Boilermaker Blog

The Economic Theory of Running: Are Runners Just Crazy?

June 19th, 2018


By Kelsey Gratien, PhD, CPC

Here I am, sitting in the YMCA parking lot feeling a deep sense of dread. First, I need to wake up three kids that are all in a deep sleep, wrangle them out of their car seats, and get them safely inside. Then, I need to push myself through an eight-mile treadmill workout while worrying that I’ll hear “Will the parent for Ryan/Molly/Ruth please report to child watch?” over the loud speaker at any moment.

This is my second time here this evening. Thirty minutes ago, after driving through rush hour traffic, I arrived. I unbuckled the two-year-old, reached for the stroller, and then realized I left the diaper bag at home– the diaper bag with all of the absolute essentials needed for this venture. As my two-year-old was angrily chanting “Child Watch, Child Watch!” I buckled her back in, started the van, and drove home. When I finally got back to the Y, all the kids had passed out.

Kelsey and kids

So, why do I do this? What motivates someone to go through all this trouble just to get in a run? This question crossed my mind as I sped up the treadmill and I’ve been contemplating it since.  Why would anyone be a runner?

Approximately five years ago, in what seems like a different lifetime, I was a “practicing” political scientist. Part of my Ph.D. dissertation focused on political behavior and why some people vote and others don’t. One theorist, American economist Anthony Downs, in his An Economic Theory of Democracy, said it may be irrational to vote. He suggested that the question should be “Why would anyone ever vote?” and posited that a person should only vote if the probability of determining the election (P) multiplied by the benefit of the preferred candidate winning (B) is greater than the many costs associated with voting (C).

A person should only vote if:  P * B > C

(For the politically curious: there have been revisions of this theory, with one suggestion being that people feel a sense of duty or obligation – such as “people fought for our right to vote” —  that provides additional motivation.)

Like Downs’ question of voters, I started asking myself “why would anyone ever run. The costs are so high, and the probability of winning any given race is nearly zero for most runners. So why are 15,000 people going to run the Boilermaker knowing full well that the prize money is out of reach?

What do we, the non-elite race enthusiasts, really get out of this? Running hurts. It’s usually not all that pleasant to run hard mile repeats or race an all-out 15k. Why would anyone give up time with family, relaxation, or additional sleep to get in some miles? Why would anyone shell out $30, $50, or $100 to run a race? What benefit could possibly outweigh those costs?


When I was 22, I was in graduate school with a flexible schedule and no responsibilities. I was a free bird. Looking back, the costs of running were so low. And yet, I trained sporadically and ran mediocre times. Going out for chicken wings and beer often trumped any desire to go running.

And here I am, 31 years old with a million things going on, and I’ve chosen now to be focused on running personal records and breaking 60 minutes at the Boilermaker.  Am I an irrational human being? Maybe, or perhaps despite the costs of running hitting their peak, the benefits are also at an unprecedented high.

But what would make running more beneficial to me now?

I’ve heard a lot of moms give broad justifications for running, saying things like “running allows me to be a better wife and mother,” and I do agree with that. I am now able to share my successes with my husband and kids, and that is big for me.

But what about the everyday “I don’t want to run today but I know I should” internal war that truly determines a runner’s fate? This is a battle I often lost in the past because the temptations of not running were high (“let’s go get a burger right now!”)

Today, many of my running benefits are immediate and the temptations against running are limited. One run can allow me to be more patient with my toddlers. It gives me a feeling of happiness and self-worth. And, these benefits come with 100-percent probability.  Additionally, the chance of winning races is occasionally greater than 0 for me, and wins give me added happiness. (Why winning results in happiness is another topic I’ll cover whenever I get my Ph.D. in psychology). I also find fun in the general competition (like, perhaps, how some voters find fun in elections even if their candidate loses).

As far as the temptations against running go: With kids, I can’t just kick back on the couch anymore. I can’t spontaneously go out for wings and beer. Not running would allow me to avoid some costs, like the guilt of leaving my husband alone with the kids for even more time throughout the day.

But, we’ve found ways to minimize the costs. And, these costs actually keep me from procrastinating and encourage me to run each run with purpose and efficiency. I can’t just take runs for granted.

For me, right now, the benefits are at an all-time high and the probability of receiving them are usually high.  While the costs are substantial, P*B is still greater than C. And because of this, my training has been consistent and I am experiencing all the fun of competitive racing.

