You could argue that the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon is as big an annual event as the East Valley has.
Especially for the formerly important town of Tempe, which saw Glendale steal away the city's BCS bowl game in 2007. Since then, the East Valley really hasn't had any other high-profile sporting events to hang its sweatband on.
The RNRAZ -- colloquially known as the "P.F. Chang's" by runners in honor of its Scottsdale-based sponsor -- attracts tens of thousands of participants every year. Non-runners may not realize this, but last January, 32,000 runners competed in the full or half marathons.
It's not all amateurs, either; the event has seen true greatness. It was where Haile Gebrselassie, the now-retired distance-running legend, set a half-marathon world record on the course in 2006 -- on the second half of his marathon run, if you can believe it.
Yes, after already running 13.1 miles, Gebrselassie ran ANOTHER 13.1 miles in under 59 minutes. That's a 4:30/mile pace.
The point is this: The race is a big deal within the realm of local athletics.
The marathon is also a boon for Valley tourism since it occurs in mid-January, when the rest of the country is shoveling their driveways and stocking up on antifreeze. Hotels fill up. Italian restaurants overflow with carb-loaders the night before the race. The pre-race expo gives athletic apparel retailers a captive audience. And at the end of a long run for which participants have paid $100 (or more) and devoted weeks or months of training, they're treated to a "free" concert near the finish line outside Sun Devil Stadium.
Then that inevitable question arises: "Who (gasp) the hell (wheeze) is this on (cough) stage?"
Answer: Not anyone who should be playing for such a huge crowd!
Considering it's the "rock 'n' roll marathon" you'd expect music to be part of the attraction. Not so much.
Actually, the announcement of the act booked for the post-race "headliner concert" has become a source of derision and mockery among race participants, and for good reason. Apparently, one requirement for being booked as a "headliner" is having been irrelevant for the past decade. A look back at the last five, including this year's, just announced last month.
2007: Gin Blossoms
Best known for: "Hey Jealousy," "Til I Hear It From You," "Follow You Down," being from Tempe
Last appearance on Billboard Hot 100 (U.S.): "As Long As It Matters" in 1996
The Gin Blossoms are, by far, the least ridiculous band on this list. The fact that they're local boys who hit it big in the mid-'90s really helps obscure the fact that they haven't charted since then. They've been through a lot since their glory days, and they still put on a good show despite countless lineup changes. Unfortunately, this is the peak of P.F. Chang's music...
2008: Kool & the Gang
Best known for: "Jungle Boogie," "Ladies Night," "Celebration"
Last appearance on Billboard Hot 100 (U.S.): "Special Way" in 1987
Nobody's denying Kool & the Gang's appeal as a crowd-pleaser. But most race participants aren't even old enough to remember them being played on anything but the oldies station. And no, it doesn't buy them any cred that two of their original members have died, since they died of old age and/or natural causes.
2009: Smash Mouth
Best known for: "Walkin' on the Sun," "All Star," generally being awful
Last appearance on Billboard Hot 100 (U.S.): "Pacific Coast Party" in 2001
Smash Mouth rode the ska/punk craze of the late '90s to fame with the halfway decent "Walkin' on the Sun," then shat all over it with "All Star," possibly the most gratingly annoying song of the 1990s. Their follow-ups mostly consisted of covering the Beatles and the Monkees, inviting comparisons that would be unkind for most bands, but especially for Smash Mouth.
Best known for: "Santa Monica," "Father of Mine," "I Will Buy You a New Life"
Last appearance on Billboard Hot 100 (U.S.): "When It All Goes Wrong Again" in 2001
World of Noise and Sparkle and Fade are great albums. So Much for the Afterglow had its moments, but Art Alexakis' saccharine tendencies were beginning to manifest. They reached their pinnacle on the Songs From an American Movie twin-album experiment. I think it's great that Art got himself off heroin, but his music was a lot better when it was about being smacked-up. The marketplace seemed to agree, as Alexakis filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
2011: Vertical Horizon
Best known for: "Everything You Want," "You're a God" and the complete anonymity that both preceded and followed those two singles
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Last appearance on Billboard Hot 100 (U.S.): "Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)" in 2001
I'll cop to this: At one time, I owned the two Vertical Horizon albums (plus a live album) that preceded their big hit, 1999's Everything You Want. I was one of the teenagers who fell in love with that album, and I figured I was missing something by not owning their earlier work. Turns out, I wasn't.
Let's be realistic here. I don't expect race organizers to blow half their profits on booking a top-flight musical act. The marathon, for all its charitable connections, is still a business that must make money. And I don't think Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay or the inexplicably popular Kings of Leon have any interest in playing for a bunch of semi-comatose athletes who can barely walk, let alone dance, after running across town. But dusting off a long-forgotten corpse is not the next best thing. Find a great local band or two, and let them split time on the main stage. There are plenty of them providing entertainment along the course, so stick with that spirit and call the best of them up to the big leagues for an afternoon.
As long as it's not that girl who belts out an off-key, monotone rendition of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" at every 10K held in the Valley, we'll all be better off.