Would You Watch This Show?

The running industry continues to boom with no signs of stopping.  According to Running USA’s yearly publications, 518,000 people finished a marathon and a staggering 1.6 million completed the half marathon distance in 2011, with that number growing to 1.85 million in 2012.  These numbers are record highs, continuing a pattern that has remained consistent for the past three decades.  Every day more and more people are lacing up their trainers, finding local races and dedicating themselves to improving their fitness and cardiovascular health.  Large, popular races like the Chicago Marathon and Big Sur sell out faster each year, new races are being created at exponential rates and a quick search will yield countless blogs documenting race reviews.

Flip Burger after the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL

Flip Burger after the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL

And that’s not even counting shorter distances.  Running USA’s yearly “State of the Sport” report shows that almost 14 million people ran a race of any distance in 2011, a record number that still does not count fun runs and organized training runs that don’t require registration.  With the half marathon growing fastest at 16%, it is clear that a huge swath of runners are challenging themselves beyond the typical neighborhood 10K.

Given the sport’s explosion in popularity over the last thirty years, we can safely say this is far from a fad.  Long-distance running is here to stay, a staple of our time.  But there are virtually no shows on mainstream television about endurance racing.  Either that, or I have all the wrong channels (and a Google search for “tv shows running” or “tv show marathon” will yield all the wrong results).  So isn’t it time that we have a show that treats our sport with as much love and care as we display our race medals?  There are popular shows out there about storage lockers, meter maids and bearded dudes who hunt ducks.  Surely there has to be an audience for a show about distance running.  I can’t be the only loser who DVRs big-city races.

But let’s assume that a show strictly about running might not reach enough people.  After all, despite the growing number of marathon finishers, we’re still very much a tiny percentage of the population.  So let’s add a little something extra to the premise.  Let’s include a unique component that any person who exercises holds in especially high regard: the post-exercise meal.  But not just any meal.  Let’s eat a thick, juicy burger.

0613_2_kumasThis is “The Great Burger Race.”

Each episode will have three components.  One will deal with the many different and unique long-distance races in the United States and how they contribute to the sport of endurance running.  The race itself will function as a filter and a frame for the city in which the event is held, its history, its landmarks of particular importance, the people, famous and otherwise, who live in it and the businesses it hosts.  The second component includes the physiology of long distance running, both from a physical and nutritional standpoint.  The host will talk about what it means to carbo-load, why fats are good to have in your arsenal, and how much protein to eat after hard efforts.  The third and last component will happen after the race, where the host visits a local restaurant and eats its signature burger, showing that in order to earn the calories you have to burn them first.

A typical episode may look like this:

Zombie Burger's "Planet Terror" after the IMT Des Moines Marathon

Zombie Burger’s “Planet Terror” after the IMT Des Moines Marathon

The host is in Des Moines, Iowa, sitting at Zombie Burger & Drink Lab with their signature sandwich front and center.  (S)he stares at the camera and describes its ingredients, what makes it stand out, and how badly (s)he wants to eat it.  But that can’t happen yet, because we have yet to run the IMT Des Moines Marathon; hasn’t yet burned to earn.

At this point, the host will talk briefly about the race, when it is usually held, and its history.  (S)he may interview the race director and get insight on what makes this race special or how it reflects the unique charm of the city, attempting to describe the je ne sais quoi that separates the race from others.  In order to profile the race course, the host will talk about the city – who lives there, what kinds of businesses thrive, how fast or slowly it has grown in recent decades.  Perhaps there’s a famous local who is vying for the top spot, or a charity runner with a touching story.  Locals – runners or otherwise – will chime in with their own takes on the city and why they have chosen to live there.

The Rising Sun at Holstein's Las Vegas after the Hoover Dam Marathon

The Rising Sun at Holstein’s Las Vegas after the Hoover Dam Marathon

The host can then transition into a relevant component of long-distance running and its effect on the body.  For example, if the race has a big hill in the middle, the show can talk about what an incline can do to the buildup of lactic acid in a runner’s legs and how it affects perceived effort.  There are no shortage of topics that can affect race performance, such as climate, surface type, elevation, altitude, apparel, nutrition and training strategies.  From there, he/she can give advice on how to best deal with hilly courses by talking to experts and demonstrating specific exercises.

