Survey: 92% of distance runners display cognitive impairment

That’s the biased but defensible interpretation of one of the questions in this survey of people who participate in road races, a cohort believed to have significant overlap these days with individuals meeting the criteria for being termed “distance runners.” As Julie, who designed the survey, reports on her Facebook page, only about one in thirteen respondents say that they would be willing to give up the T-shirt offered at virtually every event for an entry-fee reduction. Okay, that’s an oversimplification; the question was actually “If you could lower the cost of a race’s registration fee by a third by giving up one of the following items, which one would you choose to give up?” with T-shirt being one of eight choices. Nevertheless, given that big-time marathons these days routinely charge close to or over 100 bucks to enter, a majority of people admit that they are eager to spend over $30 on a mundane piece of fabric boasting of an accomplishment that in the grand scheme is middling at best. I’m eager to see how many said they’d prefer losing add-ons such as roads closed to traffic and food, at least one of which can justly be termed a requirement and the other nearly indispensable.
It is obvious from where I sit that the survey was designed by a runner with a competitive orientation and doing her best to keep her impulses in check and not run riot over the whole shooting match with loaded questions. I would not be pointing this out had she not done an outstanding job in this regard. Had the task of fallen to me, the survey might have been filled with questions of the “when did you stop beating your wife?” variety. Then again I may be biased in this assessment because I knew in advance that Julie, not one you’ll likely ever see screaming “everyone’s a winner!” at the grinning folks chugging along at 23 minutes a mile to raise funds to fight erectile dysfunction in diabetic camels, was the brainchild here.

Things I’d like to see: the correlation coefficient between the desire to receive a T-shirt or a medal and average time spent training each week or total years of running experience. I’d guess that any of these combinations would produce an r of about -0.999999997. I’ve had some race shirts I’ve cherished more than others, of course, but I’ve also made more trips over the years to Goodwill and the like carrying nothing but an assortment of race tees than I can remember. Another item of interest is that over a quarter of respondents selected “I race to win age group awards” from among ten choices, including “other.” I was about 17 the last time this mattered to me, and suspected back in the day that although turning 40 might prove motivating in the event I felt like hanging ’em up at that point, it was nevertheless a ramshackle rationale for going out and testing myself when I knew I was long past the peak of my abilities. In this I differ markedly from a lot of people in their 40s, but it is also clear that those who are most enthusiastic about racing as older runners are, regardless of ability, are very likely to have not started running or at least competing until their late thirties or so, or to have run into their early twenties before bagging it for a couple of decades. I don’t know too many runners my age who have been at it since their high-school days and were even decent enough to compete in college who have jabbered on about the joys of expending a ton of effort just to beat other geezers. I’m not knocking AG competition in any way–only highlighting that it’s not for people (and I won’t name names) who don’t give a shit about recognition or trophies involving what amounts to handicapping and don’t need objective reminders that their bodies are beginning to fail them.

Anyway, the same twits who sometimes drone on about how the influx of “ordinary” people have helped keep road racing afloat in the U.S. by ensuring that there’s ample prize money for the top runners because of more entrants and higher entry fees. What they don’t realize is that prize money in larger marathons virtually always flows from corporate sponsorship of the event (e.g., John Hancock, ING, Lasalle Bank, Kaiser Permanente) and–certain mercenary-style events excepted–that entry fees alone barely cover the costs of traffic control and other administrata as well as the extraneous bullshit that inordinate numbers of people seem to revel in, such as live bands at every mile or a three-ring circus with a fifty-yard long Viking buffet at the finish.

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  1. #1 by threlkeld on September 16, 2010 - 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the attagirl. Naturally, I found a zillion flaws in the survey after I published it (but I’m under a tight deadline so that’s too bad). One was making a distinction between an AG “award” and an AG “place”. I don’t give a shit about the actual awards anymore — they are more landfill I store in a plastic tub in my basement. But I do like garnering the placements. But, yeah, I fit your model (late-starter to competitive racing, no previous running experience).

    Anyway, I’m doing analysis on the survey (which is closed) now. It’s pretty interesting stuff. I will post it to the blog shortly, probably over the weekend.

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