Full Disclosure

The excitement of a marathon isn’t merely about who crosses the finish line first. There’s a whole set of “races within the race” - competitions between people fighting for awards in various subcategories – that are at the heart of the event.

For example, at last month’s Big Sur Marathon, awards were given to the fastest runner in each five-year age group. Awards are also given for top masters (over 40) runner, Clydesdales (men over 195 lbs), Athenas (women over 150), active duty military runners, Monterey County residents, as well as denizens of cold weather climates (who theoretically have a harder time training for an April event.)

Strangely, most runners never really know who they’re competing against – which leads to some odd conversations during the final miles. A seemingly innocent question of “So, where are you from?” is actually a disguised query as to whether the person is in the Monterey County category. And while it’s seemingly more awkward to ask someone’s age or (God forbid) weight in the middle of a race, we wouldn’t put it past some hyper-competitive runners.

That’s why we’re proposing that running events adopt a policy that triathlons have used for years: writing each competitor’s age on his or her calf. That way, each runner would know the age of everybody in the field around them, and know when they were passing (or getting passed by) someone in the same category.

It’s a simple detail that could have an enormous impact on the competitive dynamic of a race. Sometimes there’s no better motivation to get through the tough final miles than to know you’re locked in a close race for an age group spot. Even if they’re not competing for awards, everyone likes to know where they stand among their chronological peers.

The same thing could be done for the other categories: for instance, “MC” for Monterey County, or a big horseshoe for Clydesdales and Athenas. Sure, the writing on the calf could get pretty crowded, but this information is too valuable to neglect.

Furthermore, when it comes to race performance, age is usually only part of the story. So why stop there? Why can’t we write other pertinent information on our legs, so everyone understands exactly who they’re going up against?

Here some examples of markings we’d like to see on the calves of runners near us in our next race, and what they might indicate about each person’s ability:

37: Age. For obvious reasons.

M or S: Married or single. Does being married make someone a better runner? On one hand, marriage usually implies a time commitment (at least that’s what we’re told). On the other, it helps to have a support person during strenuous training periods. So this detail is a bit of a wash. But what if we could have…

HM or TM: For “Happy Marriage” or “Troubled Marriage.” Wouldn’t a happy runner train more effectively than a stressed-out one? Or does the person in a bad marriage spend extra time out on the roads to avoid conflict?

(You know what? Let’s just leave marriage out of it – there are way too many variables. But there’s no question about…)

3: Number of kids. Put it this way – which woman are you more impressed by: a 38-minute 10K runner with “0” on her calf, or a 41-minute runner with a “4” there? And we haven’t even mentioned the women with an “S” (single) as well as a “2” (kids) – they deserve some sort of prize just for showing up with two matching socks on.

FT: Full-time job. This is the eternal working man’s (or woman’s) complaint: that if he didn’t have to work so many hours per week, he’d have more time for training, and would perform better in races. We could further break this down into ML (manual labor) or CDJ (cushy desk job), but that might resemble classism, and we’re afraid that somebody might get sued.

Anyway, we’d bet that most of those FT guys probably wouldn’t feel nearly as bad about being passed by someone with PT (part time) or U (unemployed) on his calf.

SLWP: Still Lives With Parents. Honestly, we don’t know how this affects performance, but at least it would give us a chuckle while we’re getting passed by that mama’s boy, particularly if they had a high age number.

Clearly, there are all sorts of benefits to knowing this information in running events. In fact – it’s such a refreshing idea, why don’t we consider a similar system with our everyday lives?

Take your workplace, for instance. Wouldn’t it be great if your coworkers wore labels with this type of personal information? (This is where the idea stumbles a bit, because except for strippers and lifeguards, most people’s calves aren’t visible at work. But we could come up with some alternative – name tags, patches, lapel pins, hats, something. There's got to be a way.)

You would know how many years away your boss is from retirement age, and exactly how young his hood ornament receptionist is. HM-3 guys wouldn’t feel as much pressure to keep up with the S guy who starts putting in 60-hour work weeks. And that SLWP thing would be just as funny.

Now imagine if all businesses did this. When you go out for coffee, you would know the relationship status of that cute barista you make up reasons to buy lattes from four days per week. You’d know the real age of your hairdresser who perennially claims she’s 39. And you might be more tolerant if you're on the receiving end of rude customer service from the TM woman at the bagel shop.

The possibilities are endless, and generally beneficial. Over a period of time, we’d all come to experience heightened awareness and mutual understanding of those around us.

And all it would take is a little bit of temporary body marking.

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