On race day, the host will introduce the race to the viewers, showing them a glimpse of the course map and what they can expect for the next 13.1 or 26.2 miles.  Cameras will follow the host as (s)he attempts to finish the race, giving insight at key points that deserve them.  The show can also splice in the lessons learned in the previous segment as they are tackled on race day.  In the current example, as the host reaches the hill, we can recapitulate the lessons learned about hill training and how they would contribute to successfully climbing and descending rolling terrain.

Central BBQ's Burger in Memphis after the Tupelo Marathon

Central BBQ’s Burger in Memphis after the Tupelo Marathon

As the host finishes the race, we get brief, spontaneous insights on what it felt like to run this race versus others.  It is the segment of the show where the race director’s statements from the previous day are evaluated.  But there is little time to devote to this, because any long-distance runner becomes ravenous very quickly after such a hard effort.  At this point, it’s time to eat.

We return to Zombie Burger, where it’s time to consume a hearty sandwich as a much-deserved prize.  At this point, we can discuss the value proposition of this particular restaurant.  What makes this establishment stand out?  Is it their interior design, designed by a horror enthusiast?  Is it their menu, which draws on classic horror movies for its burger names?  Maybe it’s the eponymous “zombie sauce.”  All of these are potential subjects to discuss as the host wolfs down the meal.

Shrimp Po' Boy (doesn't have to always be a beef burger) at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood after the RNR NOLA Marathon

Shrimp Po’ Boy (doesn’t have to always be a beef burger) at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood after the RNR NOLA Marathon

“The Great Burger Race” ends with a brief summary.  We came to Des Moines, ran a hilly marathon and ate a horrifically good burger.  We learned about what hills do to perceived effort, learned how to deal with it, and conquered the challenges.  Finally, we treated ourselves to a delicious burger because we just burned upwards of 1,500 calories for a half marathon or 3,000 for the full distance.  The host thanks everyone for watching “The Great Burger Race,” the race director for a job well done, the restaurant owner for a worthy meal and the citizens of Des Moines for welcoming us to their city.

The overall point of the concept is to showcase unique races throughout the United States and show that earning the meal can be just as fun as eating it.  After all, despite the increase in participants at these events, obesity indices in the United States, despite leveling off for the first time in decades, are still deleteriously high.  This allows for the possibility to teach viewers that you can have a healthy relationship with otherwise fatty and heavy indulgences as long as you are willing to put the time and training necessary to counterbalance them.

Bluegrass Brewing's Kentucky Bison Smokehouse Burger after the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon

Bluegrass Brewing’s Kentucky Bison Smokehouse Burger after the Kentucky Derby miniMarathon

Suggestions for themes may include the following: sustainability and green initiatives (Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Austin Marathon in Austin, Texas); picturesque scenery (Madison Montana Marathon in the Gravelly Mountains of Montana, Big Sur International Marathon in California); technical difficulty (XTERRA Trail Races nationwide, the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon in Leadville, Colorado, the all-downhill Tucson Marathon in Arizona), etc.  As there is no shortage of races, the show would have great flexibility in its scheduling and content.

For future seasons, viewers can vote online for which burger they deem the best in their own cities, in addition to voicing their opinions on which races should be covered in future installments.

Philly Cheesesteak from Steve's Prince of Steaks after the Philadelphia Marathon

Philly Cheesesteak from Steve’s Prince of Steaks after the Philadelphia Marathon

But no show would happen unless there are people watching it.  So the titular question remains: would you watch this show?  This idea is basically a pipedream that I decided to carefully flesh out but I want to know what you think.  Even though the majority of my regular readers are diehard runners and I want to assume they would, it’s possible that I’m wrong.  Is this concept is too scatterbrained?  Do you think the logistical handlings of each episode would be too expensive for a show that ultimately caters to a niche crowd?  Are you angry that this isn’t already on TV?

Could I be onto something here?

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About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

20 Responses to Would You Watch This Show?

  1. Dan, I watch the Olympic marathon and some of the track races. I used to watch The Boston Marathon but now I try to run it every year. I don’t watch other running events ever.
    This type of show would have to be heavily edited. I would not set through a 3-4 hour show to watch someone run a marathon plus the intro and end part of the show.
    This would have to be a 1 hour show and with just the prime moments in the marathon, interesting local flavor/interests and a dynamic host who can actually run.
    If they can make some guys who make duck calls into a popular show, than this idea must have wings. 😉 I’d love to be involed in a project like this.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the feedback! And I completely agree, I wouldn’t subjugate viewers to watching every minute of the run — that would be torment for most people. It would be very edited to show just the highlights of the race itself, referring back to city landmarks and notable obstacles such as hills. I always envisioned each episode being 45 minutes long (1 hour with commercials). But it’d be fun right?

