October 20, 2018
New BHAG Cooking - Why has the world gone crazy?
The Crazy World of Marathons..... and other races
I got another BHAG cooking.
It's not a new running event, but it is about running. It's based on a question that no one really seems to be able to answer. It's a global question to boot. The question is this:
Why is everyone in the world suddenly running, and cycling, and swimming, and otherwise testing themselves in sporting events? Why is this a global gig? Why is it not specific to a country, gender, an ethnicity, an age group, a religion, a belief, an economic or social class, a weird diet, or any of the many ways we humans often desperately try to distinguish ourselves from others. It sweeps up everyone. WTF is going on?
I've been a race director for 12 years, and I don't know the answer. Trying to find out the answer is my new BHAG.
Data nerds gotta be mystified. Nothing specific has necessarily happened. Yet, for some reason, a bunch of middle-aged (as well as young and old), fat (as well as thin and trim), out of shape (as well as in shape) people are paying race directors like me money to toe the line of a race. They often travel long distances to do so. They get their bib numbers, race shirts, official time, and usually a medal in the end. They run, and then they do it again, and again, and again again. WTH???
They never win. The medals are all made in China. Some shirts are nice, but when you got 50 of them do you really need one more? Most runners anally keep track of and record their times which, for most, is evidence of just how slow they actually are compared to other runners.
The data is nuts. Check out this chart on marathons worldwide since 2000.
In the ultra world, it's crazier. In 2006, there were about 160 ultras, defined as a foot race longer than 26.2 miles, in the world. By the end of 2018, there is expected to be around 1,800 of them according to a great piece in The Guardian newspaper titled 'When 26.2 miles just isn't enough - The Rise of the Ultramarathon.' The big races (marathons and ultras) sell out in minutes and/or have resorted to lotteries to choose their runners. There are IRONMAN races in 44 countries. There are race series where you can do five, 10, 15, or more marathons in a row. Each marathon is an official race with an official time. It counts in the Quixotic Quest to rack up marathon numbers. This year, or so I've been told, Guinness World Records will have to certify that a certain runner from Great Britain completed 270 official marathons in a calendar year. Stay tuned for that announcement.
Again. WTF is going on?
Again. I don't know, but I'm going to try and give you all an explanation in the form of a book. It's my new and personal BHAG.
This is your invitation to come along for the ride. In the spirit and tradition of Charles Dickens, I will share my Quixotic Quest and tell this tale, at least in draft form, via this GYAS newsletter. Piece by piece, chapter by chapter, and blow by blow, I want to tell you some stories. Dickens did this through London newspapers with Great Expectations and other works. While I have no expectation to achieve what Dickens has done, this newsletter can at least replicate the method. I hope it can also kick-start some dialogues because I need you to tell me what you think as we go along. Email me your ideas and opinions. BHAGs are big. They're hairy. They're audacious. Goals like these shouldn't be worked on alone. I hope to hear from you.
So to begin, the first draft of the introduction of the book is published below. Warts and all, let me know your thoughts.
Stay Happy, Healthy, and Always Keep Running Forward.
It all started because of a page one headline in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana. In big, above the fold fonts, there was this:
BRIDGER RIDGE RUN
SELLS OUT IN EIGHT MINUTES
After more than a decade of just 50 or so runners signing up each year, the Bridger Ridge Run suddenly boomed in popularity. It started selling out, and in 2007 it did so in just eight minutes.
I was three years into the job as the Executive Director of the Madison County Economic Development Council. My duties were to spur economic development in a county that was almost two times bigger than Delaware but had just 7,100 people living in it. The elk herd in the Madison Valley alone was around 15,000. Every year, Madison County ranchers shipped off around 47,000 calves to Midwest feedlots. How do you do economic development in a place that has way, way more mama cows than people?
You get creative. You act on brain farts. I wondered ~ If a 20 mile race on top of an 8,000 foot ridge line can sell out in eight minutes, how would a marathon on a road at 9,000 feet do?
The answer to this question is just one of the reasons for writing this book.
