I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bib Madness

Well, I had so much Race Reporting to do in the last few weeks that I had to hold onto a few random thoughts until I had time to get back around to them. Here's one of them...
A couple of days after the Chicago Marathon, I was behind my apartment building to throw my trash in the dumpster. When I flipped up the lid, the first thing I saw was someone else's marathon race bib, crumpled up and discarded on top of the refuse pile. I actually froze in mid-toss. Really? Someone threw away their race bib?

I was slightly aghast. I always keep my bibs. And they're easy, unique mementos to keep. T-shirts? They clog your closet. Except for maybe 2 or 3, you rarely wear them. Eventually you have to box up the extraneous ones, store them, and then finally give them away. The crap in the goodie bags they give you? 99% of it is just that: Crap. It goes in the trash as soon as you get home. Finisher certificates? Fine, if the race even sends you one, but they don't mean much more to me than the attendance awards they used to hand out in primary school.

The medals and the belt buckles you get at the finish lines? I admit those are nice. Those you have to keep. But those aren't always part of the deal. Not every finish line includes the hardware.

Bibs, though, are special. Bibs are the little proof that you stepped up, went out, and publicly tested yourself. That you set a goal, trained for it, then went out to make it real. Bibs are what separate the "runners" from the people who just jog for general exercise. The Bib is what allows me to pretend that I really am an athlete, even if I'm never going to really win anything except the race against myself.

When Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson and Joan Benoit and Usain Bolt and Jackie Joyner-Kersey and Deena Kastor race, they are all given - and required to wear - bib numbers. Does anyone actually think that if one of these people won their races that the races officials would not be able to identify who they were without having an entry number on their uniform as identification? Of course not! So what's the bib for? It's a label that tells every possible onlooker that the wearer is an Athlete, and they are preparing to test their own limits, because that's what athletes do.

With the advent of chip timing in large races, bibs don't even serve any functional purpose for the "citizen runner" anymore. It used to be that each bib also had a small pull tab on it and when you crossed the line and walked through the finisher shoot, these tabs would be removed and recorded by race officials, or they would otherwise record your number. Now, the chips do all of that electronically. The only real reason to wear a bib in a race like that anymore is to help the event photographers identify your photo so they can offer you a chance to spend $35 on an 8x10 of yourself.

But we still wear them. Because they are still symbolic of something that's important. And I still keep every single one.

That poor bib in the dumpster hadn't just been thrown away. It had been crumpled up and discarded on it's own, as if the wearer had unpinned it in some kind of fit and ditched it as they'd shuffled by. I couldn't suppress my curiosity, so I memorized the number and used it to look up the owner's results online. It was a woman who had taken more than 6 hours to finish. So, who knows, maybe there was a level of disappointment involved. Or maybe this marathon really was a once in lifetime event for her and now that it was over, she was done with it. I know, too, that not everyone has the archival tendencies that I have.

But I still couldn't help feeling that someone had foolishly discarded a singular keepsake. Am I crazy?


Paige said...

Hehe, I keep all my bibs too :) The only one I'm missing is from my first official 5k race, but I still have the commemorative chip that they let us keep that year...so that counts! Bibs are simple and the easiest way to recall a race (however, I also keep all my race shirts, but hopefully they'll be made into a blanket soon!). I'm right there with you, keep the bibs :)

GTI said...

Yeah, I haven't actually, phyiscally ditched any of my race shirts - yet. But I know that I will have to at some point in the near future. There are so many I never wear, even the tech Ts. I just haven't figured out how to memorialize them. I don't think a blanket is quite my speed, but... something. I pondered just taking a photo of myself in each of the shirts before taking them to Goodwill. I also thought about donating my tech shirts to some kind of running group that might not be able to afford nicer shirts. Need to do some more research on that...

Paige said...

You could donate them to Terracyle (www.terracyle.net) I believe or, eventually, Atayne will do a take-back program (www.atayne.com) for all polyester-based performance shirts, and in return you'd get a coupon for a dollar amount off the purchase of one of their tops. Or, you could make a shower curtain out of them! Just a thought :)