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Why I Hate the P.F. Chang’s Rock & Roll Marathon

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An old shot of the medal collection.

If there’s any one marathon in Phoenix that people know about, it’s the bloated corporate monster that is the P.F. Chang’s Rock & Roll Marathon, which is coming up in a few weeks. So, why do I, the normally laid-back Wandering Justin, shoot flames from my eyes at every mention of it? (And you should see my wife every time someone asks if she’s running the Rock & Roll Marathon … the offending person usually gets in earful from her very similar to what you’re about to read)

Here’s why:

4. The course is incredibly dull and ugly, meandering through some of the most unscenic parts of the Phoenix concrete jungle. There are decent bits, but overall it’s uninspiring as all get-out, running near a freeway for a good distance before turning onto the charmless Van Buren Avenue before heading to the finish in Tempe. Ugh.

3. I love rock & roll. Love it enough that I devote a lot of time to playing the guitar and writing songs. But this event just doesn’t draw good bands. I suspect that’s because it’s way too early for the rocker lifestyle. What can the event organizers do to get better bands? Embrace the fact the rock should be loud and edgy, and that a good band just might make the event a little less family-friendly.

2. There’s a freakin’ huge number of people in this thing. That makes parking a nightmare. Running a full marathon is tough enough. Who wants to add logistical headaches to it? And it also makes you just another face in the crowd.

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There are plenty of running events in the Valley that provide better experiences than the mega-marathons.

1. It overshadows Arizona’s best marathon, the awesome Lost Dutchman Marathon. This is a small, humble event. It just happens to be beautifully organized, along with being routed through incredible scenery near the Superstition Mountains. Residents along the route will often set up impromptu aid stations while genuinely and enthusiastically cheering runners in the full marathon, half-marathon and 10K. And their finishers medals kick serious butt – a real piece of hardware.

I guess it saddens me to see that mere money can overshadow genuine quality, but it happens all the time, doesn’t it? I’m hoping this is a record year for the Dutchman since it’s now nearly a month removed from the Rock & Roll Marathon. The Dutchman had previously been hamstrung by being the weekend after. Still, all the locals who were in the know showed up for the Dutchman instead, and left Chang’s to the elite runner chasing paychecks, the less-experienced runners and those who thrive on hoopla.

So many things in this world seem to be about corporate suits “establishing a brand” and “connecting with core consumers” and “generating maximum visibility.” I much prefer the events that feel like they exist because a group of people who love running/biking/fencing/watermelon throwing/whatever got together and said “Hey, you know what would be cool? Running an event the RIGHT way so that it’s fun and welcoming.” Yeah. There’s just something about that.

This year, we won’t be running the Dutchman. That’s because there is a new marathon the same weekend on the other side of town. This one is the IMS Marathon, and it’s the inaugural running. We thought we’d check it out. And it raises money for the state leukemia and lymphoma society, which is nice. I think it will also be a cool, intimate event. A large part of me will still wish I was lining up for the Dutchman, but I have high hopes for the IMS. And there’s nothing wrong with two low-key events for those of us who don’t like the overly slick, blandly packaged, made-for-the-masses stuff.

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