Back in 1988, the New York Road Runners Club (as it was then known) put on an Ekiden. An Ekiden is a road relay with legs of various lengths. They generally consist of five legs, and are huge in Japan.

The New York race consisted of a number of international teams plus teams from each state and teams from NYC and Washington. Thanks largely to the penultimate, 15K leg of my old nemisis, John Treacy, Ireland won:

It strikes me that this would be a great NYC race. Five legs (not in this order): 2 X 6 (full lap of CP), 2 X 5 (no Harlem Hills or maybe one with, one without), 1 X 4 (inner loop). That works out to? 26 miles. Add 385 yards somewhere and you have a marathon relay.

But not just a marathon relay, which starts with a relay and works backwards. Instead it’s a road relay that ends up being 26.21875 miles. A great team event, age-groups, etc. You’d probably have a fairly small field; think of the size of the Club Champs reduced by the fact that each team has only one of its five members running at any one time. Perhaps limit the number of teams per club. And because you’d be dealing with more experienced runners, you can avoid some of the logistical nightmares of your typical NYRR race.

I would love to see Warren Street’s Masters Men go head-to-head against Urban Athletics. Let NYAC and Manhattan and Westchester Track Clubs bring their guys. It could be a great intra- and inter-club event. One of the joys of running is the ability to cheer on one’s mates, in track and road relays. The import of not letting your mates down.

I don’t know if NYRR would even have to be involved (although I don’t know why it wouldn’t want to be). Get sponsorship (insofar as it would be needed, like a Japanese shoe-company (Asics?)). Hell, in 1985 I ran the Plymouth Rock to Provincetown (10-person) Relay for the Cambridge (Mass.) Sports Union with my WSSAC mate Chip Carey. Hundreds of teams from the Boston area, and 1985 was the first year in which it had official sanction. So if clubs wanted to coincidentally show up to run laps of Central Park, what’s to stop them? No need to shut down the road; again, experienced Club runners are used to having to deal with the masses on CP runs.

I love this little bit from the 1988 race:

The first American ekiden has had its share of controversy. When Nike and Reebok learned that their Japanese rival, Asics, which makes Tiger running shoes and is the ekiden’s chief sponsor, was insisting that all state runners wear singlets emblazoned with the Asics logo, the two companies threatened to withdraw their support of their contract runners who participated.

Asics, which is spending between $2 million and $4 million on the race, refused to back down. So about 60 runners who had been recruited for state teams withdrew from the race, forcing last-minute substitutions.

Reminds me of the first thing I think of when I think of Michael Jordan. His refusal to wear his USA jacket at the Olympics medal ceremony because it was made by Reebok, not Nike. He came out only when he could drape it with an American flat (which, I still insist, is an improper use of an American flag, but don’t get me started on that). These (non-running) Nike icons veritably ooze class.

UPDATE (2014):

  • There’s a thread that discusses this on LetsRun.
  • NYCRuns has put on an Ekiden in Central Park for the last several years, albeit with 4 runners, twice the lower loop, a 6-mile loop, a 5-mile loop, and once around the lower loop.

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* Paraphrasing the great Ernie Banks.

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