Celebrities: “They’re just like us,” as Us Weekly’s recurring feature constantly tells us through pictures and silly captions.
“They go camping!”
“They get caught in the rain!”
“They scream for ice cream!”
We can add, “They run marathons!”
Since celebrities are merely people who happen to be famous, it makes sense that some of them would happen to be runners with marathoners among them. Oprah Winfrey, Ryan Reynolds, Will Farrell, Drew Carey, the list of famous folks who have tackled 26.2 or even 13.1 miles is plentiful and includes actors, singers, models, politicians, chefs, writers and other notable folk.
But it seems that regular runners can’t get enough of celebrity runners. Spotting a celebrity on the street or at a restaurant is enough to thrill many fans for a lifetime. But running with them? It takes celeb spotting to a whole new level. And races increasingly advertise the celebrities they have on their roster to entice and inspire runners.
Take the upcoming 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna, which includes a half-marathon on Saturday, January 12 and marathon on Sunday, January 13 near Orlando, Florida. The race’s organizer, runDisney, brought comedian and The Price Is Right host Drew Carey and singer and Dancing With The Stars vet Joey Fatone out to greet fans this morning at the Walt Disney World Marathon Meet Up event for about 100 runDisney Twitter followers. Carey was scheduled to run this weekend, but pulled out Wednesday due to knee problems. Fatone will be running the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge, which includes running a half-marathon on Saturday and marathon on Sunday. ESPN host Colin Cowherd will also be running this weekend.
The Walt Disney World Marathon isn’t the only race to tout its celebrity entrants. The ING New York City Marathon regularly publicizes their who’s who of Hollywood, usually to promote charity partners or race sponsors. And the Marine Corps Marathon even maintains a page dedicated to all of their famous finishers including Al Gore and Oprah. For race directors and celebrity runners, it’s a symbiotic relationship. Race organizers get a famous face to help promote their event, and celebrities get another platform to promote their charity, sponsor, brand or message.
Case in point: Actor Sean Astin, a Disney race veteran, promotes his Run3rd Twitter campaign, which encourages people to dedicate their runs to a loved one, cause or idea, through his running endeavors. Model Christy Turlington Burns was slated to run the canceled 2012 ING New York City Marathon on behalf of her charity, Every Mother Counts, which aims to reduce maternal mortality worldwide. Actress Valerie Bertinelli ran the Boston Marathon for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The list goes on.
Other celebrities use their fame to promote healthy living, like Drew Carey who set out to lose 92 pounds over the course of one year back in 2010 through diet and exercise. He became a runner in the process.
“I plan on doing it the rest of my life. I didn’t start running to say, ‘Oh I want to run a marathon or a half-marathon,’ and check it off my list and then eat pizza the rest of my life. I started so that I can incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle,” Carey said at the Walt Disney World Marathon Meet Up. “My goal was to be fit and healthy enough to live to see my kid graduate high school, college. ‘Cause the way I was going it was never going to happen. I figured I’d be dead in 10 years. Honestly, I was really unhealthy.”
Whatever the reason, celebrity runners always cause a stir at running events. Runners waited in line after the Walt Disney World Marathon Meet Up to take pictures with Carey and Fatone, and plied both men with questions about their running habits, their careers and more. One runner asked Fatone to sign the high school yearbook she’d brought with her; they attended the same school in graduating classes three years apart.
Even Runner’s World magazine, which has a group of editors on hand at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend as part of a collaboration with runDisney, devotes its “I’m A Runner” back page to a profile of a different celebrity runner every month. And I’ll confess: I always read them.
Why do we non-celebrity runners love knowing that famous folks might be running along side us? Perhaps it’s because doing the same activities as a celebrity makes us feel a little bit more like them. Or because we all love that fleeting brush with fame—the chance to play paparazzo for a day and snap a photo of the usually glamorous Christy Turlington Burns mid-marathon, or better yet, with her in all our sweaty glory.
But I think it can best be explained by the innate competitive nature of running. Most runners will never win a race—we leave that to professionals at the big races and local elite runners at the smaller ones. But knowing that we can “best” a celebrity gives us a little ego boost.
I’ve heard many a friend compare their marathon time to a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey, P. Diddy or Lance Armstrong and express a desire to “beat” them.
And if we can’t beat them, well, they give us something to aspire to. Runners continue to be impressed or tortured (depending what side of the political spectrum they sit on) by Sarah Palin’s 3:59 marathon time, run at the age of 41 after having four children, and inspired by Winfrey’s 4:29 time set at the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon after battling weight-loss ups and downs for most of her career.
Many runners marveled this morning at Carey’s own transformation—from being nearly 100 pounds overweight to becoming a sub-2 hour half-marathoner. One Disney park employee, who’d heard that Carey was on the property, asked me if I’d seen him. As a The Price is Right fan, he told me that Carey’s weight-loss had inspired him to kick-start his own through a running regimen.
For my part, I have to admit that when I found out Katie Holmes and I would both be making our marathon debuts at the 2007 ING New York City Marathon, a part of me wanted to beat her. We’re roughly the same age and height, and being able to say, “I beat Katie Holmes” sounded like fun.
I didn’t. She bested me by 24 minutes. I’ve since shaved 86 minutes off my time, and she hasn’t run another marathon, so I’d like to think I’m the faster runner now.
But it begs the question: why do I care that I might be faster than someone I’ve never met? I have no idea. I chalk it up to human nature’s tendency toward competition. Call it plebian rivalry.
So race promoters, keep the celebrity runners coming. They give us regular folk someone to look up to, look out for, and—hopefully—beat.
Disclosure: As a member of the running media, runDisney has provided me with complimentary race entry, hotel, park tickets, airfare and some meals (like the Pasta in the Park Party) for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. I really do believe in being honest about my experiences and Disney is no exception. For more information read my Disclosure Policy.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed five marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.