Plainspoken Inspiration of the Street Race Poets 09Apr09

I appreciate the marathon fan that goes out of his or her way to encourage runners. Having suffered through many races, I know how immensely helpful this can be.

Three cheers if the fan goes through the trouble to handcraft a sign: the icing on the cake of robust support. Naturally, I look forward to witty signage. But the best marathon posters aren’t merely clever. They reveal a deeper understanding of the runner’s journey… of the runner’s pain. They exist at the intersection of creativity and understanding.

Marathon Noir
Dig Deep!
Don't Even Think About Stopping!
Look Alive!
2007 St. George Marathon | Photos by sabrebelle courtesy of Flickr.

I’ve always believed morticians were secretly whimsical. You can’t take yourself too seriously if you apply cosmetics to dead folk all day. At once inspiring and hilariously morbid, these signs would take my mind off the pain of long distance running. More businesses should cultivate darkly comedic marathon support.

I can only imagine what similarly grim humor embalmers might hoist upon marathon runners:

Mile 21
Got guts?

Mile 23
Nothing Lasts Forever!

Mile 25
Want your mummy?

Refreshing Candor
No One Made You Do This.
2007 Las Vegas Marathon | Photo by Dawn – Pick Chick courtesy of Flickr.

That’s right, no one made you get up at four in the morning in the dead of winter. No one made you cough up a lung during speed work. You are responsible for your shin splints, planar fasciitis, tendonitis, stress fracture or groin pull. The stressed relationships, funky laundry and graveyard of shoes belong to you alone. Timothy Geithner didn’t fund your training. No one held a gun to your head and made you run the marathon.

You were this stupid all by yourself.

Good for you.

E Tu Wellesley?
I Dare You to Kiss a Yankees Fan!
2008 Boston Marathon | Photo by dengaterade courtesy of Flickr.

Motivation comes in so many forms, especially at the Boston Marathon’s infamous Wellesley “Scream tunnel.” To wit, right after you kiss this enthusiastic coed, the girl in the dark shades punches you square in the mouth.

Classic bait and switch, really.

Open to Interpretation
If Palin Can Run, So Can You
2008 New York City Marathon | Photo by whas courtesy of Flickr.

Option 1
You too can come out of nowhere, rise despite the odds and become an inspiration to others.

Option 2
If a remote, unknown provincialist can find herself on the Presidential ticket, surely you can do damn near anything.

Either way, you’re inspired.

Stark Militarism
Finishing is Your Only Fucking Option
2007 New York City Marathon | Photo by Library Maven courtesy of Flickr.

Meet Marine Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’s civilian brother and scourge of marathoners. Don’t drop out of the race in front of this dude. His maniacal cohorts might burst from the crowd to beat you senseless. You’d certainly endure an expletive-laden tirade. Stanley Kubrick would have loved this guy.

But perhaps he just understands runners.

Deep inside the marathoner’s psyche, lies a core uncertainty. “Can I do this?” “Will I fail?” But runners are also fiercely determined. Resolve and fear exist in parallel and war for the runner’s mind. This simple poster indirectly acknowledges the fear and bluntly shuts it out, offering only stern defiance – the very thing a runner needs to achieve their goal.

This may be the most singularly insightful and blisteringly motivational marathon poster I’ve yet seen.

For those who’ve seen it in person: As soon as the nightmares pass, you should be fine.

Hialriously Indecipherable
(indecipherable marathon sign)
2006 Kiawah Island Marathon | Photo by Angie.

This is my all time favorite marathon poster. Who needs coherent signage when one has access to the creative innocence of a four-year-old mind? Only this boy knows what his scribblings mean. There’s an guileless beauty in his determination.

At least he was clear on the fundamentals; marathoners need encouragement, even if they’re too tired to translate.

– Dean

Anatomical Fixation 03Apr09

Runners have uncanny body awareness. We can tell if our IT band feels ever so slightly off the mark, we describe everyday aches and pains to the minutest detail and we routinely discuss optimal methods for body glide application.

So it seems inevitable that marathon posters should reflect this obsession. A majority of hand-made race signs have something or other to do with the oddity of pushing the human body to the brink of endurance. Some just fixate on the body itself.

Not every sentiment is dignified.

Mensa Oblique

2005 New York City Marathon | Photo by sabrebelle courtesy of Flickr.

In case you didn’t already know, ATP refers to adenosine triphosphate, the “universal energy currency for metabolism.” Basically, ATP stores energy so that you can do stuff. I had to look it up.

This sign would appeal to the relatively few molecular biochemist marathoners who would instantly recognize the acronym and draw great inspiration from this highly energetic, essential molecule.

Intriguing Offer
Free Nipple Massages at the finish line
2008 San Diego Rock n’ Roll Marathon | Photo by tned_99 courtesy of Flickr.

Any male who has experienced the dreaded bloody nipple phenomenon would never accept this offer. The last thing I want after a marathon is excessive nipple stimulation.

But perhaps I’m missing the point. The real question here might be “just who massages whom?”

Shamed Into Achievement
If I ran it, By God, so can you.
2007 Twin Cities Marathon | Photo by Pookareena courtesy of Flickr.

You haven’t lived until you’ve been passed at mile 21 by someone who doesn’t appear to be in tip-top shape. You stare incredulously and helplessly as they drag their stout frame past your unworthy carcass.

This Clydesdale probably didn’t run quickly enough for this. He may have finished his marathon in a sedate six hours. We don’t know. He may be one of those annoying folk who looks like they’ve enjoyed one Denny’s Grand Slamwich too many, yet is a perennial Boston qualifier.

What can I say? Life’s not fair.

Inevitable Excretory Humor
Dad, did you pee your pants?
2008 Grandma’s Marathon | Photo by Sjixxxy courtesy of Flickr.

Every race features at least one urination or defecation poster. Usually runners are encouraged to press on regardless of need or consequences. If George Lucas frequented marathons, he’d hold aloft a sign like this. I’m sure of it. Nothing amuses the masses like poop.

But this girl’s sign is a bit different, and quite plausible. She wants to know if her father has lost control of his bodily functions. Perhaps dad sweats profusely and she can’t tell the difference.

Ominous Reassurance

2008 Boston Marathon | Photo by Jake T courtesy of Flickr.

Translation: You are about to attempt something that could cost you one or more toenails. But don’t turn back, because losing them would be COOL.

Incidentally, let’s not forget the raw entertainment value of the marathoner’s toenails. Next time you’re about to lose one, show your kids. Describe the injury with your best Bear Grylls accent while pivoting the dangling flap like a curiously squeaky hinge. Add sound effects at just the right moment, and your tweenage daughter will run from the room screaming.

Rather Personal Encouragement

2006 Chicago Marathon | Photo by Andy Marfia courtesy of Flickr.

This guy is either:

a) A brash, young rogue who plays by his own rules.

b) Providing an indecently awkward romantic overture that may not be received well.

c) Actually cheering for a man.

To be continued…
Stay tuned for the next series of marathon posters!

– Dean

Curbside Battle of Wits 28Jan09

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