favor of anything that gets someone off the couch, even if they're getting off the couch in order to slither on their stomach through a sea of slime.