The Ten Percent Solution 31Jul11

Running injuries may vex the addicted runner, but returning to action can also pose problems. Marathon schedules must be updated. Running contacts must be reestablished. Shoe inventory alone could take hours.

But the proverbial pickle in this sandwich is the post-traumatic training regimen. One emerges from the forced hibernation of a running injury, knocking on wood and throwing salt in all directions, decidedly paranoid about every bodily signal. Injury purgatory is bad enough. No one wants to descend to the inferno of reinjury.

Like me, you may have heard that it’s wise to increase mileage slowly, by no more than ten percent a week. This sounds reasonable. Certainly, if it’s written in Runner’s World, it must be true.

But it all depends on your starting mileage, doesn’t it?

Let’s start with a nice, round number like ten miles per week. With this base, you can expect a nice, steady progression in your training:

Week 1: 11 miles
Week 2: 12.1 miles
Week 3: 13.3 miles
Week 4: 14.6 miles
Week 5: 16.1 miles
Week 6: 17.7 miles
Week 7: 19.5 miles
Week 8: 21.4 miles
Week 9: 23.6 miles
Week 10: 25.9 miles
Week 11: 28.5 miles
Week 12: 31.4 miles
Week 13: 34.5 miles
Week 14: 37.9 miles
Week 15: 41.7 miles

The odd mileage and slow initial progress would be annoying, but just four tolerable months into training, you’d be running over forty miles per week. That’s more than adequate mileage for the typical marathoner. Add a couple more weeks and you’ll plateau at fifty miles: red meat territory.

Naturally, things can get out of hand. For instance, you should never get to the point where you can actually add ten full miles to your weekly tally. In order to “safely” do this, you would already have to be running one hundred miles per week (ten percent of one hundred is ten). That’s a boatload of presumed miles.

I’ve heard of people who run this much, I’ve just never met them. It’s said they live in remote Mexican canyons, wear homemade rubber sandals and hang out with a chap called Caballo Blanco. You may or may not fit this description.

What if you haven’t run a step in months? What if you’re starting from nothing? My eight year old son tells me that ten percent of zero is zero. He says we should avoid the practice of multiplying by zero altogether. I believe him since I haven’t studied math since Reagan was President. We can’t start with zero.

Let’s be reasonable and begin with two laps around the average high school track; about a half mile. At this meager distance, you’ll need a precision Swiss timepiece and help from a non-corrupt I.O.C. course official to run precisely 0.05 miles further in your second week.

It doesn’t get any easier. Goodness knows how you’ll run 1.43 miles in week eleven and follow it up with exactly 1.57 miles in week twelve. This would elevate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to an art form.

Will you risk injury in week twenty-six by running 5.97 instead of 5.96 miles? If the extra 0.01 miles causes a DEFCON 1 calf injury, can you sue running publications?

Certainly, I wouldn’t follow this regimen if you lack patience. Starting with a half mile, you’d need two entire months to build up your endurance sufficiently to run just one full mile per week (or to be precise, 0.97 miles). After four complete months of training, you’ll be running an astounding two miles per week. Prefontaine, give us patience.

Adding infinitesimal miles to a training run may be maddening. But remember, we’re talking about cumulative weekly miles. If you’d like the pleasure of running, say, three times a week, you’ll have to follow a rather meticulous regimen:

Monday: 1.495 miles (Hills)

Wednesday: 1.216 miles (.2519 miles at 5k pace)

Saturday: 3.249 miles (Long Slow Distance)

Let me add a bit more sugar to the Gatorade. The average sedentary person walks 0.473 to 1.42 miles each day. That’s a non-insignificant 3.31 to 9.94 miles a week.

Dustin Hoffman’s Rainmain would tell you that, by your forth week of ten percent progression, you wouldn’t be close to matching the slowest sluggard’s daily output. But cheer up! You’ll reach weekly maximum coach potato distance within eight months. Definitely 32.5 weeks to Wapner.

We’re no longer talking about training schedules, we’re talking about the aging process. If you begin with a half-mile jog, you’d be nearly a year older before breaking the forty mile barrier. That’s one whole circuit around the sun, measuring hundredths of a mile on every training run. The real risk here isn’t reinjury, it’s early-onset dementia.

Increasing mileage in painstakingly slight increments is, practically speaking, impossible. It has nothing to do with ability, let alone doping. It’s about the numbers. Even if you’re in the Goldilocks Zone (not starting with too few or too many base miles) the early weeks of training offer astoundingly laughable increases in mileage.

You simply have never met a runner who has followed the ten percent rule. Not one.

I don’t deny the basic wisdom here. We shouldn’t add miles too rapidly. We’re asking for further injury if we do. But reality has an annoying way of foisting itself upon theory. If you’re on the comeback trail (as I am) you will break the sacred ten percent rule, guaranteed.