The story begins in 2008 with the launch of the Madison Marathon, but it goes further. The Madison begat other races and eventually a race series. This race series begat the same set of races in other countries to make an international race series. All this occurred over a 10 year period of time when so many people from pretty much every country in the world acted on the same brain fart ~ I wonder if I can run a marathon.
Turns out a lot of people could. And they did, and many continue to do so. When we launched the Madison Marathon in 2008, it was one of around 2,100 marathons in the world. By the end of 2019, there will likely be close to 6,000 marathon races in the world. That's a lot of marathons, and that's just marathons. Ultras, triathlons, duathlons, Ironmans, Spartan races, mud runs, 10Ks, and 5Ks have all boomed in popularity.
Why is this happening?
I ain't a doctor, psycho-therapist, nor a guy who reads self-help books or watches Dr. Phil on TV. However, I am a race director, and that has given me some access to athletes' souls. Many of them have told me why they run. They have shared their stories. I give myself some credit for being a keen observer, a good noticer, who listens hard. I'm good at asking questions, and then shutting the hell up. Since our Yellowstone races are on public land and have limited entry, I can get close to the runners. I can often see their reactions when they turn corners on the routes or are at mile 10 of a 15 mile uphill at 8,000 feet above sea level of a cycling race. I see what they're thinking and feeling, they let me see it, and often they let me in and tell me what's going on in their lives.
Almost from the beginning, I've been writing about this race director perspective as well as the global phenomenon of the growth in races and sporting events. Over the past few years, this became a regular newsletter. Some of these essays will be shared here.
I will also be writing several profiles of runners and athletes who have graciously let me in so they can tell me their story. These are good stories. They inspire and help answer a lot of questions about why this is all happening. Why just running one, or 100 marathons, isn't enough. They keep running.
When I decided to act on my own brain fart of writing this book, I asked my son Colter how I should organize such a project. I had a bunch of essays already written and ready to go. I had a list of people who will tell me their story. I have been a race director for over 12 years. I've built a race series and took it international. That's a lot of good clay to shape a hopefully interesting book. How to put it all together was my question.
Colter had an immediate answer. "You can't write a book about marathons if you have never actually ran a marathon. You have no street cred," he said.
Shit. He was right.
I've long accepted that Colter is much smarter than me in many areas (I do my best to leverage the "wisdom" angle). He's also a natural athlete. Though I was no dumbass or a slouch in high school, he is miles ahead of where I was at his age. He would have been one of those kids that I wanted to be like, and I would have nudged myself as close as possible to him in the hopes that something might rub off.
He told me I had no street cred and he was right. If I wanted to write about marathons and other races, I had to do them, at least once. So I joined the millions of people who had gotten old, fat, liked eating, liked beer, and felt okay with the way the circle of life had treated them. Then, we screw it all up by deciding to run a marathon. I had to train and actually do one. And so I did. I got some street cred. I'll include how that went down into the mix for this book.
If you're in a bookstore right now or in front of your computer because you clicked on a link, I hope you're still reading these words. I love the written word. I believe I have a voice. I've set out the chapters for this book in a way that lets my voice tell a good story. I'll do my best.
Thanks for staying with me so far. I hope to see you at the finish line.
Stay Happy, Healthy, and Always Keep Running Forward.
Ennis, Montana and Saigon, Vietnam
The John Colter Club
The John Colter Club is a members-only club for athletes who are or have been:
An inaugural athlete in one of the six GYAS races.
Earned a podium finish (top three) in the overall men and women's category of any GYAS race.
Are a three-time returnee to a GYAS race.
We want to recognize those who went first, those who finished well, and those who just keep coming back. For a membership fee of $30 per year and immense bragging rights for getting in, members receive the following:
A personalized water bottle with the GYAS logo, your name, and the club's name.
Early access. Members get to sign up for the GYAS races before the March 1 opening.
A discount of 15 percent off the entry fee of the race you sign up for.
Do the math and you can figure out that your $30 comes back to you pretty quick. If you qualify and if you want to join an exclusive club of athletes named after Montana's most famous total bad ass, send me an email. Tell me how you qualify. I'll confirm it all and send you the application.