Notes From a Hired Pen

Story Behind the Story: Going the Distance Grows Shorter for Many Runners

The Story: “Going the Distance Grows Shorter for Many Runners.” The New York Times, February 22, 2014

The Pitch: I’ve been writing for the NYT sports section since 2008, so I didn’t need to do the whole song and dance about why I’m qualified to write the story. I’ve wanted to write about the Gasparilla Distance Classic since they cancelled their marathon. I just never got around to pitching it, until this year (I realize the formatting’s a little funky, but I’m a tech idiot and can’t figure out how to fix it, so please excuse that)

Here’s the pitch: Hope you’re doing well. I’ve been thinking about a trip to Florida for late February (I’m a University of Tampa grad) and was reminded of the odd case of the Gasparilla Marathon. I thought there might be a story there, so here’s one possible angle:

In 2010, the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa included four races: marathon, half marathon, 15k and 5k.
In 2011, the marathon was cut entirely, and the organizers focused on selling the half as its premiere race.
I can see why they did this. In 2004, the first year they had a half in the program, 1,141 people finished that race. In 2013, that number jumped to 4,438. Also, in 2012, marathons had about 500,000 finishers. Half marathons had 1.8 million.
I think the rise of the half marathon, using this as an example, is worth a story, and one that could be pegged to one of two things: first, the Gasparilla Half being run on Feb. 23; second, RunningUSA is scheduled to release its marathon and half marathon reports in March, which will update the numbers of marathon and half marathon finishers, plus average times of those finishers, which have been going up (as in slower). It’s created a rift in the amateur running world of people who are running to run hard, and those who are just running to finish, and the half marathon – fairly or not – has been associated with the latter. That may or may not have to do with the majority of half marathon finishers being women.
The RunningUSA Conference is in San Diego on Feb. 9 too. They did put out a state of the sport report in July, so I could use that too if you wanted to use the Tampa race and not wait for new numbers.
I had been thinking of running the Gasparilla full in 2010, but changed my mind because of an injury. I was surprised to see it go. Not many marathons are canned like that. The fact that it was done so while the half become more popular is interesting to me.

The Process: Relatively simple. I followed up with the editor once as the date of the race approached, and she gave me the story after that follow up. I had hoped that maybe they’d send me to Tampa! But nah. This was reported easily over the phone. Depending on how my race schedule shakes out, I might try the challenge myself next year. 

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