How to Pound the Pavement with Programmers at PyCon

Code won't be the only thing running fast at PyCon 2012 in Santa Clara. Race organizers Jacob Kaplan-Moss and Nick Lang explain what inspired the inaugural PyCon 5k Fun Run.

On March 4, 2012, Jacob Kaplan-Moss, President of the Django Software Foundation, ran the Pi-Day River Rotation Half-Marathon in Lawrence, Kansas, beating his 2011 Pi-Day race time by more than two minutes. On Saturday, March 10, Jacob will be running the inaugural PyCon 5k Fun Run, an event he helped organize. In this interview, Jacob and co-organizer, Nick Lang, an ultrarunner and developer at Lab305, LLC, explain why they are introducing running to PyCon.

Rikki: What inspired you to organize a 5k at PyCon?

Jacob: I went to CodeConf last April and they had a 5k as part of the festivities. I was pretty surprised to see how many people came out to run. I think we had about 50 runners out of only 300 attendees! It was really awesome getting to run with some other nerds, and I knew right away it was something I wanted to bring to PyCon.

Rikki: How many people have signed up for the PyCon run?

Jacob: About 140 right now, although we're leaving registration open until Friday night and I expect we'll get a bunch more who sign up on-site.

Rikki: How and when did each of you get started running?

Nick: I've always been a fit and active person. But after college, I became very sedentary and was becoming unhappy. I knew running made me feel better, so when I moved to Lawrence I started running with some very modest road goals. Eventually I met some other running friends who pushed me, in a different direction — toward ultras — and here I am, running ultras.

Jacob: Nick made me do it! I had tried to get into running a few times before, but it never really stuck. Then I was working with Nick and he told me about trail running — a sport I actually never knew existed. I've always been into hiking, camping, and other outdoorsy stuff, so it seemed like a natural fit. I started a couple years ago, and now I'm hooked.

Rikki: Why do you think so many Pythonistas are runners?

Nick: I think many nerds, not just Pythonistas, are runners because it's a sort of zen state. When I get stuck on a hard problem, I'll usually go for a run. During the run I can figure it out. I am certain that there are other people like me who do the same. Also, I think there's a good portion of people who enjoy adult beverages, but when you're an adult, drinking too much can be disastrous to your waist line, so running helps combat that as well.

Jacob: I think the stereotype of the fat slob nerd is increasingly inaccurate — if it even ever had any truth to it, that is. There are plenty of developers who, like most people, want to be in shape. I know nerds who run, bike, swim, lift, and pretty much everything else in between.

Rikki: What will the course be like?

Jacob: It's an out-and-back run along the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail, which runs behind the PyCon venue. It goes north toward the Bay, then along the Baylands Park trail. It's about half paved and half groomed gravel, and fairly flat. A nice easy course, I think.

Rikki: How competitive do you think the run will be? Will there be prizes?

Jacob:I think we'll see some pretty fast runners. At the CodeConf 5k, Jeremy Ashkenas, creator of CoffeeScript, won with a time of 21:03, so I'm sort of considering that a "spiritual course record" and hoping we see a few Pythonistas beat that time. It should all be in good fun, though — there isn't much of a rough competitive spirit at PyCon. We will have some prizes for the top finishers, men and women, as well as a few novelty prizes, such as Most Unlikely to Finish Given Last Night, etc.

Rikki: How did you decide on the charities to donate the "pay what you want" entry fees to?

Jacob: Nick, Jesse (Noller, the conference chair), and I tossed around some options, and eventually decided on Autism Speaks, the American Cancer Society, and the Epilepsy Foundation. There are of course hundreds of deserving charities we might have supported, but we wanted to choose a few that felt important to the tech community. The Python community has been touched by the diseases that these charities fight against, and we wanted to help.

Rikki: What plans do you have for runs at other tech events?

Nick: I'm not as well plugged into the community as Jacob is, but usually my goal is to try to organize people to run with me at conferences. At Djangocon last year, I made it out every morning for a run. I would tweet and say when and where, and every morning there were at least five people. I was quite pleased at the number of people who showed up just to go for a little run. With "competitive" events, I'm more than willing to lend a hand and help out where I can. I just don't get to as many conferences and tech events as I'd like.

Jacob: Nothing really, although I hope the idea catches on. It's a great break from sitting in conference rooms looking at slide decks. I'd love to see some other conferences riff on the idea — maybe OSCON can add a bike race or something.

Thanks to Jacob and Nick for taking the time to answer my questions, and for putting on the 5k at PyCon. Maps of the PyCon Fun Run are available at:

If you are interested in running a 5k, but aren't attending PyCon or don't feel ready yet, check out the Couch-to-5k plan, which is what Jacob used when he first started. (Also, I'd like to thank the Lawrence Trail Hawks for for putting on the fun Pi-Day River Rotation last weekend. And for waiting for me to arrive at the finish line finally... and mostly, for saving me a piece of pumpkin pie.)

Photos of Jacob Kaplan-Moss courtesy of Chris Wristen

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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