Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | February 9, 2012

Field Notes: The F^3

Subject of Study: Runners, also known as RunNerds. Sub classification: the rare breed of Winter RunNerd

Event: The annual F^3 Half Marathon

Habitat: Chicago Lakefront Path

Date: A chilly Saturday in January, 2012

Background: These events, called races, are usually celebrated by the RunNerds during the warm weather months. However, over the past three years, we have noticed a drastic change in the RunNerds’ habits. Many of them are racing during what would normally be their hibernation period.

Mission: To understand this strange class of creatures who run 13.1 miles in the freezing cold for no apparent reason

Field Notes:

Arrived at the designated location to study the Winter RunNerds in their native environment. The RunNerds covered a cross section of shapes, ages, sizes, ethnic groups, and genders. All were clad in the traditional Winter RunNerd ceremonial warrior dress: technical wicking fabrics, Smartwool hats, and insulated gloves. Some wore very few layers while others wore many.

The flock, numbering close to 3000, gathered on the Lakefront path. The creatures huddled close together for warmth. Some participated in a pre-race ritual of hopping up and down. There was much commotion as members of the flock called to each other and gave, what they call in the native vernacular, “high fives.” Many were observed consuming a ceremonial beverage, Gatorade, to cleanse their souls and prepare them for their journey

High Priestess Kimberly called them to attention and gave them special instructions to help them on their voyage. The participants continued to buzz with nervous energy, until another leader of the flock, identified as Ken, calmed them with an inspirational song. Then Kimberly sounded a horn, startling the creatures, who immediately began to run.

Non-running members of the tribe stood on the side, shouting war-cries to the RunNerds as the parade commenced. Children waved at parents, wondering if they would ever see them again. When the last of the warriors ran past, the spectators, as if at a loss for what to do, made their way to their communal gathering spot, Starbucks, to await further instruction. Meanwhile, the flock of RunNerds headed north on the Lakefront path.

Observation: Those wearing the least amount of clothes led the way.
Interpretation: It is difficult to determine what this signifies. It is possible that the amount of clothes signals some kind of hierarchy among the RunNerds.
Questions for future research: Do the smaller, more lightly clothed runners go first to clear the way for the slightly larger ones wearing more layers in the back? Are they scouts looking for hazards on the road, protecting the gray-sweatpants-wearing ones who come later? Do the layers of clothes signify economic rank? Perhaps the ones who wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts cannot afford multiple layers, and those who wear three shirts plus a jacket plus two pairs of gloves plus three pairs of tights do so as a way to display their wealth and power?

After running due north on the Lakefront path, the leader suddenly turned and reversed direction. All the other RunNerds followed. This strange migration pattern brought them back past their original gathering spot.

Observation: Some of them stopped to enter small blue boxes called Port-o-Potties on the side.
Interpretation: Clearly these are for some kind of worship, possibly meditation.
Questions for future research: Why do some RunNerds go in and out of the blue boxes so quickly while others, usually the females, take much longer?

The flock continued its southward migration, with the smaller, lightly clad lower-caste runners getting far ahead of the multi-layer ruling class. Several times, the runners stopped to accept ceremonial offerings from worshippers who stood on the side shouting “Water” or “Gatorade.”

Observation: As the parade stretched out into a long thin line, the small, fast leaders once again reversed direction and headed back north. Then, just as they got to their original gathering spot, they headed south for several minutes, then turned north and arrived back at the same point where they started.
Interpretation: We have no idea what this means. Perhaps like whales who beach themselves, these runners suffer from some sort of illness that makes them unable to follow a coherent migratory pattern.
Question for future research: Are they lacking in navigational skills? Or is changing direction part of the ritual?

As the warriors arrived back where they started, there was once again much whooping, high-fiving, and other ritualistic behavior. One particular red-haired specimen proclaimed a “PR” and thanked her “coach.” Others, such as a multi-layer-sporting slower participant, said “Not great but not bad.” There was much talk of bragging rights and F-ing freezing.

Observation: Each RunNerd was given a “medal,” also referred to as a “bottle opener.”
Interpretation: The bright and shiny medals bestow newfound status on the RunNerds, possibly allowing them to move higher in the tribe caste system.
Questions for future research: Is this the point of the event, to get the medal? What do the participants do with these medals afterwards?

Members of the flock milled around for several minutes, drinking their ceremonial beverages. They did not seem to be upset that they ended up exactly where they started. After a while, the cheering subsided and the flock dispersed, presumably going back to hibernating, wrapped in their Snuggies, until the next migratory event takes place.


  1. This made me snort. You’re very funny, Sue.

  2. I think I’m married to one of these creatures…wait…I am one of them!

  3. LOL. This is awesome. I especially enjoyed the part about the children waving and wondering if they’ll ever seen their parents again.

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