I Must’ve Missed the Punch Line: The Run Free Race

While Pepper and I take our running seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I take my running seriously. And yes, I definitely take it too seriously sometimes. But, that’s o.k. I love running and I’m not ashamed to admit that it matters to me and I like to talk about it … a lot! And yes, I’m well aware it bores the pants off of most of my friends and family and that I am a walking talking stereotype. And I like it. And I can take a joke about it.

This Onion piece about marathoners made me laugh so hard I cried.

And this You Tube spoof on runners was pretty much the same story.

When I first read about the Run Free Race in Mint’s post about it, I can’t say I immediately got the joke. So when Kyle Scheele, the guy behind the Run Free Race (the Groupon fake marathon) offered to answer my questions, I took him up on the offer to learn a little more about his motivations and why on earth anyone would pay to participate.

Salty: How did you come up with the idea for the RFR? When you first told people about it, how did they react?ย 

Kyle: The idea came when I was talking to a buddy of mine who runs marathons all the time. He had been trying to get me into running forever, and I had always resisted. On this particular occasion, he said “You’ve got to try a marathon, man. It’s so much fun.”

I said “I’ve seen people who just finished a marathon, and they do not look like they had any fun.”

He smiled and said “Okay, maybe fun is the wrong word. But it’s really cool to be able to say that you’ve run one.” I smiled and said “Yeah, but I could say that I’ve run one now…” We both laughed, but I thought “Hmmm… that’s actually not a bad idea….”

The idea sort of evolved from there. I thought it would be interesting to see how many people would believe a marathon was real even when there was plenty of evidence that it wasn’t. I mean, if you Google “run free 2013”, you’ll find links to our Kickstarter page explaining that it’s fake, links to our homepage where we say “Run Free 2013 is the first ever worldwide fake marathon”, etc. The whole thing sort of turned into an experiment in how easily people will believe things they find on the internet without doing any verification whatsoever.

Salty: Tell us a little bit about your participants, both your runners and non-runner participants. What do you think motivates the runners to do the RFR? The non-runners?

Kyle: The participants ran the gamut from young to old, skinny to fat, runners to non-runners… We were really blown away by the variety. The thing that surprised us the most was how many real runners showed up.

People’s motivations were just as varied as the people themselves. Some thought it was a fun joke, some liked the social experiment side of it, and others thought it would be fun to have the stickers and medals. I think a lot of the runners did it as a sort of lighthearted jab at themselves, sort of a reminder to take themselves less seriously and have fun.

Salty: Is the RFR about running or more about the social media experiment. If it’s at least partly about running, what do you think it says about the sport?

The guy behind the fake marathon is in fact a real half marathoner!

Kyle: The race was really about all of those things. The idea came out of a conversation about running, but it was never really all about running (we could’ve just as easily faked a different sort of event). It really turned into “Hey, let’s put this idea out there and see what people do with it.” And people blew away our expectations.

I don’t know that it says anything about running in particular, except that a good number of runners seemed to have a great sense of humor about their sport, which is always refreshing.

Salty: Are you, yourself a runner? If so, has the RFR changed your outlook on your own running?

Kyle: I don’t know that I would call myself a runner, per se, because I am terrible at it. My wife completed her first half marathon in the fall, and somehow convinced me to do one with her. I jokingly said I would do one in December, but somehow the joke turned into reality. I bought my first pair of running shoes (in my entire life) just 7 weeks before the race. I stuck to a training schedule and ended up running a 12-miler the week before the race. I felt good, so I decided to tack an additional 1.1 so I could see what sort of time I could expect during the actual race.The next day (6 days before the race), my left foot started to hurt. It hurt on and off throughout the week, but I decided I was going to run the race anyways because I’m stubborn. It was a half marathon course where you ran the same loop four times. Halfway through the second loop my foot hurt so bad I could hardly walk on it, but I kept going because I’m a stubborn idiot. I ended up finishing with a terrible time (almost 3 hours), but I did finish. From the research I did online, I think I may have had peroneal tendonitis. I haven’t done a lot of running on it since then, but I’m hoping to recuperate and train for another half marathon later this year.

I don’t know whether Run Free changed my perspective on running, since there was no actual running involved. That said, I was really surprised at how much I do enjoy running once I got into it. I resisted for so long because I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but it’s surprisingly great.


When I requested photos of the race, Kyle sent me to his favorite blog post about the “race.” ย It is participant, Elizabeth Pekrul’s “race report”. ย She and her friends took photos on a local 5k course (a whole new kind of banditing!) Elizabeth does not appear to be a runner, but based on other posts on her blog she has a penchant for planking, so the RFR seems to fit nicely along those lines. Her report is silly and definitely feels like a running spoof and not particularly much of a part of any social experiment.

I so appreciate Kyle indulging my curiosity. He’s a great sport and definitely a savvy business man, no matter what you or I think of his product. But after all is said and done, I still think this is more spoof of marathons than anything else. While the RFR is certainly bigger and taking it to a whole new level, I think the Onion did it better.

What do you think about the Run Free Race?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Sometimes on Mondays instead of running during my kids’ nap time I take a nap too. Today while I was laying there I was thinking about this interview and what bugs me about it. It seems that Kyle is so insistent that this isn’t about mocking runners/marathons – like he’s so afraid of offending marathoners, but I think this would actually be a lot funnier if they embraced that and made this sort of the live-action version of the Onion piece. I think in not identifying the real motivation of the participants or not being tuned into that, I think they missed the boat. I bet this would have been even bigger and more high profile if they openly mocked the earnestness and intensity of marathoners. Or maybe I am wasting way too many brain cells on this issue? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Salty,

    It’s not that we’re afraid of offending marathoners, it’s that I don’t have any reason to offend them as a group. If there are any that I wouldn’t mind offending, it’s the ones that take running WAY too seriously (we all know these people), but they represent a small minority of all runners.

    I certainly don’t want to offend ALL runners, especially since I’m sorta one myself (and moreover, since I’m married to one!).

    Since we had a ton of real runners that signed up for the race, I don’t think the real motivation of the participants was to mock runners. To be honest, based on what we saw, there wasn’t a single uniting motivation that everyone shared, unless it was something abstract like “having fun” or “being ridiculous”.

    We wanted to come up with the idea, put it out there, and see what people did with it. By forcing it to be about mocking runners, we would’ve missed out on that. And we would’ve turned it into something petty and vindictive, and that’s not what we’re about at all!

    Thanks again for the coverage though. At the end of the day, I know that not everyone will get our humor. That’s a risk we’re willing to take. But thanks for keeping an open mind and being willing to hear our side of things!


    1. I don’t think it should have been a petty vindictive insult. What I was trying to say is that it seems like you’re afraid to insult runners or anyone, really, and in so doing I think you missed an opportunity to make the event really funny. But you’re the guy who pulled off the successful kickstarter and event, so what do I know ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks again for being a good sport and trying to help (possibly really dense) me try to get it!

    2. I actually thought it was really funny, and I loved the interview. I love when people do goofy things for no reason other than humor or fun, and this pretty much seems to fit that bill. Also, I’m definitely a runner but I tend to prefer cheap, low-profile, no-frills types of races (so usually trail races), and am always down for poking a little fun at the over-the-top craziness of so many big races (although I do eventually want to try a road marathon just to see what it’s like to have such a big crowd!!)