I think this race was my favorite race last year. Not because of the course - just Central Park. Not because I did well - I don't remember my time. Not because of the cause - happy to support lung cancer research, but no personal connection. It's because of the shirt.
Every NYRR race costs the same, but for this one, thanks to the sponsorship, they forego their usual cotton t-shirts and give out this amazing New Balance technical tee. At $18, that's a steal. It fits like a dream, comes in men's and women's sizes, and is my go-to shirt bar none.
Anyway, the race went well. Sort of. I had to stop for water twice (I guess salty barbecue the night before is not a great strategy for pre-race fueling). I ran the 4m in 41:02 - my 4m PR, which should be a cause for celebration, right?
Except it's not. You see, the NYRR places you in a corral based on your best per mile pace for any race longer than 1m. My 10:12 pace PR, set at a 3m run last year, puts me in the brown corral - the very last. (The corrals/paces aren't fixed; it varies based on how many runners register. However, I've never been higher than the last corral since I started doing these races.)
I have no problem with a corral system. And I accept that I belong in the back. I don't even mind the .5m walk to the start (or don't mind it that much, anyway). The corral system is important to give structure to the start line and to keep every casual runner from bum rushing the start line, which they would do.
However, the system has a serious fault: if you've never run an NYRR race before, or if you register race-day, they take your word for it on the pace. At a race like Sunday's, which was a charity event, they have literally thousands more people than they do at other runs, and many of these people have never raced before. They show up, they're asked what they expect their pace to be, and they guess. When I ran my first NYRR race, I had no idea why they were asking my "best pace." I knew that my best pace wasn't where I was right then, but I smiled and entered 8:30.
What this means for my race (and all the other slower runners) is that I spent the first mile dodging walkers in the middle of the course, dodging couples holding hands, dodging children darting in and out of the race. I passed people in jeans and people with handbags. I absolutely support the right of all of these people to be there, but proper corral placement is key, especially for the back of the pack.
The NYRR gives great lip service to supporting slower runners. But sometimes, it feels like that's all it is: lip service. When they run out of bottled water at the end of the race (today), or out of water at a water table, period (last year's NYC Half), that's not true support. When my race is hindered like this, that's not true support. I understand the logistical difficulties. But I also understand that I paid them $18 registration times something like 12 races last year, $80 for the half, plus my dues, plus lottery fees for the half and full - I'm not asking for more than my due, but I want to feel like a member, and not like an add-on.
Here's what I would propose, personally: haven't run an NYRR race before? Last corral. New to New York, from out of town, or otherwise deserve to be in a higher corral? Pay extra toward your race registration, provide a link to your race results, and the NYRR will verify and sort you accordingly.
On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"