So back to the original question: why would anyone run? Are runners just crazy? Well, runners do seem to be a special breed that finds joy in pushing the body to physical limits. Runners find fun in competition, even if the probability of winning the race is zero. And for runners, the feeling of self-accomplishment outweighs the costs of shoes, entry fees, lost time, guilt, and physical pain. Runners may be unique, but I’d argue that they aren’t crazy. They are rational actors who find value in all that comes with running.

Almost daily it seems someone has a comment to suggest that runners are irrational:

“The only way you’d see me running is if I was being chased.”

 “You actually pay money to run?”

“If people actually enjoy running, why do they look so miserable doing it?”

It’s always been hard for me to explain to anyone, including myself, why I feel the need to run. But I do believe it has to do with benefits associated with running and how we perceive them. We find the benefits of self-accomplishment, competition, personal records, and general achievement to outweigh the physical pain, money and time. So, at the Boilermaker start line, when you’re asking yourself, “Why did I sign up for this?,” remember, you are a rational being and it will all be worth it!

The author is an information consultant in the Value-Based Payment Analytics department at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.


June 12th, 2018

Mark Donovan 4-8-16 3

On Tuesday, May 29th of this year, I walked into the Boilermaker HQ near the Finish Line here in Utica, NY to officially begin my new role as President of the Boilermaker organization. In the ensuing 10+ days, it has been a whirlwind of action as the calendar quickly turns toward “race day” which is only a scant 25 days away.

Taking a quick moment to reflect, I am obviously thankful for the support from the host of well wishers who have reached out to me. However, what has struck me the most is the passion I have witnessed and felt from everyone in and around the Boilermaker.

From the Boilermaker staff and volunteers who are in high gear making sure that all of the plans are in place for Boilermaker Weekend, to the perennial runner who took the time to come in and speak with me at length about his experiences and dedication to training new runners. Or the woman from Boston who, as a recent newlywed, asked her friends to consider donating to the Boilermaker as a wedding gift and stopped by to deliver those funds herself. I am very quickly getting my schooling on the magnitude of the passion that people bring to their unique Boilermaker experiences.

There is a saying that “you cannot teach passion“. As I shepherd the Boilermaker organization over the next phase of its journey, I am driven by the energy, generosity of spirit and the passion that our supporters have and selflessly share.

I look forward to seeing you at the Finish Line!

Boilermaker Spirit Inspire’s Buffalo’s Run 716

June 1st, 2018

run 716 logo

After many years of running in the Boilermaker, three of Western New York long time participants and area race organizers felt that Buffalo, New York deserved a “Boilermaker Style” 15K of its own.  In 2017, after 2 years of planning, RUN716 was off and running. With over 1,000 participants in its first year, organizers are looking forward to their 2nd go-round, scheduled for Sunday, August 5, 2018 at 7:16 am.

The race is filled with elements that Boilermaker runners will recognize and appreciate. RUN716 is hosted by F.X. Matt Brewing Company’s partner Flying Bison Brewery which located in Buffalo’s revitalized Larkinville District. Similar to the Boilermaker, course features provides a tour of some of Buffalo’s most scenic sites including  the canal side and the city’s newly renovated harbor. Even the race’s presenting sponsor, Univera Healthcare, is a subsidiary of the Boilermaker 15K’s presenting sponsor, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The best part of all of this? Participants of the Utica Boilermaker get a special savings registration code for Run716. Stop by the Run716 booth at the Fitness Mill health  Boilermaker expo to receive your promotional code. 

RUN716 proceeds help fund the Food Bank of WNY, Buffalo’s Police Athletic League and Opioid Addiction Prevention.

Learn more about this event by visiting

Why I Run – by Ellen Brunet

April 10th, 2018

The 2018 Boilermaker will be the closest our race ever comes to the 4th of July, our most patriotic holiday and the day our nation celebrates its freedom – including our ability to “run for fun”. It is therefore appropriate that we share this story from Boilermaker runner Ellen Brunet who runs for a very specific reason: to honor fallen Marine and Baldwinsville, New York native, Corporal Kyle R Schneider.

Why I Run

In 2011 I ran The Boilermaker with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. My friends’ son, Corporal Kyle R Schneider, had been KIA while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan just a few weeks prior. That race was the beginning of my new purpose for running: To honor and remember Kyle.

A few months later I asked Kyle’s parents if I could run the Marine Corps Marathon to honor their son. When I got to mile 26 they were waiting for me and, from the finish line, together we walked to Section 60 Grave 9720 in Arlington National Cemetery to visit our hero.

