The Planet Wave, a monthly running column by the Mizuno Shoe Guy -- July 2011
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on July 6, 2011
The Mizuno Road Crew has been all over the map this past year at major races in such places as Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Des Moines, San Diego, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and we, of course, made it to the biggies in New York City, Boston and Chicago. But the race which had the greatest impact on me this year was the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll. San Antonio? Really?
Really. Unless you were there or know someone who ran, you probably didn’t pay any attention to this race. Unlike New York, Boston or Chicago, there weren’t any big-name runners in San Anton. The winning times weren’t newsworthy and other than a train disrupting the race for five minutes near the one-mile mark, the race wasn’t particularly remarkable. But, to me, it was a memorable race with lasting social consequences. Allow me a moment to explain its significance.
After finishing the half marathon and socializing around in the Alamodome finisher area for an hour or so, one of my Team Mizuno teammates and I decided to jog back to our hotel. I always secretly despise these skinny, fast guys who finish a race way ahead of me and seem to be taunting me by doing their cooldowns—racing flats in hand—back along the course as I am still struggling to the finish. In San Antonio, I was that guy.
As we made our way toward the hotel back down the course more than 2 ½ hours after the race started, we stopped to cheer the 30,000 of marathoners and half marathoners who were in their final tough miles to the finish. (In San Antonio, the half marathoners and marathoners merge onto the same stretch of road for the last couple of miles back to the Alamodome.) We continued to run slowly back toward our hotel, but mostly we just watched a steady, unbroken stream of thousands and thousands of half marathoners. Finally, we reached the eight-mile mark where the crowd of half marathoners was so thick we couldn’t get across the street. At this point, nearly three hours into the race, almost all of the half marathoners were walking or very, very slowly shuffling along with five miles still to go. This is the reality of San Antonio: 30,000 participants, but most are going so slowly (even walking slowly), I hesitate to call them runners.
But, as I watched them valiantly push forward on depleted legs, I thought: Who cares? I mean, who cares whether they are real runners, whatever that may mean? Who cares whether they walked every single step of the 13 miles? Who cares if some of them could barely move and still had a couple of hours left? Who cares if some of the half marathoners finished two or three hours after the top marathoners did? Actually, I do care. Actually, I think it’s great. Actually, I think it’s incredible that thousands of people who just a year ago didn’t even know what a marathon (or half) consisted of are now actually “doing” one.
This is the new face of running in America. And it doesn’t bother me in the least whether the masses are walking at 15-minute per mile pace. What matters to me is these same people aremoving. Which is probably something they had never done before. The San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll might not be the greatest race in America, but it has become transformational. It is that important.
If you’ve been paying attention, we have an obesity crisis in these United States. Americans are getting fatter and fatter by the minute. In 20 years, half of the entire country will be classified as obese. Ground Zero for this epidemic is my home state of Texas with three of the fattest cities in America: Dallas, Houston and yes, San Antonio. All three cities are heavily Hispanic, but none more so than San Antonio which has a population that is more than 60 percent Hispanic. That’s a demographic that is especially susceptible to obesity with more than half of all Hispanics deemed overweight. Among Hispanic children, childhood obesity is more prevalent than any other ethnic group.
Four years ago, Rock ‘n’ Roll stepped into San Antonio, lured in part by the municipal government (and an aggressive city manager who is a marathoner). San Antonio has always had a marathon, but it’s been small and inconsequential. Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t do small and inconsequential. When Rock ‘n’ Roll jumped in, they created a marathon that is heavily marketed as an event (rather than a pure race). By working tirelessly to be all inclusive, Rock ‘n’ Roll has—in just a blink--helped to energize one of the fattest, least healthy cities in America into one where a marathon is at least on the radar of many otherwise sedentary people, including thousands of overweight Hispanics who had never given as much as a thought to running a race.
Running is now flourishing in the Alamo City where, until recently, running has not even been a blip on the societal influences. Training groups and races are sprouting up all over town. Running shoes and shorts are now the dominant fashion at the city’s Whole Foods. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of running stores. Now, there are at least 10. Training for this fall’s San Antonio began in April. Some groups started with one-mile walk/runs. Used to be training groups were considered healthy if 20 people showed up. These days, the numbers are so staggering for group runs that they have become a problem on weekend long runs. Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone in San Antonio has started running or walking to get in shape, but Rock ‘n’ Roll has become so prominent, so important to the community, that everyone in town at least knows someone who is training for this fall’s race (November 13th). Everyone wants to be a part of it and last year, Rock ‘n’ Roll actually had more volunteers than were needed.
Just four years ago, I went to the first organizational meeting for Rock ‘n’ Roll in San Antonio. The meeting was spirited but chaotic since few of the city leaders and shakers had any idea what a marathon is or what it entails. At the time, they had no conception whatsoever what this race could mean for the health of their city.
They know now.