"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Case for the 6th Day

At the outset, I want to warn you that this post will have little to nothing to do with running strategy, technique, nutrition, or mental discipline. I'm here today to vent, plain and simple. Not at anyone in particular or against society or culture. Just at "it." Because "it" has driven me nuts for the duration of my short, but increasing running career. "It" has been working its way past annoying and towards irritating for sometime now, but today for whatever reason, it kicked and in doing so sprinted right by irritating and frustrating and into depressing.

A few pieces of disclosure first of all:

1. I understand fully that race directors and organizations don't know me from anyone (nor do they care, nor do they have a reason to) and as such, don't have me in mind when they organize a race.
2. Not only do they not know or care who I am, they know if I don't sign up for their race and pay their fee, someone else will--so why should they care?
3. I have made personal decisions in my life that contribute to "it."
4. My personal decisions, and my reasons behind them, are far more important to me than eliminating "it" by simply changing my decisions.

Sufficiently lost or confused yet? I apologize. Hear me out (or not -- either way, I'm writing it).

Here's what "it" is: Why are the vast majority of marathons held on Sunday?

Many of the arguments I see in online running forums and other places fall into three main arguments:

First, that Sunday races allow for Saturday expos. What many marathons call "expos" are simply packet pick-up/registration venues that also happen to have various products for sale. They're not events you would ever go to if you didn't have to pick up your race packet. Hold these festivities on Friday evening, Saturday morning before the race and for a few hours after the race. My guess is you'd have a more relaxed customer base. Let's face it, despite our best efforts, we're all strung a little tighter then we'd like to be in the hours prior to a marathon.

Second, traffic may be slightly less on Sunday morning. Let's just agree on the fact that unless it's strictly a trail race, there will be traffic logistics to work out on any day and at any time the race is to be held. A little route planning would probably go a long way towards making the issue of traffic a moot point, in terms of Saturday versus Sunday.

Finally, Sunday races allow for travel on Friday and Saturday. Having recently run a marathon and traveled home the same day let me tell you, it's hell. That said, having Sunday to recoup and recover before going back to work on Monday was an absolute necessity.

Scenario A: Travel on Friday, race on Saturday morning, enjoy the festivities and either travel home Saturday and recover on Sunday or get a good night's sleep on Saturday and travel home Sunday.

Scenario B: Travel on Friday or Saturday, be all stressed out over how many steps you're taking, try to fill your day with enough activities to keep you occupied but not so much that you sap your energy, worry about how you're going to stick to your pre-race diet away from home, get a poor night of sleep because of these three issues, race Sunday morning, be stressed some more as you rush to get home so you can get to bed late and wake up Monday morning to go to work.

That's obviously dramatized a bit, but you get the idea.

So-called "destination marathons" receive a pass on the travel point. However, many races think of themselves as destination marathons when they actually are not. Disney World? Destination marathon. Las Vegas? The same. New York, Chicago? Fine. Vernonia, OR?!? Eugene, OR? Vancouver, WA?

Ask yourself this: if there was no marathon being held, would you ever travel to Location X just to site-see or tell people you had been there? If the answer is no, if EVERYONE'S answer is no, then it's not a destination marathon (I exclude a 50 Stater's answer to this question because they'll go anywhere and call it a destination race simply because its probably their one and only visit to a particular state).

When I first started to run I made the decision I would not run on Sunday. Given my personal convictions and religious beliefs, it's not something I feel right about doing. I spend my Sundays going to church, pondering things spiritual, spending an entire day with my wife and kids and treating it in multiple ways as a day of rest. Others can make their own decisions. I don't judge them for it. Their convictions and beliefs are just as personal and unique to them as mine are to me. There are even those within my own congregation who feel differently about this issue than I do. I don't think any less of them for it.

Long ago I knew that this decision to not run on Sunday would mean I would never run in some of the most popular races in the country (Chicago, Las Vegas, New York, Disney World) as well as a few smaller races that I would love to do (Phoenix, most of the Rock n Roll Series races, Vancouver B.C.). At some level this is disappointing, but as I said in the beginning, my reasons for not running on Sunday are for more important than any of these races would be. And so, I I have never trained or run a race on Sunday since this journey began.

My frustration today came as rumors became a reality when a (somewhat) local half marathon announced they would be adding a full marathon in 2011. The half has been held the last few years on Saturday early in April and has had good reviews locally. The full option now added, the directors moved both races moved to Sunday. What a shame. With the exception of a few years for college, I have lived in Oregon my entire life. I had to look up on a map where Vernonia, OR is. It fails all three arguments above: In no way is it a destination marathon, there are minimal if any traffic issues and there isn't an expo. The vast majority of runners will be from the Greater Portland area, who will simply get in their cars and drive home following the race. And yet, a popular local race was moved to Sunday. For what purpose? Does a race somehow gain prestige by being held on Sunday? Is it like a movie producer who adds just enough language, violence or sex to get his movie an R rating, somehow making it a "real" or "better" movie than one with with a lesser vulgarity rating? (It should be noted that half marathons seem to be no different, at least locally).

I am jealous of my friends who live back east. From their door step, they can drive three hours and be in any number of major U.S. cities and dozens of other mid-sized cities. Their universe of travel-friendly marathons is huge. Out here in the west, not so much. From where I sit, It's four hours to Seattle, seven to Boise and 12 to San Francisco. Despite the distance between major cities, there are a still a good number of marathons held each year within a reasonable driving distance. They are as follows:

Vernonia, OR (new in 2011)--Sunday April 10th
Eugene, OR--Sunday May 1st
Newport, OR--Saturday June 4th
Vancouver, WA (new in 2011)--Sunday June 19th
Foot Traffic Flat--July 4th every year
Portland, OR--Sunday October 9th

Portland is the only one that might be considered a destination race. And that might be stretching it (and given their EARLY-BIRD price of $135 for the 2011 race, save your money, buy a picture calendar instead).

I'm excited to run marathons, but I look at that schedule and it's frustrating. To toss salt in the wound, July 4th fell on a Sunday last year so the Foot Traffic Flat was out (though it will be a welcomed addition to my schedule next summer). Flying anywhere is expensive. Race fees are increasing (a vent for another day), and yet, there's a half dozen marathons spread throughout the year within 90 minutes of my house. Two of them aren't on Sunday. Portland and Eugene will never change. Why should they? They sell out every year (even at ridiculous prices). When word began to get out that Vancouver, and then Vernonia, were going to hold marathons, I really hoped they would run them on a Saturday.

Apparently not.

And so I will continue to find other challenges. Like running Newport, Seattle (Rock n Roll--Saturday June 25th) and the Foot Traffic Flat within a 30-day window. If my budget allows, maybe I'll add the Utah Valley marathon on June 11th to complete the month. Marathonguide.com has a map that can be filtered to show Saturday marathons only, but I've found so many inaccuracies that I've been slowly making my own list over the last few months. I'll post it soon. If you've run a Saturday marathon or know of one that should be added to the list, please let me know and I'll gladly do so.

I don't expect things to change. Marathons, the big ones at least, appear to be recession proof as organizers continue to increase costs but also continue to sell out. From a business standpoint, why mess with something if its wildly successful.

Anyway, I think that's all for that. Here's the first 5 miles of my run tomorrow (around 13.5 miles total) as I get ready for my first trail race (Silver Creek Falls half marathon) on November 6th and a flat and fast half marathon on November 20th. Fun, huh?