      • Absolutely! Think of all of the good races around the country. You could throw in a spacial on mud runs or the Iron Man or other triathlons.
        You could do 5-10 min interviews w/ famous athletes and use that as a voice over while showing some of the marathon. There are probably pro ball players who could talk about their running experience, maybe from college or to keep in shape. A local athlete would help tie into the community and their fame would help draw in viewers who may not tune in otherwise.
        So many ideas. This could be great.

  2. YES! I would watch every episode religiously! I think it’s a great idea. I recently saw a great documentary on the Audience Channel called “4 Deserts” about the Racing of the Planet Series Desert Grand Slam. It’s ultra stage race (Edna, whom you met, ran the Atacama race last year) and while watching it I thought, “man, I wish this was a weekly show!”. So yes, I would watch. Also, if you’re getting this going, please consider me when building the ground floor. I am more than willing and able to assist!

  3. Laszlo says:

    I would definitely watch this show! And if you ever think about taking it to the next level I would be happy to help any way I can.
    My opinion might not represent a more generic crowd, but I would definitely cut back on the generic, commercial-type content. Otherwise it could easily blend into the overcrowded field of various travel shows.

    I would focus on how it is not impossible to finish such events and introduce “average” people to explain how they conquered the challenges during training and through the race. People, everyone can easily relate to: mailman, nurse, teacher, etc.

    On the other hand I like The Great Burger Race idea, the problem is that I would end up eating in front of the TV. Seriously: I would want to go out and grab a burger after all the photos in your post… 🙂

    I think you are definitely correct with your assessment of not too many endurance sport related shows are out there. Even a Netflix search will not offer you an overwhelming list of titles to browse through.

    In case you are interested in, there is a TV series following two ultra athletes: http://tv.esquire.com/shows/boundless
    This show is not exactly the same as your idea, but I think this show is very well done. 🙂

    • Dan says:

      Ha — it’d be very ironic if a show like this prompted more people to eat than to run. I suppose that’s a possible side-effect, given how the payoff is a delicious meal and not the other way around. Maybe there can be episodes that switch it up; instead of eating afterward as a prize, we talk about the hearty pasta meal most runners eat beforehand. The possibilities are endless!

  4. I think the idea is really interesting, but I’m not sure that just focusing on burgers is the way to go. I love burgers, but I’m not sure I love them enough to watch show after show about finding the best ones in each city, and there are plenty of runners who are vegan, vegetarian, or just don’t eat red meat. I think the premise of the show would be better served by finding the best MEAL in each city – maybe that’s a burger, and maybe it’s not. It would also give the show a chance to add more about what makes each city or place unique.

    Unrelated, but coming from the perspective of an ED patient, I’d also shy away from talking a lot about how the person “earned” the meal. I know that probably wouldn’t actually be mentioned in the show (more so implied), but the idea of “earning” food can be translated into feeling the need to exercise excessively after ingesting a “bad” food, such as a burger. It’s a really slippery slope. I think showing the balance between being able to care a lot of about running/fitness while also enjoying a really rich meal is great, you’d just have to be careful about terminology and how you approach it. Sorry if I’m being wayyyy oversensitive, but the phrase “earning the meal” definitely set off some trigger alarm bells in my head.

    Overall, I think it’s a great idea and I’d obviously love to see more running content on television!!

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the insight. But I think we’d have a city-wide uprising on our hands if we dared to choose the best meal. It’s hard enough to pick the best falafel or perogi place in some cities, so it’d be tough to broaden it to singular meals (unless the cities we pick are home to 300 people).

      And thanks for the concern about language — while I do think that people can relate to the idea of exercise mitigating adverse health effects, especially as it relates to heavy meals, I hope that the food element of the show won’t be boiled down strictly to food being something that needs to be battled, counterbalanced or avoided. It’d be my hope that the show would examine food both as fuel, as something we need to complete these massive undertakings, but also it’s existence as an indulgence, something to be enjoyed, especially after a tough race.