If it makes you feel better, call it a loose metaphorical guideline. It helps me.

Just don’t tell the folks at Runner’s World.

– Dean

OUTRAGE! Only 99.9992% of Marathon Participants Live to Run Another Day! 07Dec09

Marathon Death Pie Chart

Winston Smith, gangly father of three, staggered across the finish line, his breath coming in wisps of labored wheezing. Streaked with grotesque rivulets of dried salt, he struck an image of one who had endured terrible hardship and emerged decidedly worse for the wear. Smith had just miraculously survived the 2009 New York City Marathon.

He was one of the lucky ones.

Death by Marathon
The marathon is a relentless killer, extinguishing the lives of spirited weekend warriors at an ever-alarming rate. Runners expect to achieve glory. Instead, legions meet their sudden demise on the course.

The numbers are sobering. With the savage appetite of a celestial black hole, the marathon devours nearly eight millionths of all participants, a figure containing plenty of zeros. Specifically, .000008 of all marathoners die during this grisly race.

Such exceptionally high numbers give mathematicians pause. According to one concerned set theorist, “It doesn’t take Pythagoras to see that average deaths have reached the 6th significant figure to the right of the decimal. I’m no alarmist, but I calculate the chances of death during the marathon as dangerously far above zero, infinitesimally speaking.”

As shocking as these numbers are, they merely reflect races held in the United States. Worldwide fatalities are surely much higher. Details are sketchy. We literally have no idea how many marathoners have joined the choir invisible under Moldova’s Vladimir Voronin or Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa. We may never know.

One thing is certain, ever more naïve, casual athletes attempt the marathon each year. In 2008, an estimated 425,000 runners (in the U.S. alone) made the fateful decision to entrust their lives to the cold embrace of statistics. In 2009, 465,000 people tempted the grim reaper. If these stunning numbers continue to spiral, the marathon may become one of the deadliest activities known to man, rivaling only encounters with a cow, falling down, and daring to exist during the month of January for sheer morbid lethality.

Fortunately, most runners fall prey to debilitating injuries that prevent them from running the marathon in the first place.

Smith’s Feat Warrants Investigation
The extraordinary Winston Smith somehow avoided injuries, survived training and astonishingly escaped the 2009 New York City Marathon with his life. Were other runners as mysteriously fortunate? How many died in their quest to scratch an item off of the definitive bourgeoisie bucket list?

Available records indicate that, inexplicably, of the 43,741 people who ran the five-borough death trap, precisely none died.

This improbable wellspring of life can only be attributed to gross error, statistical oddity or, more ominously, sinister cover-up. For the sake of all involved, the startling lack of fatality in New York must be investigated immediately.

Given the overwhelming odds against living through the marathon, how could Smith have possibly lived to tell his tale? Does he even exist? What did race officials know, and when did they know it?

The public demand answers.

– Dean

Running USA provides and excellent look at marathon participation statistics.

The most often quoted study for marathon fatalities (Redelmeier and Greenwald – BMJ 2007) concluded that on average, .8 marathoners per 100,000 die during the race. This is apparently the most recent, detailed and oft-quoted study related to marathon mortality. It forms the basis for the figures in this post.

Some feel that 1 of every 50,000 participants die during the marathon. Even if this lower figure is entirely correct, just .00002 of all runners die during the marathon. This is a very low number.

However, neither figure is so low that it escapes the eyes of sensationalists.

Thanks to The Bigger Design for the lovely Pie Chart, and to Mr. Davidson for mathematical fact-checking.

The Jackass Kick 02Jul09

JackassKickIndirectly relevant photo by QuietDelusions courtesy of Flickr.

A burst of speed at the end of a marathon is exceedingly rare, but it happened to me once. Usually, one can’t summon late race heroics from weary muscles. But there I was at the Myrtle Beach Marathon feeling relatively fresh at mile 24. As I passed fading runners, I began to sense an excellent finish. You’ll just have to trust me. This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

Positively ebullient, I passed the 26-mile marker, primed for excessive celebration. That’s when I saw her. As I rounded the final corner, twenty yards ahead, mercilessly taunting me by her very presence, was a white haired old woman in Asics and a singlet.

She was going to beat me.

Defiance rose from deep within the arcane recesses of my masculinity. Flush with what I assure you were entirely natural performance enhancing intoxicants, I surged forward, determined to finish before this usurping senior citizen. I remember literally screaming to myself, “No way grandma!”

But then, my practical sense emerged from the biochemical fog. Was I really racing an older woman? To be sure, she was fit and quite capable. A 3:30 marathon is nothing to sneeze at. But let’s face it, she could collect social security and something had to be done about that.

