As one of the 7,500 Nike RunTO clones who flocked to Centre Island this past Sunday, July 27, I'm recovering from a severe case of corporate brainwashing. When I saw the very first ad for the 10-kilometre race, I swore I wouldn't run it. The Nike campaign wasn't just advertising, it was like an infestation swarming our city like last year's aphids.
I couldn't stand on a street corner without seeing the Swedish-flag-like blue-and-gold banners taunt me as they rolled by on the side of streetcars, or worse, pulsed menacingly throughout subway stations and train cars. I'm a runner, after all, a veteran of the Sporting Life 10K, the Pride And Remembrance Run, the Night Crawler 5 mile and more. So the more I ignored the Nike signs, the louder they got. I was like a Greek sailor being lured to rocky shores by the song of sirens. Sucker that I am, I finally registered and became clone number 4574.
Emotionally, I was a mess about my decision. A bunch of suits wanted to manipulate runners into buying Nike running shoes. And now I was an enabler. The runner in me was torn.
With my tail between my legs I stopped in to pick up my race kit, a plastic bag with a T-shirt and ferry pass, and stuffed it into my knapsack; I didn't want anyone who really knows me to see me with a Nike bag. At home, I tried on the T-shirt and felt ashamed.
Turns out my gut feeling was bang on. RUNTO was simply a swoosh orgy; Nike's trademark emblem was plastered everywhere. From the moment I got on the ferry to the moment I crossed the finish line, all I was fed was branding. Everyone was in blue T-shirts with the words "A New Obsession" on their backs.
Nike's dream was to have a race where 10,000 runners were wearing the exact same thing. What a great photo op that would have been! But it wasn't a sold-out event, and lots of us stripped our shirts from our bodies. I'm sure there were runners who removed them because it was such a hot day; I'm also certain there were others like me who couldn't give Nike the satisfaction it was looking for. I was not going to cross the finish line wearing its logo.
I guess what it boils down to is that the "Just do it" empire just doesn't get it. Running events are grassroots celebrations of fitness and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. In a normal fun run, spectators hold signs that read "You're looking great" or "You're the best." The RUNTO messages may have had some appeal in a boardroom, but on the race course they were sheer perversion. Sarcasm like "10K to the fetal position" is the last thing any runner wants to see.
And the whole affair was a gross cash grab: waffle breakfast (bring money!), BBQ (bring money!). And stupidest of all, they were selling cigarettes at the beer garden. Hello!!! Real runners don't smoke! In a real run the entry fees are low (Nike's was $45), post-race food is free, it starts on time and the organizers are into sport, not turning you into a running billboard.