“Training was a rite of purification; from it came speed, strength. Racing was a rite of death; from it came knowledge. Such rites demand, if they are to be meaningful at all, a certain amount of time spent precisely on the Red Line, where you can lean over the manicured putting green at the edge of the precipice and see exactly nothing.”
― John L. Parker Jr., Once a Runner
My name is David Torrence. I am a Professional Track Athlete and Road Racer. I’ve run in front of packed sold-out stadiums, and in front of empty bleachers. I’ve run in Road races with 10k participants, and some with 10 total.
Upon reading the recent discussion on Competitor/RnR events, the value of elites, popularity of the sport, etc…something has struck a chord with me. Specifically with what John Bingham said in the comments section of Toni Reavis’ blog “Dumbing Down, Slowing Down”
Bingham wrote, “I invite ANY winner of ANY race to join me (cheering on finishers) instead of rushing back to their hotel after the awards ceremony. I guarantee that the first ‘elite’ to show even a LITTLE interest in the rest of the pack will become a hero overnight.” (bold my emphasis)
Well John, that comment… how can I put this politely… really frustrated me.
Show even a little interest in the rest of the pack? Guarantee overnight fame?
I have signed autographs in Zagreb, Croatia, t-shirts/hats/shoes in Eagle Rock, CA. In Falmouth, the day after racing the track mile, I voluntarily chose to jog the road 12km with the “rest of the pack” to interact and chat and cheer people on. I have driven myself at 4am to Fresno and sat for hours giving out and signing hundreds of autograph cards with personal messages to HS runners at the CA XC state meet. I have co-created my OWN track club to reach out to the community with greater numbers and unity. I have put on my OWN race (BAXC) where we paired up the average casual runners with the elites and had a scored meet. I recently went to Compton to kick off a weekly run event that the Mayor created for her community that lacks a strong running culture, and jogged 2miles with the youth of the city. I signed autographs and interacted with fans so quickly after my race in Stockholm, for so long, and standing so still (due to the stairs) that my body was unable to clear the lactic acid like it normally does, and I vomited during my cool down for the first time in my entire running career.
Am I an international phenomenon? Am I a national hero? Do people even recognize me on the trails in my own CITY where I train and live 6months out of the year? No, no, and no.
The blaming of the elites HAS to stop.
Are there some who don’t give back and selfishly head back to the hotel room? Yes. But in my experience, they are far and few between.
The vast majority are NOT jerks. They are people just like you. And are honestly some of the nicest/humblest people I’ve ever met. I feel honored to be a part of the professional running community.
But what more do you want us to do? What more CAN we do? Why aren’t NBA, NFL, MLB, Tennis, NASCAR, professionals held to this same standard of fan interaction?
Who are the ones that are creating this disconnect between the Elites and the casual runners?
I’ll tell you what is to blame: Television.
TV has done the absolute WORST job of promoting our sport and our elite athletes, and to put it simply: make us look cool. Every race is scripted to the point that the announcers only really know the top 5 seeds (2-3 in track), and if a lesser known athlete is leading and/or wins…he/she is often ignored completely, or mistaken to be one of the athletes that is on their sheet of paper. Track and Road Races are broadcasted the EXACT same way they have been broadcasted for DECADES. There has been very little innovation, very little creativity, very little drive to try and make it more entertaining on the screen.
And for those who say “well, running just doesn’t lend itself to entertainment on the big screen”. That is just a lazy response. Running is amazingly exciting, IF YOU KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. If you are educated enough to know the splits, the moves, the surges, the falls, etc. Every NASCAR race has almost half the screen filled with stats of speed, position, name, etc. Without it, it’s just cars going in circles. Which is exactly how running is broadcast.
EDUCATE the public. Create BETTER TV broadcasts, and don’t just SETTLE for how things have always been done. As great as it is that Running gets on TV, I honestly believe that every time a meet/race is aired, we LOSE fans who tune in and think “gosh, this is the most boring thing ever.”
Take some CHANCES for crying out loud.
Secondly, (this is for track specifically) create a better in person meet experience. All the dead time, the lack of focus, the lack of ANY attempt to entertain fans between races and events, has created meets that lose any energy that it gains from amazing performances. If you go to any NBA or NFL game, every timeout, quarter break, or play review is CONSTANTLY filled with some sort of fan interaction. Be it cheerleaders, t-shirt bazookas, fan contests, cameras that pan to the fans. Just silly games to keep people engaged.
