Marathon: from Amateur Jogging to Big Business
Almost half a century has passed since the first marathons began. They were very different from modern ones.
The last loud marathon, which took place on November 3 in New York, gathered about 50 thousand people and 40 of them became owners of cash prizes. If you compare the demographic marathon picture of our days and the far 70s, you can notice how more often women decide to participate. So, as of 2018, more than 22 thousand women took part in the NYC marathon and almost 40 thousand had the opportunity to compete outside the state.
The “Boom” of Runners in 1970 differed in the composition of participants from the modern one. A typical marathon runner of the previous century is a stoic, lonely runner, as a rule, a working-class man. Well, the trend is fundamentally different now. It’s a lot about psychology and the mindset. Marathon runners participate for relaxation, switching attention from work and other everyday problems. The marathon becomes entertainment and just a pleasant activity. At the same time, more and more women are joining this hobby. Marathons have become quite popular even among fucking wealthy people.
The image of the 70-80s marathon runner is perfectly described in the story of Alan Sillitoe “The loneliness of the long-distance runner”. This is a story about Smith, a man who was serving a prison sentence for stealing bread and who just started jogging. The guards noted his talent and invited him to run a marathon race in England. But, in the end, the young man refuses to use his talent for running and leaves the marathon. His image described by Alan remains one of the most outstanding marathon descriptions of those years. Smith was a marathon runner who suffered from a hard life trying to emerge stronger from his woes.
On the contrary, today’s world offers us completely different marathon rules and conditions. The icon of the modern marathon is Brittany Forgler, a woman whose goal is development and self-improvement. During the preparation, Brittany is experiencing a lot of excitement and doubt about her potential. Marathon is an attempt to love herself and believe in her abilities. So the participation itself and her mission are things that really matter. Unlike a participant in the 70-80s, a modern woman focuses on appearance, reliable equipment, and a stylish appearance. These nuances could shock the very first marathon participants. The world moves on and our society cannot imagine a marathon without carbon-coated sneakers for professional marathon runners and elite GPS watches. Victory and the result of the marathon, as it was before, slowly take second place. The key is the process. New participants set a goal not to overtake the professionals, but rather to be close to them and to feel themselves in the place of professional athletes.
The number of inclusive marathons is also increasing. People with disabilities are happy to take part in this sport and it’s one of the progressive steps of our society, an opportunity to provide everyone with equal rights and a chance to enjoy life to the fullest. The sports culture is becoming more accessible and more tolerant of all participants, trying to create the same conditions for everyone.
Also, the marathon format has been changing at the institutional level. So, back in 1970, the founder of the marathon, Fred Lebow, who was one of the 55 participants who reached the finish line, headed the post of marathon director. Since then, his organization has turned from an event for runners into a fairly large and profitable company, the prototype of which is still practiced today.
A sports magazine described the history of the first marathons:
“Before the boom in the 1970s, runners competed among themselves and hoped, if not to win, then take a place in the top ten or receive an award in their age group. New marathon runners often perceived the race as a special ritual to achieve spiritual growth.”
In 1998, Vincent Serravallo noted in Race Gender&Class magazine the most sought-after professions of the time — managers, doctors, engineers, and teachers. There were half as many women as men.
Serravallo provided arguments for the high cost of participating in the marathon among which are the cost of a healthy diet enriched with vitamins and minerals, the time to achieve a good physical shape, the expensive equipment that most marathon runners should have. The price for participating in the marathon rose to $ 255 in 2019, while in the 90s of the last century it was equal to $ 70 for registration. Well, in our time the main emphasis is on the appearance, internal state, but not on the desire to get the cup. That’s why the equipment of the marathon runner maybe ten times more than the cost of marathon registration.
The marathon cost and the services are reasoned by the fact that most of the participants are the society’s elite representatives, whose income is ten times higher than the average. So participants require increased comfort and safety, they use additional options and offers from the marathon company. Marathon runners of this class buy more equipment, use the services of a physiotherapist and other specialists, take care of their well-being and state of health during the marathon.
Vincent Serravallo called the preparation for marathons a class culture that is fundamentally different from the marathon culture in the 1970s.
On the New York Road Runners pages, marathon founder Fred Lebow is called the “unlikely leader of the marathon revolution.” Most likely, this is why a marathon metaphor as personality improvement resonated with readers. Lebow emigrated to New York from Romania after World War II and started working at NYRR when it was just a special running club organized by its members. During his leadership, professional runners began to get paid for marathons and women first began to compete. Lebow’s legacy depended directly on his business.
The culture of a long-distance marathon is linked to the desire to follow the “culture of well-being.” Despite the fact that every year an increasing number of women join this popular entertainment, the number of men in competitions remains the leading one.
Serravallo found an explanation for inequality between women and men by the peculiarities of gender socialization. This is due to the additional responsibility outside the work that women take on as well as the largest representation of women in social work and kinder education areas, in areas where there is no culture supporting marathon training.
Seravallo admits that scientists, mostly men, have a high level of professional material and technical support for training, while teachers in elementary school, mostly women, have nothing.
The number of women continues to grow exponentially during Lebow’s work. Believe or not, but there is even an idea that women runners were the first to present marathon profit opportunities.
So, the first women’s marathon (the 10th marathon per kilometer in Central Park, which is still being held today), organized by New York Road Runners, has become the brainchild of a PR company. At this first women’s marathon, a sponsorship and marketing model was used for runners with great income. In 1978, T-shirts appeared that increased the motivation of the marathon participants, and also served as advertisements for the engagement of new women runners.
Nowadays, marathons extend to many people and get corporate sponsorship, which helps strengthen the marathon business.