Steve Schallenkamp: Running can be inclusive and not an expensive pursuit – The Daily Freeman

Steve Schallenkamp: Running can be inclusive and not an expensive pursuit  The Daily Freeman

The attention the media give to events can cause cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious elements.

After the killing of Ahmaud Arbery while he was running in Georgia, considerable attention was given to the lack of participation of people of color and lower socio-economic groups in distance running in America. As a result, there has been a push to create ways to include those left out.

Sue Baxter, left, and Laura Bell hold their awards after the Rosendale Runs 4.3-mile Plains Run on Saturday, Oct. 9. (Photo Provided)

Perhaps, because of all the major marathons winding up in the fall this year, i.e., London, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, and New York, all I’ve been hearing about and seeing on social media is how everyone is excited to be traveling off to do these races. Just as the Kona Hawaiian Ironman is the “holy grail” of triathlons, the world’s major marathons have become the holy grail of running. But, unfortunately, flying off to these races and all the other expenses associated with them takes a ton of cash.

When I became a runner in the late 1960s, distance running was a niche sport. Running was considered a “blue-collar” sport. It was inexpensive. All you needed was a good pair of running shoes. In 1972, I paid $9.95 for a pair of Onitsuka Tigers. These Tigers were “state of the art” nylon running shoes. The Onitsuka Tigers were much lighter than the leather Adidas Antelopes and Roms I had previously worn. These were the shoes of Olympians.

I ran in cotton T-shirts and gym shorts. In the winter, we wore long johns. Entry fees to the few running events that existed were often $2. Compared to other sports like tennis, swimming and golf, running was accessible to everyone. To be a runner, all you had to do was step out your door.

When the running boom hit in full force in the late 1970s, everything began to change. Millions of people started to run, and a running industry arose to service their “needs”. New products were developed, and the price of these products was not low compared to what had existed prior. By the mid-1980s, you would hear some old-time runners complain that running had become a “yuppie” sport. Yuppiereferred to young urban professionals obsessed with material gain and signs of financial success, such as BMWs. Full disclosure here, I was young in the 1980s, but I never owned a BMW.

On a certain level, this commercialization of distance running has only intensified in recent decades. Running is no longer a “blue-collar” sport dominated by eccentric Irishmen. Today, if you toe the starting line of a local race, it is likely that the person standing next to you will be wearing garments, running shoes, G.P.S. watches, hydration packs, and other gear worth well over a thousand dollars.

When the equipment of a sport gets expensive and when expensive trips to far-flung places become the goal of many, an unintended consequence is that your activity or sport becomes exclusionary. Expensive entry fees or high fundraising minimums make some events exclusionary and works against inclusion. As a runner who views the sport beyond my personal circumstances, I won’t participate in any running event that I feel is too expensive for many people in our community, no matter how enticing or how many of my friends are doing it. I also know from personal experience that I don’t need the expensive, highly marketed gear that has become commonplace. Unfortunately, many runners younger than me don’t realize this.

Getting back to the world’s major marathons, I qualified for Boston in 1982. My first marathon was a small race that I drove to in Allentown, Pa. After running Boston, I realized that they were the same when it came to the actual running. They were equal in terms of experience and accomplishment. Boston just had more “glitz and glamour,” but not more substance.

Back in the spring, when the Shawangunk Runners had to decide what races we would organize for the fall, we decided to keep our October Rosendale Runs simple. We decided to keep it small and low-key, but we wanted to honor our commitment to the Onteora Runners Club 2021 Grand Prix. That decision-making process meant we would not put on the popular half marathon part of Rosendale Runs.

The Rosendale Runs 4.3-mile Plains Run stepped off the starting line on Oct. 9. Eighty-three runners registered for the race. Travis Greaves of Kingston racked up his second straight win with a convincing 27:48. Taking second and third for the men were Mark Eisenhandler (29:04) and Don Thurston (29:38).

Top honors for the women went to Jacque Schiffer (31:47), followed by Sue Klein (35:52), Laura Bell (35:53), and Sue Baxter (35:55). Those three competitors were separated by only 3 seconds. It looks like they had quite a battle out there, and that’s what racing is all about. Also giving each other a run for their money were Tony Fletcher (31:33), Sean Doyle (31:34), Steve Schindler (31:35), and Jeff Koren (31:39).

Finally, it was great seeing Bob Ryan in the race, taking 38th place in 42:11. Ryan has been a long-time supporter of area running. The youngest competitor was 10-year-old Elinor Kibbee (51:10), and the senior-most finisher was 81-year-old Patty Lee Parmalee in 53:14.

The race had a $10 entry fee and raised $700 for the Rosendale Recreation Department. It had awards in all standard 10-year age groups, refreshments of bananas, brownies, and cookies. In addition, all the finishers received a commemorative Rosendale Runs canvass tote. Think of that the next time you sign up for a race costing much more. The final stop on the Onteora Runners Club Grand Prix is race No. 10, the After the Leaves Josh Feldt Half Marathon at beautiful Minnewaska State Park on Nov. 14. This race sells out, so don’t procrastinate and sign up now.

I want to direct people toward a new race in Kingston. If a small, low-key, grassroots running event sounds appealing to you, this race promises to be a great run. The Morning Star 5K will take off from the former Good Shepherd Christian School on East Chester Street on Oct. 23. The course is a challenging loop through the Kingston neighborhoods between Clifton and Foxhall avenues. It includes two trips through Hutton Park on Grant Street. I’ve lived in Kingston most of my life, and I find that many people are not familiar with this residential area that I call “North Kingston”. All proceeds of this event benefit homeless and rehab services in Kingston.

In past columns, I detailed the tremendous demographic changes in the running community over the last 50 years. I chronicled how distance running went from mainly young men to one encompassing all age groups and often races having more women than men. The changes have been productive as more and more people have been introduced to a sport with so many positive social and health benefits.

Recently, while participating in area races and perusing race results, I’ve seen an alarming red flag for the future of our sport and maybe for our society. In nearly all local races, we now have more 60 and 70-year olds participating than people in their 20s. Participant numbers for 30-year-olds also seem on the decline. Why this is happening is not clear. Perhaps it is the lure of other interests such as fantasy sports. Perhaps, it is the stress and struggles to survive in an era with increasing income disparity. I fear that the “American Dream” is not alive and well for many young Americans. Suicide rates have risen sharply in the 21st century. Opioid deaths have become a pandemic, with more than two-thirds of the deaths being young men.

I recently read an article titled “Record Number of Men ‘Give Up’ on College”. Women now make up 60 percent of college students. Of course, there are many factors involved, but I fear too many young men have become disillusioned and feel “broken” and this is being reflected in running statistics.

I’ve already mentioned two upcoming races, the Morning Star 5k and the After the Leaves Half, but I want to give a heads up to the R.Y.A.N. 5K Run/Walk in Kingston on Oct. 24 and the Ulstercorps Zombie Escape on Oct. 30. Recently the Family of New Paltz Turkey Trot has been changed to a strictly virtual run for this year. Fortunately, the Junior League of Kingston Turkey Trot and the Rhinebeck Ferncliff Forest Turkey Trots are still a go for people wanting to run in an in-person run on Thanksgiving Day.

Steve Schallenkamp has been active in area running circles since 1966 as a runner, race director, volunteer and coach. He is a member of the Onteora Runners Club and president of the Shawangunk Runners Club.