As we jostled for position, I heard two distinct sounds rising from the crowd. Wild cheering overflowed for the white haired woman. Malevolent boos and derisive insults were hurled at me. No amount of hormones could save me now.

Consider the unmanageable difficulty of my situation.

Anyone who would pass an old woman in sight of a marathon finish is, by definition, a jackass. There’s just no way around this. However, anyone beaten by an old woman in an endurance race must be hopelessly feeble. This horrible realization makes one want to pass old women in the first place. To pass or not to pass; both options are wholly untenable. Worse, the consequence of one choice makes the other choice totally necessary, so there’s simply no way to win. It’s Heller’s Catch-22 for runners.


I had only a split second to make my choice. Like any red-blooded, hyper-competitive marathoner within sight of the immortal finish line, I bolted. Grandma ate my testosterone-laced dust.

In Chariot’s of Fire, Eric Liddell ran and felt God’s pleasure. That must have been nice. As I dashed forward, I could feel the mordant stares and quiet disgust of outraged spectators. As I crossed the finish line, the enormity of my blunder became clear. I had blatantly, unashamedly run down kindly Carole Findley, 66 of Raleigh, North Carolina. I felt like the devil incarnate.

Carole of course, finished to thunderous applause despite struggling through the final hundred yards (I suspect she may have been playing to the crowd, but I can’t prove this.) In the finisher’s chute, I sheepishly received my ill-gotten medal. I finished the marathon with rare strength and couldn’t enjoy it, even slightly. Avoiding eye contact with the masses, I skulked away.

Since then, I’ve cultivated a healthy grasp of competitive etiquette. I wish I had shown greater maturity at Myrtle, particularly in light of one painfully salient fact: Carole ran the half rather than the full marathon that day. Had I known this at the time, her 3:30 would have seemed a tad less threateningly impressive and the whole day might have gone differently. As it stood, I beat down an older woman who ran 16-minute miles (probably a personal best) in an entirely different race. And I had to kick into high gear to pass her. Even my act of strength revealed weakness.

So Carole, I apologize for my callow buffoonery. I’d like to make it up to you someday; perhaps we can meet for dinner at the Piccadilly Cafeteria and enjoy Bingo afterward… my treat.

– Dean


2007 Myrtle Beach Half Marathon
Carole Findley – Age 66 (Really, not old at all)

2007 Myrtle Beach Marathon
Dean Schuster – Age 36
3:28:52 (PR at the time)

Sylvia Collins – Age 65
3:31:21 (Whew, I’m glad I beat the amazing Sylvia.)

Abe Vigoda’s Bloody Nipples 29May09

Photo by TravISU courtesy of Flickr.

If you’ve run a road marathon, you’ve probably heard an encouraging word from a volunteer or spectator. These folk mean well. Full of enthusiasm and wholeheartedly devoted to your cause, they shout, “You’re almost there!” and “It’s right around the corner!” If you’re seriously lucky, they’ll boldly proclaim, “You look great!”

These are all lies.

You’re not almost there. The finish line is not right around the corner, and you look far, far from great.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate lusty support. But what if marathon fans couldn’t use standard catchphrases? What if they were restricted to the raw, brutal truth? If so, somewhere around mile 22, unsuspecting runners would find themselves absolutely blitzed by excessive honesty. Imagine the wide-ranging, rather bizarre cheers:

“You can keep that vomit down for another mile, I know it!”

“You have no chance of catching the senior citizen in front of you.”

“You’re the only runner in sight. I offer half-hearted, token applause.”

“Your bloody nipple shirt offends us, sir.”

“Hey look, it’s Abe Vigoda!”

“Can you hurry things up a bit? The police need to pick up these traffic cones.”

How are you still upright?

“All this effort for a cheesy, cotton T-shirt?”

“You appear to be running dangerously low on hope.”

“The Salt Vampire from the original Star Trek has nothing on you!”

“You know, I really just don’t see the point.”

“Hey sweatipotimus! Five dollars says you get a class-A dehydration cramp before the next aid station.”

“From the comfort of my curbside lawn chair, it’s exceedingly easy for me to tell you to run faster.”

“We need an ambulance at mile 22, STAT!”

“The winner finished like, two hours ago.”

Now then Intrepid runner, wouldn’t you prefer lies? Who wants the truth when you’ve got four or five oppressive miles to go?

At least fans care enough to show support. Goodness knows they’ve probably got more constructive things to do. Most just don’t know any better. If they truly understood the unending, quasi-hallucinogenic misery of the last few miles of the marathon, they’d add subtle nuance to their spin doctoring. They’d avoid exaggeration altogether.

But, I don’t want that.

Fans, you keep right on telling me I look great. I know it’s a lie. You know it’s a lie. It will be our little secret, the proverbial elephant on the course. We’ll be as comfortable together as politicians and voters.

