On January 22nd, registration opened up for the New York Road Runner’s Brooklyn Half Marathon. For club members, registration was $55; non-members had to pay $75. Less than 48 hours later, on January 24th, the race was completely full save for charity spots, which allow you race entry provided you can raise a certain amount of money.
This, ladies and gentlemen, makes me really livid.
I was talking about this with some non-runner friends, and their response was logical: “Why do you have to run a race?” To an extent it’s true. One can run anywhere, and for all but a minuscule percentage of us, it’s not about winning, or competition with others, but rather about personal records and beating your own past times. About independence, serenity in solitude, and being a moving part of a moving city. If I’m running on the West side with the river rushing on my right and the traffic tearing up the Henry Hudson on my left, I don’t care about miles or minutes. I feel light and full of energy, no longer a moving cog stuck a whirlwind metropolis but rather a force driving herself through her own life.
Yet registering for a race gives you a goal, a deadline, something to work towards. There’s the loud vibrancy of the crowd, the excitement of running somewhere different. The Brooklyn Half starts at BAM, traverses all different parts of the borough, and finishes at Coney Island. To me, nothing seems more appealing as getting through 13.1 miles on a mid-May morning and then being able to smell the salt air and wade into the ocean.
I started running last year for several reasons. Fitness was obviously one. Wanting to be faster than my dad, who has run the NYC marathon multiple times, was more important (and, I have proven, 100% impossible). But mainly I took up running because, as a grad student working part-time in a volatile industry, it’s pretty much the cheapest way to both work out and have a non-debauched hobby. All the bells and whistles touted as “running essentials” couldn’t be less so. Heart monitor? Trust me: If you’re having a heart attack, you won’t need a thick-ass wristband to let you know. Belted hydration system? If the water fountains are off for the season, get two 8 oz. Poland Springs bottles for 50¢ each at the bodega and hold them in your hands. (On a side note, if you don’t live near a bodega, please stop reading my blog immediately.) Compression shorts? Compress this (insert crass jerk-off gesture here). All you need to run is a pair of sneakers and legs. Does having more expensive shoes with better support protect your body against injury and help you to perform better? Of course. Can you go to a thrift store or KMart and get suitable sneaks for ten bucks or less? Absolutely. Last January, I hit the big K, grabbed some tolerable trainers for $9.97, and took it to the streets.
So January 22 was a Wednesday. I figured I would pick up money Friday morning, deposit it Saturday morning, fiscally wade through the weekend, and then, if I had $55 left that didn’t need to go towards rent, MetroCard, or schoolbooks, I would register for the race. If not, I’d wait another week. Usually races sell out, if they even sell out at all, a week or so before the event. Obviously, this didn’t happen. I, along with the hundreds of other runners who can’t be throwing poor Ulysses around like he grows on trees, were barred out in less than 48 hours because the race was mass marketed to these Brooklyn transplants and high-earning individuals to whom $55 is a two-drink bar tab as opposed to two weeks of groceries.
More than that, though, the Brooklyn Half is supposed to let people get to know Brooklyn, but, like Williamsburg and Cobble Hill and Park Slope, has become a bubbled-in blasphemy, a slap in the face to people actually from the borough who would be running with hometown pride. How will young Brooklynites feel seeing 25,000 people tear through their streets in hydrobelts, wearing socks that cost more than a weekly MetroCard?
Every month or so, there’s another study about how poor people have terrible eating habits, how neighborhoods with a majority of black or Hispanic residents are more obese than predominantly white neighborhoods, how lower income individuals need to be more aware of the benefits of healthy foods and exercise. Bloomberg tried to ban giant sodas. I agree that no one should drink giant sodas, though I don’t like someone telling me I can’t. But the solution to making lower income individuals healthier isn’t to outlaw their livelihoods, invade their neighborhoods and put up a Whole Foods. Similarly, if you want poorer people to exercise, the least effective way to do this is to hyper-market a race in a borough which happens to have a couple of pockets of ridiculously privileged areas amidst a generally poor populous, thus making it seem like the hottest commodity in town and causing it to be yet another thing in New York that is unavailable to the majority of individuals.