Spartan Race

Sunday, August 1, 2010

10 people you will see at any race.

Forget malls, hotel lobbies, and airports, races are great places to people watch. You'll see folks of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, education levels, blood types, food preferences, and political affiliations. Over the years, I've also noticed that, while the majority of runners are, well, just runners, you can also find a lot of personality types. During the few hours of a marathon or half, they can be a welcome distraction. If you look closely enough before. during, and after an event, you can find every type here. Without further ado, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here are the RunningQuack's 10 people you will see at any race (yes, it's probably been done, but I don't remember seeing a list like this). See if you can figure out if you fall into one of these categories, and keep in mind that they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

1. The Professional - This is the no nonsense, here to PR- not make any friends - race runner. These are the serious, confident looking, individuals who are mostly keep to themselves. They seem to have their emotions in check, have some sort of prerace routine, and look like they know what they are doing. They will speak when spoken to, and are generally polite. They'll answer questions when asked, and are generally friendly, but you get the picture that they're just focused on the task at hand. They offer good advice (usually only when you want it), have valuable tips about the race course, and are quite likely to offer encouragement when you need it most. Most people who win races or even their age groups fall into this category, but they permeate all levels of ability. This category has the unique distinction of being the category that most other runners on this list actually think they belong to, but don't.

2. The Techy - This is the runner who runs with every piece of conceivable equipment known to the free world - they may even have some stuff illegally smuggled from North Korea or former Soviet Republics hidden somewhere on their person. GPS? Of course, perhaps even redundant systems. MP3 Player? Yep! Heart rate monitor? Can't run without it. These folks frequently have some sort of hydration pack or belt on as well. They probably have some sort of energy formula you've never heard of that contains the next great supplement in trace, homeopathic, quantities. They have the latest in technical fabrics shorts, socks, shirts etc. They can't wait to race so that they can use their new titanium nipple guards. They're also really interested in telling you about the stuff - usually not because they want to one-up you, but because they're excited about their gear. You'll hear things like "Like my new compression neck wrap? It forces blood out of my head back into my legs - I can run 3% further, and I only lose a few brain cells each race" or "You need to try UberGel - it's from Kazakhstan. It has Cobalt 60 in it. The FDA hasn't approved it yet, but it works!" They're usually eager to share their discoveries "Here, I have an extra UberGel - try it! It's just a little radioactive, so don't break the foil before you ingest it." All in all, these folks are harmless, and, I have to admit, it's probably the category I fall in to most of the time.

3. The Messiah - This particular runner has been to more races than you have, for more years than you have, and knows more than you do. They also know exactly what you should do to have your best race. Just ask them. Some of them have lots of experience, some of them have a whole lot less experience than they think they have. Both varieties of the messiah tend to sit high on a mountain top and preach to whomever will listen. While occasionally messiahs make good points, for the most part they speak a whole lot and don't say much. They tend to name drop both races and people "I ran 45 feet away from Amby Burfoot for like 6 minutes in the 2000 Tokyo Marathon, so I've known him forever. I think he was talking about me in an article one time". They tend to have their own ideas about how you should train, and tout their own prior successes as a reason to follow their bizarre strategy - "I taper two months before the race, and then only run in the pool for the last month, and I've set PRs every race this year." Strangely enough, despite being annoying, Messiahs tend to attract followers, which brings us to the next category of folks...

4. The Newbie - Everybody has been in this category at one point or another. They're usually really easy to pick out. They're wearing this year's tech shirt from the race they happen to be presently running. They line up for the race two hours in advance. They alternate between running a few steps, stretching, and trying not to move so they can conserve energy. They are tormented by inner demons - "Where do I line up? Do I want to be up front and beat the crowd, or will people yell at me if they have to run around me? Do I need to go to the porta-potty again? Why did I do this? Can I run that far? Why did I eat a bagel this morning, it's going straight through me?" They look like they are going to vomit at any second. These folks are paradoxically the folks who can be most helped by a few words of encouragement, but also the folks who can be harmed the most if they fall prey to an unscrupulous (or really, more often, simply clueless) messiah. If you make eye contact with the Newbie, he will either spill his guts about how he trained, why he is running, what he ate for breakfast, etc or look down and quickly move away. Newbie's are also one of the most visible racers after the race. They tend to wear there medals. For days. While it sounds like I'm making fun of Newbies, I also think that it is really important to look out for them. They're usually at the point in their running career where one bad experience can turn them off forever, and that's never a good thing.

5. The Aggressive Walker - These are the individuals who line up with the first wave, elbow themselves to the front of the pack, loudly complain about other runners crowding them, and then, with the gun, walk boldly across the starting line at a 16 minute mile pace. The aggressive walker can exist as a solitary animal, but often belongs to a pack. It isn't uncommon to see lines of four, five, or even ten aggressive walkers marching in lock step down the road, particularly at bigger races. Like dolphins in a tuna net, other runners are caught behind the aggressive walkers and, like the Mongols of old, have to expend massive amounts of energy running laterally around the Great Wall of striding folks in order to get to their goal. Aggressive walkers are usually encountered early in a race, but sometimes, inexplicably, they show up many miles into a marathon. It's unclear how they get there, but navigating around them is still an issue. In this regard, they mimic another closely related group - the annoyingly close knit and cheerful pace group. I've actually dropped back in races to avoid these folks. Understand that the annoying pace group and the aggressive walker are distinctly different from the normal pace group and the usual racer who elects to walk the event - but there's one in every crowd.

