Friday, April 30, 2010

Free Ice Cream!

On Wednesday night my friend and I had just completed a grocery tour for clients going through a month-long detox and we drove by a Baskin-Robbins with a line out the door and down the block. What was going on? I later learned that it was 31 cent scoop night and understood the power of such marketing schemes. I'd had my fair share of scoops on Ben & Jerry's free cone days, sometimes waiting on line for up to half an hour. The allure of free ice cream is something that has long fascinated me. Years ago when I was in Israel there was a blood drive called "Pints for Pints" where you received a free pint of ice cream for donating a pint of blood. Dangling the carrot in front of the donkey has morphed into dangling the free snack item in front of the donor, walker, runner and it reminded me of the freebies I used to get at races, something overlooked by Clyde Haberman in his otherwise amusing New York Times column this week, "Walk, Run or Maybe Nap for a Cure."

September will mark ten years since I first "raced for a cure" in the eponymous Susan G. Komen Foundation event. At the time my mother was in remission from breast cancer and since we'd been walking partners for a while we signed up for the 5k in Central Park together. When we picked up our materials she was given a special pink survivors shirt and baseball cap and was asked how many years she was in remission so they could adorn the brim of her hat with the appropriate number of stickers. Since it was just under six months, they cut the pink ribbon sticker in half and pressed it onto the hat. That day there were 27,000 participants and it was powerful and moving to see so many bodies and to read the notes pinned to people's backs with names and faces of loved ones whose lives they were celebrating or commemorating. It was also the slowest "race" we could ever imagine. In that sea of chatty women sipping their morning coffee, pushing strollers, catching up with old friends, my mother, a lifelong New Yorker bred to walk with purpose, who strolls at around 3 mph and powerwalks closer to 5, began to weave through the crowd in effort to find a better stride, her longs legs extending forward, her elbows pumping high to gain speed and to knock anyone else out of the way. Next year, we decided, we would start with the runners. But the following year the race was on the morning before Yom Kippur and so my mother opted out and I went on my own. Again it was crowded, so I moved to the front behind the runners where I figured that walking fast would be better accomplished but when the race started I found myself jogging, and then running all the way to the finish. I haven't stopped since.

By now I've run just about every distance from 1.7 to 26.2M for many causes and cures: for child abuse and domestic violence, for leukemia and lymphoma, breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers, heart disease and hepatitis. In some cases I've raised thousands of dollars, other times I simply paid the registration fee and was looking to challenge myself and maybe set a PR. I've run alone, with friends, with my ipod, with my sister and could go on and on about my tumultuous ten year love affair with the sport, the challenges of hydration and nutrition and injuries and life. But while sports nutrition is something I hope to hit upon later, more curious to me is the gluttonous post-race binge. If you've ever done a race, hopefully you've made it to the finish line. And after having your chip removed you may have taken a photo, received a medal and grabbed a cup of water. And then depending on the scale of the event, you were likely treated to a host of goodies. I've gone to post-race parties with everything from bagels and bananas to Krispy Kreme donuts to Trophy cupcakes to Jamba Juice to Sabra hummus. But all that was nothing compared to the New York City AIDS Walk.

Perhaps because New York City is the epicenter of the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic, or the way the event was popularized by a Seinfeld episode, the AIDS Walk stands in a field of its own. Several years ago my sister and I signed up for it, assuming it would be like all other races. Though it was promoted as a walk, we would edge our way to the front to clear a running route for ourselves. But when we got to Central Park to find some 40,000 or more people there, we had to change our plans. We were unsure why we were given shopping bags and why everyone was moving so slowly. It started out just fine. Marching bands played along the way. Groups of high school volunteers giving out orange wedges and Capri-Sun drinks, many of which had already been discarded and were paving the road. We turned these down, but as other walkers stepped on the packets with their straws in place our ankles got juiced. Slowly the items grew more enticing. Boxes of cereal, pretzels, chips, cookies, Turkey Hill ice cream, followed a mile later by Ben and Jerry's, followed a mile later by Haagen Daaz and then Starbucks ice cream bars at the finish. After nearly two hours on this very slow and crowded course, my sister and I were incredulous. Other walkers had two or more full shopping bags of goodies by the time they finished, and after what felt like full-scale trick-or-treating session, it was entirely possible to actually gain weight on this six mile walk. And while it was wonderful to see that so many companies were supporting AIDS work, we wondered if all this food might have been better donated to those in needs, to food banks to shelters or institutions. Or had anyone suggested to the homeless population that they make their way to Riverside Drive with a shopping bag or two to collect some free food? I haven't participated in an AIDS Walk since but my suspicion is that the economic turn has led to fewer freebies and I don't think that's such a bad thing. Did we really need five different kinds of free ice cream? And what was the secret to keeping them all from melting?

All joking aside, I don't think anyone is signing up for races in order to get the free food at the end. My sister will joke that she does it for the t-shirts, another friend likes the medals, but each of us has some deeper reason. Whether to connect to a cause in a meaningful way, to join a friend in their cause or to set a new personal goal, I intend to race for a cure this season and maybe you will too. And if you're interested in free ice cream, that's also fine. Just sign up here.

1 comment:

  1. The AIDs walk still makes me cringe. I think those 6 miles took us 3 hours to navigate!