Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Running the Media

by Drew Martin
In my book review of Haruki Murakami's long distance running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I extended Murakami's thinking of the relationship of running and writing to discuss running and the arts. This was purely a philosophical approach and I would like to take a moment here to discuss the relationship of running and media, which is what I was thinking about as I ran laps in the darkness and rain this morning on a neighboring town's slick high school track.

Running was a means of communication before humans even walked the Earth. An animal that starts to run is a message to its kind that there is danger. As long as humans have lived in communities, messengers have carried information, either by words retold by the runner or information he carried on paper, or via some other notation system such as the Incan quipus knots carried by that empire's messenger runners, the Chasqui. How can we forget good old Pheidippides?...the Athenian herald, who was sent to Sparta to request help (which was declined) when the Persians landed at Marathon. He ran 150 miles in two days. He then ran the 25 miles from the battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians (and died).

Running is an expression of time and is expressed in time. The four minute mile was a bonding of time and action. Running will always signify urgency and even though official messages are not sent by runners any more we still "run for help" as opposed to skip for help or walk backwards for help. Although running is no longer an important means of communication between people it is still an amazing conversation starter between body and mind..."why am I doing this?"..."I could stop right here and lie down."

Like any activity in our world today, running events create a flurry of media. This Sunday, I ran a mud run with a friend/running buddy from high school. The event was announced by and supported with a website: people signed up online by providing personal information and made money transactions for registration. Graphic maps and word directions were printed and read/followed. Phone calls were made and emails exchanged between the 470 participants and to friends, coworkers and relatives. In a couple of days before and after the event thousands of exchanges of information were made.

In an Olympic run or a big marathon, media is all over the event. During our run, there was a moment of media silence: aside from some photos and the ticking of the finish line clock, while the participants dipped into their primal instincts and felt their hearts pound and their legs swing. When everyone went home, more phone calls were made and more emails were exchanged. The event's website posted the results and photos of the event, which all the participants went to see what they had experienced. It is a very interesting combination: facts that detail names, ages, times, rankings and hometowns which each runner statistically reads, along with photos, which show the runners traversing water crossings and running through the woods: colors, shapes and frozen motion. Despite the very different readings of the event, the pictures and rankings can be cross referenced by the runners' numbers.

Although there was no Hollywood ending, the movie industry found its way into the event by a couple guys dressed up as Braveheart who ran the race swinging plastic battle axes and yelping.