Sunday is Marathon Day here in New York City. I’ll be along 5th Avenue, under the golden fall foliage, watching about 52,000 runners will themselves through the last three miles through Central Park. It’s such a great day that connects all five of Gotham’s boroughs. On another level, the marathon itself might be perhaps a great metaphor for this city: a multinational event that’s big, expensive, and rooted in competition.
This is quite a contrast from the Chicago Marathon’s trademark welcoming vibe. Before I moved to New York, I cut my marathoning teeth on the streets of Chicago, so when I ran NYC I was surprised by the differences. The biggest difference I noticed between the marathons was the way that they were marketed. This got me thinking about what a marathon says about its host city? Read more and weigh in at the bottom!
In 2010 and 2011 in Chicago, the Bank of America ad campaigns were all about motivating one another, even printing the chipper slogan, “Let’s Run Together” on the 2011 finisher’s medals.
2012 in New York, by contrast, featured an ad campaign that succinctly read, “I’m In.”
Huh. What a difference in perspectives! One is all about togetherness and the other is all about ME! Interesting!
This contrast got me thinking about the character of Chicago vs. New York. On the one hand, you have Chicago. Carl Sandberg’s supportive “City of the Big Shoulders” that was home to agriculture and industry mixed with Midwestern humility.
On the other hand, New York is the city about which Ol’ Blue Eyes sang, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!” It’s a competitive city that makes you aggressively fight for even the slightest bit of subway standing room. In other words, you have the The Capital of the World vs. The Second City. The city of the team that holds the most World Series titles vs. the city of loyal fans of cursed baseball teams. Neat martinis vs. cans of beer.
In fairness, the New York Marathon’s 2010 publicity materials boasted, “I’m in. We’re in,” but it still prioritized the first person pronoun. So does New York’s individualism translate into self-centeredness?
This year’s NYC ad campaign are about the variety of moments that fill in the blank in the statement “Get your ______ on.” Yes, each person’s marathon experience is different. But the 2015 Chicago Marathon ads still emphasized community, reading, “Life’s better when we’re connected.” Not “I’m better than my neighbor because I ran a marathon” or “I’m a real runner because I finished 26.2.”
I could be reading too far into the slick marketing and the catchy phrases. Still, I can’t help but wonder if a city’s marathon reflect that city’s personality. You could argue that cities are made up of individuals, but it still leads to a collective identity. Race courses usually show off the best views of their city, but do a city’s races share the overarching community ethos?
Forget the question, “Why do you run marathons?” and instead think about “Why do you run that marathon?” People make choices for all kinds of reasons: proximity to home, a flat course for a new PR, you got in the lottery so you might as well do it. I’m wondering here if there are personality-based reasons why certain races appeal to certain people. Do big races draw more extroverts? Are trail marathoners any more rugged than city slickers?
Stereotypes, unfortunately, persist because there is a grain of truth in their origin. In regards to the marathon, I am the most grateful for the beer at Chicago’s finish line. [And cheers to all fall marathon finishers!]
Have you ever participated in a race that seemed perfectly suited for the city? Or do runner attitudes make up for the different feels in races?