Thursday, May 12, 2011

Almost doesn't count

I would like to share with you all an actual race ad from my local newspaper:

There are a lot of active people in Montana, and most road races attract a decent field of runners. I suspect the organizers of this particular event, however, might experience some trouble in getting a good turnout.

If you can’t figure out why, I will demonstrate using the following hypothetical conversation:

Runner Guy 1: Hey dude, want to run a race next weekend?

Runner Guy 2: Maybe. What kind of race?

Runner Guy 1: An almost-12K.

Runner Guy 2: A what?

Runner Guy 1: An almost-12K. You know, like 12,000 meters, minus a few.

Runner Guy 2: Ummmmm…how am I supposed to target my training for a made-up race distance?

Runner Guy 1: Well…

Runner Guy 2: Also, how would I post that kind of PR to my profile? I would get totally called out.

Runner Guy 1: Good point. I guess we should probably hold out for a race with a more legit distance.

Runner Guy 2: My thoughts exactly.

In my estimation, such feelings of reluctance would not be limited to veteran racers. Even running newbies would likely hesitate to venture into uncharted waters of road racing. Consider, for example, the following scenario:

Newbie 1: Hey, do you want to run a race next weekend? It’s a school fundraiser, so it should be fairly low-key.

Newbie 2: Sounds like it could be fun. How far is it?

Newbie 1: Almost 12K.

Newbie 2: Huh?

Newbie 1: You’ve never heard of that distance before?

Newbie 2: No, have you?

Newbie 1: No, I just assumed it was a normal distance since it was printed that way in the race ad.

Newbie 2: I don’t know…I’ve only been getting Runner’s World for a few months, but I don’t recall seeing a “How to train for your first almost-12K” article. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable racing a new distance without a step-by-step guide.

Newbie 1: Good call. Let’s wait for that 10K in June.

For the record (mom), it is neither “fun” nor “cute” to use inexact distances for organized racing events. I don’t care that it is a family fun-run. I don’t care that it is a small-scale event. I don’t care that it is a fundraiser for an elementary school. What kind of example are we setting for those grade-school kids? Next thing you know, they’re going to be filling in answers like “almost 17” on their multiplication table tests for problems that read “4 x 4” or “2 x 8”.

So for future reference, if you are designing a racecourse and your measuring wheel comes up a bit short, don’t slap an “almost” in front of your intended distance and call it good. Push back the start and/or finish line. Add a second lap around the playground. Make the park loop a bit wider. I don’t care how you do it, but this “almost” business is unacceptable, and if left unchecked could quickly get out of control. Before you know it, the entire road race system will be compromised and you’ll start seeing ads for “almost-marathons.”


  1. What's the weirdest about this to me is that with a local race, you'd expect it to be uncertified anyway. So why not just call it 12k?

  2. Right? No one would be the wiser. And sticklers like me wouldn't get their panties in a bunch.