Running on Empty

Earlier this month I  engaged in battle with waist and ego. The occasion was the annual mosh pit known as the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge. My firm fields a team at roughly two-year intervals and this was an on year.

Chase Corporate Challenge 2006 Start

Rather than let the opportunity for humiliation pass I gamely signed up and dragged myself to Central Park to run 3.5 miles. The last time I ran was in the 2009 Corporate Challenge so there was a good chance the results would not be pretty.

Things didn’t turn out as badly as they might have. A time of 37:04 is, I think, perfectly respectable after a 2-year layoff . The only real casualty was the dislocation of a once-broken toe. But this space isn’t about my digits so let’s move on. This year marks the 35th anniversary of this event in New York. It harkens back to when Manufacturer’s Hanover was still a retail bank and the City was in the throes of its 1970s near-death experience.

This is a marketing event. Sponsorships are sold. Funds are raised. Logos are emblazoned everywhere. In New York (the event is now international and held in a dozen cities around the globe), it’s a 2-night affair that draws about 15,000 participants each evening. Lots of media coverage and visibility for sponsors  and a good time for all. As with most running events, a good chunk of cash comes from the runners ($42 a head in this case).  From a purely promotional angle it’s a sweet deal.

Turns out it’s another great venue for drive-by-ethnography. And that’s what you’re limited to because if a profile of participants is published I can’t find it. So what does one experience when immersed in the crowd? One impression is that the great majority of team t-shirts sported a logo for a financial firm or a supporting player like Bloomberg (financial information) or Pilsbury (law). Yes, I did see folks from hospitals, NFPs and retailers but they stood out for what they weren’t.

What do we know about these financiers? Well, the median US HHI in 2008 was $61,521. That was the year Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers failed and TARP appeared. Then NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo documented (page 5) that the 9 largest TARP recipients paid bonuses ranging from $3,400 to $160,000 per employee. That’s range of anywhere from about 5% to 260% of median HHI in addition to salary. So let’s just call this group an economic elite.

Here’s what the dictionary say about elite: a) the choice part; b) the best of a class; c) the socially superior part of society; d)  a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence.  Could be the financial types, no?

I’m old-fashioned so I wouldn’t mind an elite that had a sense of noblesse oblige. Based on my experience in Central Park I wouldn’t mind one with basic manners, either. Trash strewn everywhere. Banana peels piled high in corners and atop generators as if finding a trash receptacle presented an undue burden. Employees (the event is manned by young people who are overwhelmingly of color) treated as though they were spectres designated to serve.

The poverty rate in New York City is about 20%.  I don’t know if the folks who work the Corporate Challenge are in that cohort. The runners by definition are employed so they are probably not. So I wonder why so many of them  seem to believe there’s an army to pick up after them. That doesn’t seem best in class or socially superior. It just strikes me as anti-social in the worst way.


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