Friday, August 17, 2012
They are, for the most part, races that started before the "Running Boom," at a time when the late Alex Ratelle, who was one of the area's Masters champions, would train at night in his Edina neighborhood because, he joked, he didn't want the neighbors to see him out running in his "underwear" because running wasn't trendy back then. Exercise wasn't cool.
Makers of running shoes and fitness gear were limited primarily to the companies started by the German Dassler brothers, Rudolph and Adolph, Adidas and Puma. There was no Nike, Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno, or the host of other companies now specializing in fitness gear for the burgeoning running and triathlon crowd. Many of the races were started by people, such as Pat and Emily Lanin, who loved the sport, and wanted an outlet other than just training runs with others.
Today, the running calendar is crowded with multiple races every weekend. What began as ways for the runners of that era to challenge themselves over a variety of distances against a range of competition from elite to recreational runners has boomed into a fitness industry. Charities use races to raise millions of dollars in donations. Cities see the events as a revenue producers for tourist dollars, "destination events" that bring thousands of people to their area, not only to run, but to rent hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, and buy stuff at local businesses.
Running is big business. In the process many of the legacy races have either grown into something much bigger with more than one event per race weekend or have disappeared from the calendar. The Boston Marathon is a legacy event. It started as a small group of runners who wanted to participate in what was the ultimate challenge--running a marathon. It's tradition, history, and legacy is known worldwide. It wasn't created to be a crown jewel of running, just a race. A way for like minded athletes to test their stamina, their athleticism, their competitiveness.
Today's mega events are part social, part athletic. People walk, walk/run, jog, run, or race them. Results, times are not as important as participation. Supporting a cause, or doing something with your friends is often the motivation. This has opened up the sport to a much larger audience, and has created an entire industry that caters to the participants. The seeds that grew these events are the legacy races.
Recently, Mike Reneau, an elite runner, qualifier for the US Olympic Trials, decided to take on the responsibility of directing one of these legacy races, the Hopkins Raspberry Run 5-mile, a race the Lanin's brought to prominence decades ago. His reason for accepting this challenge was that he wanted to give something back to the running community.
While charities and other organizations benefit from most running events, the running community is has always provided the altruistic engine that allowed them to happen. Reneau, and others in the running community all the way up to the board of directors of the Road Runners Club of America, believe that the sport of running is as deserving of benefit as any of the groups that currently profit from the sport.
While other charities thrive, the "charity" of running has not. So, Reneau's idea was to take the money earned from the race and put it back into the running community in the form of funds for the local Hopkins school track and cross country programs. Every school district has budget issues, and often this results in cutbacks, participation fees, or other impediments for school athletic programs. Why not use running to raise money for running development, said Reneau?
He's realistic in that the Hopkins run is never going to be Get in Gear or the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in terms of earning power or participation, but it doesn't have to be. It can merely be a way to demonstrate a different model for running charity. Runners supporting runners. He added a mile race to the format for the Raspberry run and gives free entry to the kids. No money changes hands, but the youth get a chance to show off in front of the crowd gathered in town for the Festival parade and activities.
The future of running meets the present. And runners of all ages and abilities get to mix, share stories, pass on their knowledge, and enrich the experience. It is an interesting experiment and potentially a model for other legacy events to use to engage their communities and add to their legacy. One of the more attractive elements of running as a sport has been the ease of adopting it as a fitness exercise. No more running in the dark of night. Celebrate the sport. Enhance the legacy.
Posted by jdf at 11:25 AM