That was over 200 races and 20 marathons ago. Sometimes during a race, while facing down tough a hill or extreme heat, I remind myself why I do what I do. That mile in Arlington with Kyle’s mother and father will always be the hardest of my life. Our freedom is a gift; a gift that our military gives to us so that we can enjoy days like Boilermaker Sunday. What we do is easy, what they do is hard.

CplKyleSchneiderPrintPic 6 9 15

The Schneider’s biggest fear is that their son will be forgotten.  Kyle’s motto was: “It’s my turn to make a difference”. That’s what is on the front of our Freedom Team shirts. Kyle’s photo is on the back. During every race I have people ask me about Kyle and they tell me about their father, their brothers and sisters, or their own service. I never met Corporal Schneider but there’s no person who has influenced my life more. His legacy alone makes me want to be a better person – to Honor our military and their families in all that I do. On race day look for Corporal Schneider’s image among the runners and also take a moment to remember, our freedom is not free.

Brunet image

Learn more about Kyle’s service and the foundation his parents have started at


What’s In a Name?

February 23rd, 2018

What’s In a Name?

…That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet…Just kidding, this blog post has nothing to do with Shakespeare and everything to do with a recurring question that we deal with down here at 805 Court Street. Why is it called the Boilermaker?

It is amusing to hear all the popular legends that have sprung up to explain the name. A common one we hear is that the name is due to the oppressive July heat that often accompanies race day. Others assume it is a tangential reference to Purdue University.  Actually the Boilermaker’s Run, as it was called in the beginning, was named by race founder Earle Reed as a nod to the businesses that marked (and continue to mark) the start and finish lines.

Of course the start line has always been outside of ECR International, known in 1978 as Utica Radiator Corp, the Reed’s family business. The site was actually more known for manufacturing cast iron radiators and baseboard than boilers but Earle believed in not letting facts get in the way of good marketing.

Meanwhile across town, the F.X. Matt Brewery has always served as the race finish line and host of distance running’s best post-race party. The race’s identity is summed up in one of its early catchphrases, “Utica Radiator to Utica Club”. Moreover, some of our more mischievous readers may know that a boilermaker is pub jargon for a shot of whiskey accompanied by a beer.

"Utica Radiator to Utica Club" - Commemorative Mug From the first Boilermaker

“Utica Radiator to Utica Club” – Commemorative Mug From the first Boilermaker

So there you have it. Start at a heating and cooling product manufacturer and end at a beloved family brewery and you have a Boilermaker Road Race. So concludes today’s history lesson.

Ric Rojas Approaching the Brewery on His Way to Victory in the First "Boilermaker's Run" in 1978

Ric Rojas Approaching the Brewery on His Way to Victory in the First “Boilermaker’s Run” in 1978


A New Year

January 2nd, 2018

The end of the year is great for three things: to celebrate our successes, to determine our failures, and to set new goals.

The Boilermaker has a lot to celebrate as we close this year. The 40th running went off without a hitch! With a record number of participants and sponsors our community came out in droves to support our hometown race. No sooner did we put our sneakers away did we start to plan for the 2018 race. That ball is already rolling and believe it or not the race is less than 200 days away already.

This year we kicked off the Boilermaker Urban Initiative with a fundraising campaign. Did you know that this was the first time the Boilermaker created a fundraiser for our own outreach programming? Did you know that we are a not-for-profit agency? Yea! We are! The inaugural Run for U campaign raised $25,000 for the Boilermaker Urban Initiative, speaking volumes about not only your generosity but the special place this race continues to occupy in this community’s collective heart. Speaking very honestly, there were moments in this office that we were genuinely humbled by you.

We have a lot to celebrate here at 805 Court Street. It was a good year. But with success comes struggles. Struggles can be good! They provide opportunity to regroup, re-plan and find a new path for successful growth. We said good-bye to an outstanding president. Our public market limped along and we are still trying to plug all the pieces in for the Boilermaker Urban Initiative.

Boy, have these successes and struggles really given us some perspective and direction. We are re-working the plan for the Public Market…. And it’s going to be good! The Boilermaker Urban Garden, was such a highlight of the year but we can do better. Do you know what it’s like to make a difference in a community and in the life of a teenager? Well it’s pretty gosh darn incredible! Not to mention the 80 plus kids we inspired in the Boilermaker Kids In Training after school running club. All of these areas are expanding in 2018!