  5. Mike says:

    Wow, so much to think about here. I’ve no doubt you could make this work, and I’m not just writing that as a fellow runner and loyal reader who follows your every blogging move. If I thought this idea were ridiculous, I’d be happy to say so. But it’s far from the most ridiculous idea on TV right now. And obviously you could extend the idea to include local trails (running), brewpubs (non-running) and other regional “flavor”.

    After hearing my mom, who’s never run a day in her life, describe how she sat transfixed in front of her TV watching the NYC Marathon this year (in real time no less, since she doesn’t own a DVR), I realized that literally anyone can be drawn to this sport, as long as they have some baseline understanding and compelling story lines to follow.

    Your brainchild offers a cool new wrinkle on the exhausted reality TV theme, one that caters to an underserved audience, and I think that’s the key. I don’t watch much TV (season one of “Breaking Bad” has been resting unopened on our TV console for several months), but this I’d watch. You and I and the people reading this understand that running is addictive, mainly because it makes people feel good about themselves. Human interest success stories abound in this sport like nowhere else. Add in the science and travel components, and now you’re talking about some very compelling content that could attract a loyal audience with its self-effacing voice, coupled with a distinctly positive self-help vibe that contrasts with the voyeuristic schadenfreude of similar shows.

    I guess I can speak up for the vegetarian contingent here in saying that I’d watch no matter what the focus of the post-race meal, though we may have to massage that title. It wouldn’t be a bad call to include a top-notch veggie option in progressive cities (e.g. San Francisco, Boulder, Portland) where vegetarian/vegan doesn’t translate as simply “leave off the pepperoni”. But the fact is that most Americans aren’t vegetarians, and so portraying “real” runners as strict kale- and twig-munching health freaks isn’t the direction you want to go with this one, unless you want to be pigeonholed as niche viewing in no time flat.

    First things first, though… if you want to launch a TV show, you need to get to where the action is. And that means a visit to Hollywood! Our tasteful neon “Vacancy” light is always on, so let me know when we should have the guest room ready to go.

    • Dan says:

      It’s weird — statistics play such a role in determining whether this show would be a hit. Runners abound now more than ever, but they’re still a relatively tiny sliver of the population. But that alone can’t justify not picking this show up. After all, how many bearded duck hunters are out there? Far fewer than marathoners I’ll bet.

      And that sort of explains the burger situation. A show about hearty vegetarian post-race meals would interest many people, but a burger would pick up a bigger audience. Plus, the show’s theme is so versatile that several episodes could easily feature vegetarian meals that defy the typical expectations of a meat-less plate.

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. The next time you’re at a coffee shop and casually overhear a network exec say “You know what we need? A show about running paired with food and a hefty side of sports science,” tell them they’re better off watching Breaking Bad instead. Seriously, I’m probably the seven hundredth person to say it, but WATCH IT.

  6. john says:

    Heck, Dan, it’s a great idea as a short video at race expos as a preview of coming events. The Kansas City Marathon’s slogan is even “come for the race, stay for the barbeque”, and this format can easily be expanded to fulfill a programming need. It’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” for the athletic set – a literal “Dine and Dash’ (Dash and Dine?). Have a host and a plucky sidekick, and you are set.

  7. djamesbutton says:

    Sounds like a great idea for any of the TLC-esque networks or even a CBS, on after The Amazing Race. Really like the blog btw, well written posts.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the kind words. TLC would be a good fit, as would the Travel Channel, Discovery and even Bravo (mostly because I love Top Chef).

  8. Jen says:

    I think you’re off to a decent start, Dan. I like the idea of featuring different cities & their marathons (in a travel show type of manner), interviewing various people affiliated with the race, and the post-race meal. I think those segments, combined with a highly edited version of the race, would be pretty entertaining to most people. The physiology and runnerd-type sections might be a bit too niche — I think only endurance junkies and science geeks would appreciate that information, and even then it’s hard to find people who will present it in an accurate and entertaining way. The key though, I think, would be the “casting”. This show would only work with the right hosts — hopefully charismatic people with interesting life stories that could add to the drama of each episode.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for your two cents, Jen. I think the science bits would be interesting to anyone if pitched the right way. For example, strictly talking about the heel/forefoot debate by itself wouldn’t be as intriguing. But if you throw in some hills and show how the foot reacts to incline, it might be more interesting to the average person. The show will rely heavily on context to provide its programming, which would help unite both the runnerds and the runn00bs. Did I just make up a word?

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