Beyond turning a deaf ear to alluring half truths, I have a practical solution. Fans, position yourselves after the 25-mile mark. Then you’ll be free to say whatever you please about distance. At that point, even the most morose, pessimistic runners will concede they’re “almost done.” Fans aren’t censored. Runners are too buoyant to care. Everyone wins.

Better yet, cheer during the final .2-mile stretch run. There, you’ll have carte blanche to say damn near anything to me. Nothing can offend when I can see the finish line. Call me Abe Vigoda. Insult my beatific grandmother. Heck, announce to the crowd that I heartily enjoy kicking puppies. Knock yourselves out.

But before this remember, I look fabulous.

– Dean

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

The Smart Alec Poster Cult 24Jan09

No Bailout for you!
Banks, insurance companies, lending institutions, automobile manufacturers, municipalities, and Wall Street? Yes.

You after mile 21? No.

After you’ve run a few marathons, you begin to notice themes. Some races are tougher than others. Some courses are beautifully scenic. Sometimes you run elbow to elbow with thousands of people. Other times you virtually race alone. Within this variety of experience, one constant remains: the imaginative marathon fan.

In a way, marathon fans are more unusual than marathon runners. It’s one thing to take your body to the point of collapse. It’s another thing entirely to encourage someone else to do it. And that’s the rub. Marathon fans are more than just spectators. They have a job to do. They must help their runner drag his or her sorry carcass across the finish line.

Fans have two primary means of cheering runners: vocal chords (drop by Wellesley during the Boston Marathon and you’ll experience this to great effect) and naturally, the hand-made marathon poster.

Creative posters are the spice of the marathon experience. The most inventive rise above the bland “Run mommy!” or “You can do it!” variety. Signs can be witty, sarcastic, comedic, inspirational, confrontational, and yes, even vulgar.

They’ve become something of a genre unto themselves. I’ve found brilliant examples. Here’s the first batch:

Lowered Expectations
Don\'t Die Lisa
2008 Marine Corps Marathon | Photo by Kicksie courtesy of Flickr.

If Lisa survived this race, her biggest fan will have considered it a crowning achievement. Really, we should all have such support, especially at work.

“I know you’ve got umpteen thousand status reports to write, but there’s no rush. As long as you live through the process, management will be completely satisfied.”

Perhaps the same consideration should be given to this fan, who apparently wasn’t concerned about which way the sign was facing.

Encouragement for the Rest of Us
Beat Oprah
New Jersey Marathon | Photo by shanonala courtesy of Flickr.

Most marathoners are not very fast. According to the USATF, the median finishing time for males is 4:19:52; for females, 4:52:55.

So, these intrepid fans really know how to motivate the meatiest part of the bell curve: By imploring runners to beat Oprah’s respectable 4:29:20.

Another target that could provide supreme motivation: George W. Bush’s 3:44:52.

Poor Advice
Joe Hop
2005 Chicago Marathon | Photo by fxdirect courtesy of Flickr.

No Joe! You should run! Hopping is much harder and will put undue stress on your knees, shins and kidneys.

Do not listen to this woman.

A Gift for Understatement
Annie, You\'re Kind of a Big Deal
2007 Chicago Marathon | Photo by soundfromwayout courtesy of Flickr.

Most marathon posters offer highly superlative encouragement. Runners see endless signs of the “My Parent is Awesome” or “You’re My Hero [Frank, Joe, Chet, etc.]” variety. The nonstop overstatement can become a bit boring.

Annie’s sign rises above the din. One imagines the author seeking to inspire uniquely without resorting to exaggeration (or engendering undue pride). He has succeeded brilliantly.

Unless of course Annie was expecting superlative encouragement; In which case, he’s failed miserably.

It’s the thought that counts.
This is your sign.
2006 New York City Marathon | Photo by Elizabeth Wentling courtesy of Flickr.

“… But I still went to great pains to create a highly legible, humungous sign. I also risked my life to hang it on a precarious fire escape while nursing a brutal hangover. So when we get to Rother’s, you’re buying, dude.”

Come hither.

2006 Los Angeles Marathon | Photo by concrete cornfields courtesy of Flickr.

I don’t know what’s funnier, the (presumed) woman in Fredrick’s of Hollywood lingerie, the outrageous offer or the cheesy covered sofa complete with low rent boom box. An upscale gentleman’s venue, this is not.

Locals know this to be the infamous Venus de Midol (seriously). Her annual tawdry proposal is not a joke. Yes readers, it’s for real.

I find it necessary to offer prospective clients a few words of advice. If you’re keen for a lap dance, may I suggest a more private setting when you are less exposed publically, clad in something other than marathon attire, not encrusted with salt and can independently verify the gender of the dancer.

To be continued…
A host of witty marathon signs are on the way. Come back on Wednesday January 28th for more!

– Dean