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Friday, February 18, 2011

"Respect the marathon"

At the Pick’n Pay Marathon recently I was reminded of an advert that I came across in November 2010 at the New York City Marathon that caught my attention. The ad was for a pair of running sneakers called Pearl Izumi, they are not in South Africa (yet), but they are a fairly new entrant in the US, UK and Germany with very limited marketing budget and, obviously, audacious goals. In their quest to introduce their new brand into the market efficiently, they came up with one of the most controversial campaigns in sport I have ever heard of: “Run like an animal.” They put their A4 size ads in running magazines and are apparently now surpassing their sales targets – and alienating a lot of runners in the process.

“The marathon is a race to be run, not a box to be checked.
The early mornings. The countless miles. When you add them up, the sacrifices made by the marathoners who came before us are humbling. And yet look at how we've tarnished their legacy. Somewhere along the line, the marathon became less of a competitive sport and more of a line item on a bucket list. Now don't get us wrong. Running in a marathon is a good thing. In fact, it's a great thing. But we can all dig a little deeper and honor the marathon by treating it more like a race and less like a check box. So next time you're toeing the line, respect the marathon. Run like an animal."

“The marathon. Once a test of will, now a test of patience.
The marathon used to be an elite athletic contest. These days it’s an all day affair where some people mosey across the finish line seven hours after they started. Now don’t get us wrong. We don’t want to take anything away from these ‘finishers’. But we are fairly certain that Pheidippides wanted people to beat more than the sunset. In our humble opinion, the marathon is a race that was meant to be, well, raced. Because when you race the marathon – when you truly give it everything you have and then some – you honor the spirit of the marathon. And that is exactly what it will take to keep running’s most venerable race alive and well. So next time you’re toeing the line, respect the marathon. Run like an animal.”

The website (http://www.runlikeananimal.com/book.html ) has even more interesting pieces and controversial headlines like:

“We are not joggers”

"If you’re not sure whether you are running or jogging, go faster”

“Real running makes other people nervous”

“Runners don’t want to escape the fact that they are running” (referring to mp3 and ipod runners)

I do not necessarily agree with the campaign – I believe that a person finishing a marathon after 5 or 6 hours could well have been racing, given his or her fitness level. Hence the concept called a PB – and our sport needs people in huge numbers across all fitness levels to grow. What surprised me, though, is the extent to which the slow runners took offence. This is a campaign that is designed to stand out; it is not a personal attack on anyone. I am a slow runner too, but in this campaign I saw extremely bold marketing by a small company, taking risks that make the big guys take notice.
I remember the reaction many years ago when Oprah finished a marathon in sub-4:30. Those that subscribe to preserving the “exclusivity” of the marathon, like this campaign does, were highly offended – especially when 4:29 became known as the “Oprah line”. (Since then some well-know television anchor ran 3:30 and George W Bush completed in a cool 3:44). As far as the elitists are concerned, runners said to be taking lunch breaks and running every second kilometre all the way to finish are not worthy of the medal. Let alone celebrities and well-known individuals - they believe the shift of focus from the top finishers to the celebrity finishers “dumbs” down the sport. But we know people have taken up the marathon challenge, thanks to these celebrity “endorsements”. They also cite the statistics from Running USA that the median marathon finish time dropped from 3:37 in 1980 to 4:43 in 2008. So what? The sport has grown over the years. The elitists climbing on the Pearl Izumi campaign must deal with the fact that exclusivity does not grow the sport and does not provide sponsorships. As much as we the slow runner need to deal with a campaign like “run like an animal”.
The sport is for all of us.
I personally respect the marathon, it is long and hard. But I think “running it like an animal” is purely relative - and does make an interesting slogan.

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