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"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NYRR Run As One, and why I'm frustrated with the NYRR corral system

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.


  1. That is a very good point and one I hardly ever thought about. I seem to be slowly moving up in corrals. Not that I am that fast, but I think they take your last best time?

    You did great. We were really close together. We may have even run together at some point during the race!!!!

    Nice to meet you!!!

  2. Thank you both!
    I've been wondering about what time they use. I mean, I know it's my time from the Wall St. run last year (my best pace), but does it reset every year? Someone told me every three years? All I know is that I want to get faster, in hopes of maybe seeing the pink corral sometime soon! A girl can dream...

  3. I totally hear you on the NYRR corral system being flawed. It's not always much better towards the front of the race as somehow I often still see a walker or someone with a different colored bib on than the corral they are in.

    I think there should be a designated corral for walkers.

    I wonder if they run out of stuff because so many of the people take more than what they should? I once worked with cliff bar at an event in the park and people were coming up with every possible way to try and get another bar. However, by now you'd think the NYRR would account for this so that there is enough water for everyone!!! Okay, now I'm getting all fired up.

  4. [I posted this on NYCRuns]

    Funny, when I hosted RunnersRoundTable about 10 days ago I advised people: if you haven't done a NYRR race and come to New York bring proof of a prior result or you'll be put in the back. I understood that that's how it works because I thought I read that somewhere, perhaps when NYRR began the corral system. I was wrong.

    I agree with you. Make it clear on the NYRR site: if you're not in our system you go the end unless you can show a race result justifying a better corral. I really like your suggestion. Register on-line: have a box for those who've never run a NYRR click a box with predicted time. Instead of having NYRR check it, require proof at number pick-up, letting the runner know that proof is going to be required so it's not a surprise. No proof, back of the line.

    As to the water, etc. at the finish, I agree as well. I don't take more than one bagel and apple and water, etc., but plenty of people (including non-runners) pick up bunches. It's not fair to the folks who come later.

    You're right. NYRR juggles lots of constituencies, and it does a good job overall. When you have an issue, though, write. It's good and bad with correspondence. But it's worth a try.

    And congratulations on the PR.