How many people does it take to fake a marathon? About 1,000 apparently – as proved by a Kickstarter project that I can’t decide if it is genius social commentary or best racket yet.
For those of you uninitiated into the bizarro world of Kickstarter, it’s a website where you can propose a plan to do basically anything and have people give you money to do it. At its very best it’s crowd-sourced fundraising and micro-loans. At its worst, it’s a book about how hard it is to be a hot girl with shredded abs (which was the best sorry-I’m-not-sorry I’ve ever read). But today I came across a Kickstarter adventure so awesome, so hilarious, so inventive and so, well, thought-provoking that I had to share it.
Behold: The Greatest Race That Never Was.
“Run Free!” is the motto, born of a frustration with the hullaballoo that modern racing has become. Running used to be known as one of the cheapest sports there was. All you need are some shoes and a decent tolerance for discomfort. But if you’ve ever ran a race then you know that while running is cheap, racing is expensive, time consuming and you have to do things like show up at the right place at the right time. So what’s the antidote? February 2, 2013, over 1,000 runners all over the world donned “Run free, the greatest race that never was” shirts, snapped some selfies, uploaded them to the internets and… created the first faked marathon.
Don’t get me wrong. People have been faking running marathons probably as long as there have been marathons. And quite often people are terrible fakers. (Except that original Marathon-Sparta guy. He died. Definitely not faking that one.) There was the runner who jumped on the subway and took a ride to the finish line. (She was busted for completing the marathon at a world-record pace and not even looking sweaty.) There are the bandits who run under other people’s numbers (generally it’s faster people running for slower people but I have seen it go the other way a couple of times). And of course the many, many short-cutters. (One NYC race official DQ’d a group of European runners who took the Central Park shortcut and shaved 10 miles off of their marathon. They later said that in Europe, any long run is a “marathon” and didn’t realize that 26.2 was a hard-and-fast rule.)
But I believe this is the first time anyone has ever faked an entire race. And I kinda wish I’d been in on it.
They say cheaters never prosper but “Ridiculous” – the guy/girl who started the project – prospered to the tune of $23,000+. Plus they pulled off a social experiment on a grand scale. With their prize purses, corporate endorsements, ad-covered shirts, chip timing and money-making, racing has become quite the business. So are people really running races for the joy of racing? Or are they doing it for Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram/Twitter bragging rights? Having run some races myself, I would say probably some of each. Plus, I’d add, the opportunity to be an adult and wear a costume in public, a chance to hang out kid-free with my friends and – let’s be honest – the salted nut rolls at the end. (Yes I know I could just go to the store and buy my own nut roll but they don’t taste as good that way!)
I’d be lying though if I didn’t say the ubiquitous Facebook snaps weren’t a big part of the fun though. It’s guaranteed that someone will be taking camera shots from beginning to end. And what about the people who tie their timing chip to their Facebook or Twitter so that all their friends get a gritty blow-by-blow? It’s easy to laugh at the texting runner who runs into a tree but the truth is that all of us there are in it somewhat for the acclaim – or else we’d be running 26.2 by ourselves around the neighborhood. So when does that desire for acclaim get to the point where you’d be willing to cheat to get it?
Unfortunately the Run Free kickstarter project didn’t answer any of these questions. They proved that faking an entire race can be done. But they didn’t show why it was so interesting.
Would you have done the Fake Race? You know anyone who’s ever cheated in a race? What do you think of the slickly marketed, party-planned, modern races? What’s your fave race that you’ve ever done?