Our goals for 2018 are pretty simple: become the best Boilermaker, in all our capacities, that we can be. We will continue to bring you the best Boilermaker experience as we work to make this year better than last because YOU keep coming back and we love that! But we are going to be a better Boilermaker for you as we keep growing the Boilermaker Urban Initiative and our beloved community, throughout the year.

Many thanks to those who supported us in 2018! The 1600 people who donated to “Run for U”, the thousands of volunteers that gave us their time Boilermaker weekend, the individuals that helped get the Boilermaker Urban Initiative off the ground and of course our runners. You compel us to be better! THANK YOU!

May 2018 bring you the best you ever.

10 Amazing Years

August 1st, 2017

So I guess I dropped a bit of a bomb when I announced the day after this year’s Boilermaker Road Race that it had been my last one.
Well, I’ve always had a bit of a flair for the dramatic…
It has been a ride with many spectacular highs and a few, very few, lows.
While it certainly is a nice ego booster that some folks feel that my departure from the Boilermaker will be a big-time loss for the organization- nonsense!
This thing we call the Boilermaker stands much, much, larger than a single individual and quite simply if this enterprise lives and dies because of one guy than it’s in real trouble!
Frankly, change is good and it’s good to leave on a high note.
What will not change is that Boilermaker spirit that makes that second Sunday in July special and instills a belief that all things are possible.
And, hopefully, I’ve sprinkled a bit of that ‘Boilermaker magic dust’ on the other 364 days of the year.
I’ve been blessed with a good staff, a legion of loyal volunteers, fantastic sponsors and a community that has embraced the Boilermaker like a child of their own.
Put that all together and you can’t help but look smart!
But it’s time for me to trek on to that new thing that has yet to reveal itself to me.
Retirement is not in my immediate future!
Yet as I look forward I can’t help but peek over my shoulder one more time to remember.
To walk out on the stage at the Post Race Party to face a crowd of tens of thousands of happy folks, you gave a taste of what a rock star must feel like.
To be a ‘happiness vampire’ feeding off the excitement and joy of our participants be they a nine to ninety year old.
To have been given a chance to lead the Boilermaker these past 10 years-what an extraordinary gift!
Thank you.

Some Thoughts about “Psychic Impact”

July 24th, 2017

Studies have been conducted on the economic impact the Boilermaker has on Utica and the entire region and it is significant. However, the race creates another kind of impact more difficult to quantify but equally important. Psychic Impact refers to the emotional effects that prestigious events and sports teams have on their host communities. It is a term that has emerged recently from the field of sports economics, primarily to justify large public investments into private arenas and stadiums. I have no interest in exploring the ethics of that topic but the concept of psychic impact does raise interesting questions relevant to the role that the Boilermaker can play in Utica’s future.

Can the Boilermaker (or Comets games, or concerts at the Stanley…) remedy the city’s economic troubles? Certainly not but they do make us feel better about our city and that absolutely has the ability to translate into measurable progress. It’s simple – when you take pride in something you take care of it and you invest in it. When Utica’s younger generations feel civic pride about their home, they are more likely to stay, raise families and start businesses here.

Our race generates an enormous amount of Utica pride, as it should. After all, the Boilermaker has no inherent characteristics other than a hilly 9.3 mile stretch of asphalt. The accolades that are so often laid on the race have EVERYTHING to do with the people that live here, without whom the Boilermaker would be just another race. It is the overwhelming community pride that thrusts our race into the elite tier of “must-do” road races in the USA.

The Boilermaker drastically improves the way we think and feel, not only about our city and neighbors but our guests as well. During Boilermaker weekend, we welcome thousands of visitors from across the country, putting our city on a national stage. Everywhere you look, Boilermaker flags fly and landscaping is immaculate.

Seeing it every year, it is baffling to me to then see the general malaise and cynicism that too often plague us throughout the rest of the year. I hear if often, if only we could harness the “Boilermaker Spirit” and sustain it throughout the year…

So if Boilermaker 40 can leave any lasting legacy on Utica, let it be this: That “Boilermaker Spirit” that was so ubiquitous and infectious all week long actually has nothing to do with the race. The race just reveals a “Utica Spirit” that lives in all of us who call the Mohawk Valley home. All we need to do is capture it and live it the other 364 days of the year.

Boilermaker 40 Primer

June 27th, 2017

Well here we are, less than two weeks away from Boilermaker 40. After four decades, we have the race part down. What remains a challenge is creating a unique experience each and every year. As the race has evolved into a week-long extravaganza, we have many more opportunities to engage our runners. For the big 4-0, we feel that we have created a race with the same Boilermaker charm you’ve come to love with enough surprises to make for a wholly new experience. To share some of these with you, what follows is my feeble attempt at a Dave Letterman-esque top 10.

