(From the May 12, 2011 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)
My wife and I had just finished our daily run recently when a couple walking their dogs approached and asked us: “Are you two training for anything in particular?”
That’s a polite way of saying “what is WRONG with you? You better have a reason for running. We’re only out here walking because our dogs have to do their business.”
Actually, we are training for the River Bank Run in Grand Rapids. It’s the start of the running season for us, although believe it or not there are races even in Michigan all year long. We participate in races right through New Year’s Day and are pretty much training for something all year long.
But that couple’s question came back to me as I was watching news about the Kentucky Derby. We keep a training log of how many miles we run, which adds up to an impressive number. Our races are all in kilometers, anywhere from 5 to 25. But these horses, who seem to get far more attention than races involving human beings who run, only run 1.25 miles.
Actually, horse races are measured in furlongs, which are about one-eighth of a mile. Human races are measured in kilometers. So if you say you ran a 25K people are generally impressed, and then you explain it’s 15.5 miles and they seem less so. That’s why I usually just give the kilometer distance and let them think what they want. But furlongs would be even better. I could say I ran “eight” and not explain I’m counting furlongs and that I actual ran only one mile. Then, why not have human races in furlongs? Those horses have it easy. I’d rather run like a horse.
I know what you’re thinking. Pfbbbth (or however you spell that sound horses make).
Sure, those noble beasts can go about 30 miles per hour. It wouldn’t be accurate to say I ran like a horse just by using a different unit of measure. Well, maybe if I knew I only had to go a tad more than a mile I would speed up. Also, if I had a small man on my back wearing a funny polka dot shirt and whipping my flank I could get up to 20 miles per hour. Maybe. I probably won’t test that theory.
Anyway, the Kentucky Derby is called ‘Most exciting two minutes in sports.” For me the most exciting two minutes of sport are the last two minutes of any race I’m running. That’s because I know I get to stop soon, and there will be food. Come to think of it, that may be what the horses are thinking, if they think.
There would be other advantages to making human races more like horse races. Spectators could wear something other than jeans and sweatshirts. They could break out the cravats and broad brimmed hats and floral dresses. I’ll bet 5ks and 10ks would fall out of fashion quicker than a three-year-old thoroughbred. Speaking of bets, spectators should be allowed to bet on human runners. It could cut down on race registration fees and the races that are fundraisers for nonprofits would do a whole lot better.
In horse races the honors go to those that “win”, “place,” or “show.” I’ve heard that’s a fancy way of saying first, second, and third place. I don’t care. I never win. I think it would be an improvement to give awards to people who just show up.
We human runners could even give ourselves funny names like the horses have. An accountant who runs on weekends could call himself “Tax Bracket.” A mechanic could be known as “Front End Alignment.” I have dibs on “Gotta Hurl.”
If we would only be running a few furlongs instead of a bunch of miles or kilometers, we wouldn’t need to drink just water or Gatorade either. We could join the crowd and have a mint julep or something else more tasty and exotic.
This may be one of my less practical ideas. I’ll have to stick to the conventions of human running. I am sort of serious about those mint juleps though. If the River Bank Run has time to make those available at an aid station with about one furlong to go, it could redefine the most exciting two minutes in sports. At least for me.