Saturday, January 05, 2013

How to Write about Running Races

I ran in another running race today. The second one this week. This may be the start of a trend.

I feel like I should write a blog post about it, and perhaps an article for my running club's newsletter.

But I really don't how to write about running races.

It's easy to write about my sailing races. Weird stuff always happens. Stuff breaking. Collisions with other sailors and buoys. Bad decisions. (Very occasionally) good decisions. Capsizes. Crazy weather. Crazy waves. Crazy other sailors. It's a laugh a minute.

But in a running race, not much happens. You start. You put one foot in front of the other for a certain distance (4.8 miles today.) You finish. How can you write an interesting article about that?

So I decided to do some research. I looked back through some running blogs and newsletter articles to find out what runners write about, which is presumably the same things that other runners are interested in reading about. And I now present for your education (and as a guide for myself)....

Tillerman's 7 Essential Topics in a Running Race Blog Post

1. Why did you run this race?
Tell us in your opening paragraph why you are running this race. I needed a marathon in Alabama to complete all 50 states. It sounded like a good idea at the time to run an obstacle course. I ran the same course in summer when it was 40 degrees warmer. We were going to run the ABC half-marathon but a tornado destroyed the start pavilion and the race was cancelled but we had a hotel booking so we ran the nearest race we could find.

Whatever. Make it interesting. Spice it up. If in doubt, make it up.

2. The course.
If you want you can describe the magnificent scenery, the amazing views, the historical architecture blah blah blah. But that's optional. What you absolutely must do is describe in excruciating detail the running surfaces - asphalt, concrete, dirt, mud etc. - and the hills or lack of them. Runners really need to know this stuff.

Note: It's perfectly acceptable to exaggerate the hilliness of the course in order to make yourself sound like an even more superfit runner than you really are. Use a thesaurus to find lots of synonyms for words like "mountainous" and "gruelling." If you are lucky, the organizers will use some of your choicest phrases like "gut-busting knee-trembling incredibly steep hills for 15 miles of the course" in their pre-race publicity next year.

3. The weather.
If someone else runs the same race next year the weather will, of course, be totally different. But you were out running in this shit for 5 hours so you have to tell others all about it. Make it sound as extreme as you can.

I like, "And the rain fell, and fell, and fell and fell and fell. And then came the wind," which is from the Rhode Hazard's blog. And I also like, "It was the hottest London marathon ever... 5032 runners were treated by the ambulance service on the course and 73 were taken to hospital," because I wrote it and it is true.

4. The food and the drink.
As Dire Straits sang, "If you wanna run cool, you got to run on heavy, heavy fuel." Food and drink are fuel for runners. Tell your readers in ultimate detail about what the organizers provided in the way of pre-race food and drink, and post-race food and drink, and all the refreshments available at every stop around the course. Focus on major issues like whether the bananas were cut in half or not, and what the temperature of the Gatorade was. (Cold or icy cold?) Feel free to be hyper-critical of the organizers if the food ran out, or if it was not as advertised, or if you just didn't like it. If you don't embarrass them publicly, how will they get any better next year?

5. The trinkets.
It's a well known fact that most runners only run races so they can collect more race T-shirts to add to the 874 they already have in their closet. Or maybe it's because of the coffee cups, bags, tape measures, trivets, casino credit coupons, gus, gels, sun-screen, tubes of nipple lube etc. etc. that are always given away at every major run. Compare the value of goodies amassed to the entry fee. Make a big deal about the medals. Runners love to collect medals.

6. Your injuries.
What's the point of doing a running race if you don't have a few injuries to talk about afterwards? Everyone is always interested to hear about your blisters, chafed ankles, frostbitten nose, sunburn, crotch itch, sore nipples (you didn't use the Nipple Lube that they gave you at the previous race did you?) The more embarrassing the injury the better.

If your injury needs the services of a chiropractor or even better an orthopedic surgeon you have hit the jackpot. And people always love to read about how you threw up at the finish line or had to answer the call of nature at the side of the road. (See section 7.)

7. The Porta-Potties
Last, but definitely not least, you need to report on the Porta-Potty situation. Runners will decide whether or not to run, or not to run, any given race purely on what they have heard about the Porta-Potty situation. How many Porta-Potties were available at the start and around the race course? How long were the lines to use them? How disgusting were they by the time you got to the front of the line? Be scatologically graphic.

OK. That's all I can think of for now. What did I miss?


O Docker said...

Thanks for all of the tips about why I shouldn't read running blogs.

One question that's always puzzled me is why people feel compelled to run or cycle in very large groups. A small group of friends I can understand, but why are so many drawn to get out there with hundreds of strangers in a mass event?

And, maybe a related question or an answer to the first: if you weren't allowed to tell another living soul that you had run the Gutwrench Marathon (and did it in 2:08), would you still go out there and run it anyway? Are you running it because you actually like to do it, or is it a matter of ego and bragging rights?

I was a pretty active cyclist for about 25 years and did weekend training rides with local cycling clubs that typically draw about 20-30 regular riders. But, after doing a few centuries, I started wondering why? If I liked a particular route, why shouldn't I just ride it with a few friends?

I get the running itself as a means of staying in shape, it's the psychology of the mass event that I've never quite understood. These events are phenomenally popular, so there must be some fundamental nerves being twitched that draw us to them, but have you ever asked yourself just which nerves those are?

I think I would read a blog post about that.

Tillerman said...

I have been contemplating the same (and other similar) questions myself over the last few days. My mind is churning around ideas for a post titled something like 'Why People Like Running' which will address the matter. Maybe the mass hysteria issue (if that's what it is) deserves a separate post of its own.

