Monday Morning Satire: The Race Expo!
Race weekend is approaching and I am getting so psyched. When I started training on New Year’s Day, this seemed so far away. When all my friends said I was “crazy” and “neglectful of my responsibilities” and “annoyingly obsessed with running”, it was because they don’t know the excitement I feel as my race weekend approaches. When I realized that, I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the best parts of a race weekend, the expo. I’m not sure I can properly convey how awesome they are, but I’ll trust the marathon bumper stickers’ message, “You can do this.”
I guess the most important part of the expo is picking up your race packet. These packets include your running bib (that piece of paper with the number on it), your free race shirt, instructions for the day of the race (pay attention to parking!) and a bunch of coupons to all the area stores. But I don’t just go to the expo because they don’t let you get your race packet any other way.
All you have to do is pull into the parking lot and it’s already evident you’re not going to regret taking the time to visit the expo. There are SO many magnets, bumper stickers and vanity plates (“FastrNU” – we’ll see about that!). If you’re like me, you gain inspiration from these, especially the magnets. If I get a swelled head after setting a personal record (PR) for a half-marathon, somebody else’s 26.2 magnet reminds me I can always work a little harder. I assume marathoners think the same of ultra-marathoners, who probably have to look to the 140.6 magnets of the ironman triathletes for their inspiration.
Who do the ironman triathletes look to? I’ve always wanted to ask. It seems kind of sad to me, not really being able to go any farther in an organized race. I suppose they just keep trying to set PRs. Although, I did read one time about a 130-mile run through Death Valley, a lot of which is uphill. The neat thing about that race is there’s no way to duplicate the grueling conditions when you train. Until you’ve finished it, you have no way of knowing if you have enough to finish. Or even survive! But I bet if you do survive and finish, you come away thinking that was the best week of your life…once your toenails grow back, you can walk again and your kidney treatment is successful.
Until you’re ready for that kind of thrill, though, you’ll have to settle for things like your race’s expo. Whenever I walk in to one of these, I like to just stop and take in all the vendor booths. This is my chance to gain some perspective. By the time I walk into that expo, I’ve been training for sixteen weeks. Something like 240 miles and 25 hours of running. All that time, all I’m doing is turning inward to my thoughts, sorting out problems or issues and using the thoughtful time alone to try to put my life into better order. It’s almost meditative.
But do you know what I’m not doing? Spending any money. Sure I use plenty of gas driving to the trail I run on, but I’d probably use that gas driving to the gym if I didn’t run so I can’t really count that. And yes, training for my half-marathons usually causes me to go through a pair of shoes per year. But is the economy being kept afloat by my one pair of $100 shoes a year? Doubtful. So when I stand and take in all those vendor booths, I’m reminded of my chance to make up for lost time and be one of the economy’s givers and not one of its takers.
They make it easy to spend, too. Because when you walk in, the registration table where you pick up your packet is on the exact opposite side of the arena. The really good expos arrange the vendors so your path is serpentine like a line for a roller coaster at an amusement park. This makes sure you get to see the best of performance wear, energy bars, energy gum, energy drinks, equipment you just don’t see anywhere else (like $3,000 elliptical bikes!) and info on out-of-town races. My advice as you wind your way through is to take it in as best as you can. It’s important to remember the easiest way to be accepted as a serious runner isn’t just running. It’s looking the part.
Don’t just get caught up in what you can spend money on, either. Listen to the bands or any other performers there might be. One year, I went to an expo that brought in a controversial runner comedian. His “thing” was a series of jokes that point out the differences between eight minute milers and nine minute milers.
His best bit was the part when he ran across the stage, “Nine minute milers run like this!” He had the pained expression down and everything! I heard one guy go, “Did you see his supination? That is SO me!” After he was done with that, he improved his posture a little bit, looked a little more serious and went, “Eight minute milers run like this!”. For that short a distance, the speed seemed really similar but any good runner saw the difference. You could tell some people were offended by the posture and expression stereotypes, or at least laughing nervously, but I’ve been both an eight-minuter and a nine-minuter, so I felt comfortable laughing the whole time. Anyway, you’re not always going to be so lucky to get that kind of quality entertainment, but I’ve never seen performers who weren’t trying hard.
Once I’ve made my way through to the registration table and picked up my packet, I like to people watch on the way back out. Society could really learn from running and its diverse mix of white people from all walks of life! You have everybody from struggling college kids whose parents are barely paying half their tuition all the way up to corporate execs looking for things to do besides go home after their 70-hour work weeks. It’s like every story is an inspiration!
Well, those are just some of the things I love about a good race expo. It just may be the most fun you’ll have that weekend when you’re not running. Well, besides carb loading at dinner on the way home!
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