6. The Noble Savage - These folks are the polar opposite of the techy. They tend to run in a pair of shorts only, if they are male, and if they are female, tend to lament that they can't really run in only a pair of shorts. Both sexes would really prefer to run in a loin cloth, or, better yet, completely naked, and they would if those damn obscenity laws allowed it. Most of them wear shoes, but this is ironically because barefoot running, minimalist shoes, and huaraches are actually the in the scientific realm of the techy. Secretly, the noble savage would prefer not to have any first aid stations, water stops, or even directional markers on the race course. They'd prefer to carry two empty milk jugs full of water lashed to their bodies with Liana and carry a frog gig with them, hunting their own race food on the course. While they tend to look wild (long hair and full beards are common among this group), the Noble savage is usually well educated and has a normal, mundane vocation (the last one I talked to was an accountant). This particular type of runner may be present at any event, but the more obscure the event, and the longer the event, the better. Show up at an Ultra in the middle of the Gobi Desert and you'll see droves of them.

7. That guy/gal who... - This is something of a catch-all category. When I was in undergrad, I distinctly remember an article in the school newspaper giving advice to freshmen. The advice? - you don't ever want to be that guy who... (fill in the blank). In races, this isn't necessarily true. It can be an amusing thing - "Did you see that guy who was wearing a Papa Smurf costume?" An inspiring thing - "Did you see that woman who was running the marathon in full military fatigues carrying a 50 pound backpack?" An unintentional thing - "Did you see that guy who was in the Papa Smurf Costume puking at mile three?" Or a really, really annoying thing. I once ran most of a marathon within hearing distance of a woman who barked like a small, yappy, dog with every single exhalation. The first thing I said to Mrs. RQ after we crossed the finish line "Did you hear that woman who..." Hopefully if you are that guy/gal, it's because you want to be.

8. The Local Legend - These tend to be folks at the extremes of age. Everybody knows them because they are 90 years old and still running, or because they are 3 years old and just finished their first half marathon. These folks tend to be great, and tend to have no idea why anybody is making a fuss over them. They go out, and do their thing, and instantly become crowd favorites. Occasionally, local celebrities can be placed into this category, too. In this situation, there tends to be an associated entourage. Sometimes this category also extends to local running shop owners or race directors. From what I can tell of these folks tend to be recognized by a lot more people then they actually know. As a result, they seem to spend a lot of their time pre and post race politely talking to people they don't think they've ever seen before, but who know intimate details about their lives. The Local Legend is usually quite pleasant to be around, but you feel a bit like you've wandered into someone else's family reunion when you spend too much time around them.

9. The Race Tim - When I was in medical school, one of the guys in my class - we'll call him "Tim" - was phenomenally skilled at remembering peoples names as well as the names of all their family members. It was a great skill to have, but it also took him forever to get anywhere. Walking down the hall in the hospital, he'd literally stop and talk to everyone he passed - and not just a casual greeting, but "Hey Bob, how are you, and how's your wife Brenda, and your mother Bertha? Did your sister have her twins yet? Didn't your son Billy graduate from college this year?" He was, and still is, a great guy, but sometimes you'd just have to laugh and shake your head when it took you 15 minutes to walk down one flight of stairs with him. I don't know if Tim runs, but their are certainly Tim-like individuals who run. Most of the time, they are a welcome distraction - they fall in with you in the boring middle stretches of a race and provide some much needed entertainment. Then you run into them out of context the next day in the grocery store and have no idea who they are. In the middle of the night you remember - that guy was a Race Tim.

10. The Bankhead - This one will require some explanation. In the mid 2000s there was a little known sitcom called "The Jake Effect" It stared Jason Bateman as a lawyer who felt like he had lost his soul and subsequently quit his law firm to become a high school teacher (incidentally, Mrs. RQ found this show on The Bravo Network's "Brilliant But Cancelled" block one night and I literally spent the next 3 hours watching all 7 episodes back to back. I can't find them anywhere now.) One of the recurring characters on the show was a guy named Bankhead, who was a phenomenally self important, pompous, tool of an attorney at Jason Bateman's former firm (One episode featured a "Bankhead Party - a series of soirees in which Bateman competed with his best friend to try to either keep Bankhead from getting to the party, or make sure he got there. Absolutely hilarious). While the Bankhead is a rare category of runner, unfortunately, they are also very vocal ones and hard to avoid. These individuals are similar to the messiah in advice and irritation factor, with the key difference being that the messiah actually has the intention of doing good and thinks that his advice is helpful. The Bankhead doesn't care whether what he says helps or not, he just wants to hear himself talk.

I've seen these types at literally almost every race I've ever run, and to some extent, I think we're all capable of being all of them to one degree or another (with the exception of the local legend). I think the majority of runners probably fit into an undescribed "normal people" category, and that's a great thing. The cool thing about this sport, though, is that there is room for all of us. Let me know who I forgot. Mu.


  1. Funny and true! Great post. I usually find that there is someone who is "The Mom" - totally prepared with extra wipes for after the port-o-potty, extra gels, kleenex, bandaids, ponytail holders, sunscreen, etc., and she always has an extra just for you. She also knows the entire race route and the location of all the bathrooms along the way. Just like mom on long car rides!

  2. If shoes make me a techie,then I'm guilty as charged!