Curbside Battle of Wits

28 January 2009

There seems to be no end to the creativity of marathon fans. Perhaps they just have time on their hands. What else is there to do while huddling in the cold waiting to cheer your favorite runner for a few precious seconds? At least clever signs are a source of entertainment.

But there may also be a competitive subtext on the sidelines. While marathoners run against the clock, some in the crowd engage in a fierce battle of wits. It’s a poster arms race: The more humorously urbane the sign, the more worthy the fan.

If runners happen to incidentally draw inspiration from this drive to out-chic other spectators, so be it.

With this in mind, let’s examine another batch of marathon posters:

Fandom Dualism
Namby Pamby
2006 Chicago Marathon | Photo by kabn courtesy of Flickr.

On the right, we see well-meaning marathon supporters, lightheartedly cheering runners. Shivering on the side of the road, they’d clearly be happier if the whole nasty business were complete. Clint Eastwood wouldn’t approve.

Apparently, neither would the spectators on the left, who sport a rather hardcore message. But perhaps this harsh sign is not meant for runners. It might be a challenge to the nearby fans holding the weak-kneed sign. The Namby-Pambyists proclaim, “We are the heartier fans! Bring on the Frostbite!”

Amen sisters!

The Defiant Cliché
Why your feet hurt.
2007 New York City Marathon | Photo by edEx courtesy of Flickr.

This sign (or variant thereof) has become a staple of road marathon fandom, probably because it serves both runner and spectator well. For the runner, the message appeals to base instincts. It actually helps to see something like this at mile 22. For the fan, the low-grade profanity is benignly naughty, the counter-culture equivalent of the magnetic earring (all of the rebellion none of the commitment).

Cue the Umpa Lumpas
The Blackberry Bargain
2007 New York City Marathon | Photo by misplacedparadox courtesy of Flickr.

What has become of us? Apparently, fathers are now making smart phone bribes to pre-teens under the guise of spousal encouragement.

I don’t trust dad’s agenda. He’s using mom’s marathon to prop up his sketchy parenting skills. Consider: A poster like this can’t possibly inspire mom. She does all the work and gets nothing in return. The family budget takes a hit, coach potato dad becomes the undeserving hero and little Veruca Salt gets a better cell phone than me.

I hope mom finished in precisely 4:31:01.

Sacrilegious Error
Chariots of Fire
2006 Salt Lake City Marathon | Photo by deltaMike courtesy of Flickr.

The main refrain to Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire (our most sacred anthem) features precisely twenty-two “NAs.” This sign inadequately offers only fifteen “NAs.”

Without clarification, one might assume the sign referred to “Get a Job” by Sha Na Na (potentially insulting); “The Na Na Song” by Cheryl Crow (lyrics only make sense after mile 25); Possibly the “Theme from Rocky” (three cheers for pugilism); or more likely the inevitable “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by the Chateaus/Steam (hardly encouraging to marathoners).

Beer, Fags and Lard
2005 London Marathon | Photo by Rufous Y Anunciada courtesy of Flickr.

Right. So this bloke named “Stooz” must really fancy lard. How else could he put up with such cracking, barmy signs? I’m interested in the wee bonny sign on the right. It directs Stooz to “Follow the crowd to free beer, fags and lard.”

Beer, I understand. Fags less so. Only dodgy buggers would smoke after a long distance race. But what of the lard? Why is it free? Does it possess mysterious recuperative qualities? Is it (gasp) tasty to the knackered runner? Should I give it a go after my next race?

British readers, please enlighten me.

All Hail Sakyong!
Oi Svengali
2005 New York City Marathon | Photo by whitkick courtesy of Flickr.

Weldon Smith doesn’t instantly command respect. Dennis Frumperton is nobody’s tyrant. Replace “Sakyong” with “Bill” and “Mipham” with “Jones” and you have one boring poster.

I love the swirls here, which add a hypnotic quality to the design; as if Sakyong is far more svengali than sovereign.

Indulging the Id
Your Inspiration
2007 Marine Corps Marathon

These young ladies offer the perfect fusion of motivation and witticism. Let’s scrutinize their respective messages:

Woman on the Left
An avid marathoner and ultramarathoner, I do indeed possess abundant stamina. I also take people at their word. So I called the phone number on the sign. A woman answered, and was quite taken aback by the subject of my call. Odd; she seemed so earnest in the photo. Perhaps I reached the wrong person. The last digit of the phone number is a bit fuzzy.

Woman on the Right
At least Woman Seeking Stamina had the courage of her convictions. I question the commitment of Cleavage Sally. Runners pushed their bodies to the limit as they passed, offering their last measure of endurance to the unforgiving course. If this woman were serious about inspiration, her neckline would be far lower.

To be continued…
There’s more where this came from, including a classic sign from Brooklyn, and an intriguing offer seen at the San Diego Marathon.

– Dean

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