JP said...

I can see the attraction of group runs even though haven't ever joined one. It's a goal to work towards, its more social, you can meet others and then there's the feeling afterwards of being part of an event.

Not that I'm doing any running at the moment alas.

Tillerman said...

Good points JP. Although in thinking overnight about O Docker's question, I was actually thinking along quite different lines. Maybe I will have to write that post he wants.

Anonymous said...

With thousands of runners there is always someone to pass (if you're an optimist) or people passing you (if you're a pessimist); so it is always interesting. I personally do most of my running on the pitch chasing a little white ball, which is probably equally pointless.

Baydog said...

I can understand writing about racing, but writing about being on the race committee?

Tillerman said...

I've done that here a few times. Didn't you like those posts?

Anonymous said...

Why people *like* running?

Still don't believe it - I therefore think its sheer bloody mindedness generally - and the fact that you might be able to beat some people is the only good thing about running at all. That and stopping.

Tillerman said...

I'm going to have to write that Why People Like Running post.

I saw your post Mrs Knitting-Sailor asserting that, "Everyone hates running (apart from Tillerman – but I don’t actually believe him)." I know you were only trolling for a response so now you're going to get it! After I'm done you will definitely want to do that Sunderland Half Marathon in April.

Brian said...

I think this is nothing at all what runners want to read about! No, the interesting thing about group runs are... the people! Just like Sailing or Cycling have odd people participating, running does, too. And they are out there! From Kevin the Kenyan, totally lanky/emaciated, to Ivan the Ironman, Oliver the oddball (multi-color neon short-shorts from the 80's), to Sarah Sorority Girl, Peggy Preggers, StrollerMan, Yolanda Yuppie, Weight Watchers Wendy, etc, etc, etc it's the people that make it interesting.

Occasionally there's an incident or three in the race - the hushed "start" command that no one past row three hears, the stroller crash, some see-saw battle with another runner - but really, it's the oddballs that make it interesting.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention Fatty Freda, Chunky Charlene and Wobbly Wanda!

Tillerman said...

Good point Brian and Anonymous. I am sometimes tempted to write about the other people in the race, especially the random snippets of conversation that I overhear as pairs of runners pass me (or occasionally as I pass them.)

In Saturday's race, for example, I could have reported on what two ladies were saying about their friend Sue (except it's really unrepeatable) and what two gentleman were saying about taking steroids. But I tend to go with the policy that what happens at the three mile mark stays at the three mile mark. Can't get sued that way.

bonnie said...

Oh good, the Knitting Sailor beat me to the "why do people like running" question. Because I would actually like to like running. I think that running a marathon is one of the really coolest athletic things that your average human being can aspire to do, but you do sort of have to really like running.

I used to run more, done more 5Ks than I can recall and a few 10K's too, but I was never very good at it, I never got the "runner's high" thing. Boating, swimming, or hiking all work for me - running, I try to enjoy the scenery just feel like I'm banging all my moving parts to pieces.

bonnie said...

PS - Ms. Knitting Sailor - I've never figured out how to like running, even when I was running, but I have a number of friends and relations who do! So it's not just Tillerman.

O Docker said...

I never had to teach myself to like wine or chocolate.

I guess running must be an acquired taste.

bonnie said...

Let's see...chocolate, no. Tea, no. Coffee, somewhat. Wine, somewhat. Beer, yes. Scotch, yes.

Olives...haven't come to grips with those.

I guess running would be the olives of the athletic smorgasbord of life for me.

Tillerman said...

Running is one of the most natural things that members of our species do. Watch children playing. They love to run.

Walking and swimming and running are what our bodies evolved to do. Sailing and cycling and biking are fun, but they are more modern inventions and essentially artificial.

The mystery to me is why everyone doesn't like running. And Marmite.

O Docker said...

Walking is something we do naturally.

Running is an extreme activity we do only under duress, as when fleeing danger. And it is done for only as long as needed, until the danger has passed.

The first man to run a marathon died immediately. The wise learned from that and changed their behavior accordingly.

Tillerman said...

I'm pretty sure that when the saber-toothed tiger attacked our little band of ancestors, it was the guy who walked that got eaten alive. We are descended from the ones who ran.

O Docker said...

Oh, you must mean Bernie.

No, he was running, too, but he'd bought the wrong shoes, so fell behind.

Tillerman said...

Oh I remember Bernie. I remember telling him, "I don't have to run faster than the tiger; I just have to run faster than you."

O Docker said...

It's funny how these old stories become corrupted with time.

You always hear about the saber tooth tiger, but that's not what got Bernie.

He'd unfortunately bought a brand of running shoes that failed to correct for his pronation. All the others were wearing a different brand of shoe.

The tale of Bernie's demise was not lost on the other shoe company - one of the most prominent of the late Pleistocene era, and their marketing people changed the company's name accordingly. The company survives today and even promotes unnatural activities like sailing.

Poor Bernie was eaten by a puma.

Tillerman said...

You're so funny. You really ought to start a blog.

Anonymous said...

No way - I deleted the email - I am strong, I am sensible, I like cake....

Mmmmmmm cake.

And you know you can't run and eat cake at the same time. You can however knit and eat cake together - an obvious benefit of this sofa based activity.

Anonymous said...

I think people just say they like running to try and get you to run as well so that they are sharing the misery around.

They really are just trying to fool you (you know like that time you told your crew there was NO POSSIBLE WAY you were going to get them wet and promptly tea bagged them - while laughing evilly inside? I think its a bit like that.)

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