I'm concerned about the state of bibs. Those numbers we pin on for racing events say a lot these days about where running has gone.
The bibs from the earliest races up until about twenty years ago were primarily the actual numbers. They were large, bold, black numbers on a white background. With corporate sponsorship becoming present in almost all running events, and the participation of both amateur and professional runners in the most popular ones, attention to other aspects of racing has worked its way into the current designs. The size of the number has been reduced. Color was added. All sorts of digital scanning marks and tags for free beer worked its way into the frame. Compare the bibs from the early part of the century to the bibs worn today: Louis Tewanima, the 1911 NYC Marathon winner, The older bibs are numbers that signify who the athlete is, just like numbers on a players uniform. The contemporary bibs are much more.
In the 2006 New York City Marathon, I saw for the first time elite runners and celebrities with their names printed on bibs. No numbers, just letters. The American runners' first names were the only thing printed. "LANCE" was a particularly popular one worn that year. I should have known this was
Around the same time, smaller races from local 5Ks to half marathons began offering name printing perks for early registration: you could request your name or some other text to be printed on the bib. Some races did it automatically. A non-runner friend of mine rolled her eyes when I explained how revolutionary this was. In the past, runners had to scribble their name with a Sharpie on their singlet. Doing so allowed spectators to call out the runners' names with personalized cheers as they ran passed them on the course.
Race organizers wanted to make the experience more personalized for the runner.
This shift in bib style represents a deeper shift in the culture of running. Basically, the smaller the print of the actual number, the less significant the running seems to be. Space made for logos and flashy graphics means the minimizing of the number, reducing the significance of the person, i.e. the human being in the event. The sponsors making it happen are more important than the runners.
Do we really need their image, their name, emblazoned on 45,000 people in an event that already has their logo plastered on everything else? Do we really need reminders that they are what makes the race happen? Can I argue that it's actually the runners who make the race happen? Big corporations ruin the fundamental idea of running by turning it into a