10 Things to Watch for at Boilermaker 40

  • First, download the new (free) Boilermaker mobile app ASAP to stay updated on all Boilermaker events. It also has other great features like Boilermaker selfies, merchandise discounts and much more. This is your handheld guide through Boilermaker week. Big thanks to our app sponsor, Covey Computer Software for this one.
  • Look out for the Chobani Homestretch on Court Street, giving you that extra push over the finish line.
  • Expo surprises. This will be our biggest and best Planet Fitness Health and Wellness Expo to date. Be sure to check out:
    • Drone demonstrations by AX Enterprizes
    • Rockin Jump Fun Zone out on the quad
    • More food trucks, more vendors, more FREE samples!
    • Runner’s Forum including Olympic hero, Erin Hamlin (1:00pm, Saturday)
    • Carmella’s Café Pasta Challenge featuring local celebrities competing over the Colander Cup (12pm, Saturday)
  • The Unity Mile along mile 2 of the 15k course. This stretch of the race will be packed with individuals and organizations that represent all the reasons why Utica is such a great place including organizations like the Ride for Missing Children and Upstate Cerebral Palsy to name just a few.
  • More wheelchairs athletes than ever before. We’ll have over 40 wheelchair athletes this year and the prize money for the division has doubled so you can expect a more intense wheelchair race than ever before.
  • American prize money has been doubled so you can expect to see some of the best American distance runners in the country competing for the top spot. The race hasn’t had an American winner since Ed Eyestone in 1991.
  • Post-race entertainment is being turned up to 11 with a Showtime/Gridley Paige/Classified “supergroup” sharing the stage with disco diva Maxine Nightingale. You might know Maxine from her hit song, “Right Back Where We Started From” featured prominently in the movie Slapshot.
  • Beer and sweaty bodies not your thing but still want to enjoy the post-race party? Check out the Cliff’s Local Market Family Zone on the corner of Edward and Wasmer. No beer allowed here and there will be snacks, refreshments and family-friendly activities.
  • Looking for something to do Friday night? Visit the Utica Blue Sox booth at the expo and get a FREE ticket to Friday night’s game against the Oneonta Outlaws.
  • Have you heard about the Boilermaker Urban Initiative? If not, you will. The Boilermaker is reaching out into the community in a way it never has before in order to be a year-round change agent for health and wellness. Our website has more information on the initiative and its programs.

Rain, rain go away (and the cold as well)!

June 6th, 2017

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
Charles Dudley Warner although attributed to Mark Twain

Weather-wise, this has certainly been one interesting springs we have had.
Endless days of rain and cold/ clammy temperatures- it feels like Utica has been relocated to Washington State.
I’m thinking of suggesting to the Governor to change the official flower of New York State from the Rose to the Mushroom!
As I write this the Boilermaker is a bit more than a month away.
While I have seen an uptick in runners on the streets it feels like it’s a bit less than what I’ve traditionally seen at this time of year.
My assumption is that July 9th will be a tad warmer than the cool temperatures we have been experiencing.
Here’s where I’m concerned, runners who have trained and trained in weather that is similar in temperature to ‘game day’ conditions tend to do better than those who didn’t (Tim- thanks for that flash of brilliance!).
So what to do, because we can’t click our heels three times and make the clouds disappear.
– Put in more miles, the cool temperatures you have now, and likely wouldn’t have Boilermaker Sunday- in fact these are pretty nice temps from a running perspective! What you can’t get from heat and humidity make up with mileage and hills.
– Train indoors, while I personally find elliptical training a poor substitute for outdoor running, the weather is certainly a bit more consistent in a place that has a roof.
And some just general advice with one month out, regardless of the weather.
At this time of year there are numerous races of various distances and difficulties- run a few.
This is very important for folks (and I know there are more than a few of you) who have never run in a formal race before.
Understanding the ‘rules of the road’ for races acts as a great dress rehearsal for Boilermaker Sunday (race bib pinned on the front please).
Develop those healthy habits centered around training, nutrition and rest; they will serve you well a month from now.
Hey, it’s more fun to experience Boilermaker Sunday rocking at the Post Race Party than rolling into the medical tent!
Holy smokes, I just saw a glimpse of blue sky; gotta grab my running shoes!