For road races, create a Fan-Zone like Brendan Reilly mentioned where people can interact with the elites. Or organize cooldowns with the elites and the fans that wish to join.
I sincerely wish that USATF would hire somebody that manages the in-house experience of NBA games, and have them bring their recommendations, expertise, and know-how to the USATF championships, and make a meet that for ONCE is entertaining for the casual fan that knows nothing about track.
If we can accomplish these feats, then we will have made serious headway. But what is holding us back? Who else is holding us back? Is it money? Is it meet management?
I don’t know those answers, but I can tell you who are not the problem: elites.
- David Torrence
This could have not been said better. Thank you David Torrence for summing that up so well.
While I am by no means on his level, I can clearly understand his frustration. People are always looking for someone to blame, such as the elites themselves. But the problem is much more complex than pointing to the group that always finishes in the front of the pack.
Elites and sub-elites do not have it easy, especially when there isn't a lot of money in the sport. To put it in perspective, the best professional runners in the world make 1/100(if that!) to what an average NFL player sitting on the bench all season makes. Rephrasing the quote actor Brad Pitt makes as Billie Bean from the movie Moneyball,
"There are rich sports, and there are poor sports. Then there's 50 feet of crap. And THEN there's professional running."
Competitor cut out Elite support from all of their events, including the (once known as Philadelphia Distance Run-historically known as one of the fastest half marathons in the world), as a monetary decision to invest better for their business. It is a shame that Philadelphia(despite the winner running 59 minutes this year), will become less and less competitive/deep. In fact, it already has this year. My time from 2011, when I placed 57th in the race in 1:08, would have put me 28th or so this year(and this year's conditions were nearly identical to 2011). Many famous runners have competed here, and world records have been broken on the course.
I came to a screeching halt when I saw this, and while I obviously am not good enough to get appearance fees, I was wondering if they were still honoring comp'd entries that elites were entered by under a separate system. I wondered, if I was entered in the race still? Thankfully I found out I was, thanks to Matt Turnbull, who I have only good things to say about. Matt has done a tremendous job of helping support elite runners and the sport of road racing. Having support for not only the top but second-tier athletes is crucial for the betterment of U.S. distance running. I thank him for all he has done.
For more insight and to a man who knows the sport really well and has great ideas, I suggest reading Toni Reavis' blog: http://tonireavis.com
I hadn't felt great the week leading up to the Philly Rock n Roll Half. I felt tired and sluggish, and was sleeping a lot. I actually was contemplating doing the race still, but my buddy Matt Linman and I already had a hotel payed for, and he was certainly going to race(his debut). I decided I would go for it and see what I had on the day.
I passed GRC's top man Sean Barrett around the 4 mile mark, but I had a feeling he wasn't having a good day. I wasn't feeling great either. I had passed the 5K mark in 15:45, but once I got to 4 miles I could tell that I just wasn't quite ready to race 13.1 miles. As I approached 6 miles in just under 31:00, I pulled out of the race. That was all I had in me, pretty much a tempo run, or perhaps I should have done a low key 10K instead. I later learned that Sean had also pulled out of the race.
It's easy to ask myself "Why did I enter the race if I was going to drop out?" but it is necessary in order to "save" the energy for when it counts. A good friend and runner who I have known since high school, Lucinda Smith, dropped out of a half marathon one month before she placed 18th(11th American) woman at the Chicago Marathon. It can be mentally difficult during a "race" to do so, but I am very, very happy now that I made that decision.
The truth is, the lower mileage weeks of 58 miles(9/2-9/8), 42 miles(9/9-9/15) for the first 2 weeks of September gave me a really beneficial "rest period" to absorb all of the hard training I had done over the summer. September 16-22 I did 62 miles, and felt really refreshed and rejuvenated going into last week, which was really great training. A strong 5 x mile workout, a brisk 20 miler, and a 95 mile week let me know my fitness is as strong as it ever has been. I will do another mid-week workout next week, and then get ready to race Army Ten Miler on Oct 20.
Week September 23-29:
Monday: AM: 9 miles/
PM: 4 miles
Tuesday: 10 miles
Wednesday: AM: 8.5 miles/ PM: 1.5 mile warm up, 5 X 1600m: 4:48, 4:46, 4:46, 4:48, 4:46, all with 2:30 rests. 1.5 mile cool down. Thursday: 8.5 miles Friday: 12 miles Saturday: 20 miles(1:59:00) Sunday: 15 miles Total: 95 miles