TK recently posted about a journey into Brooklyn that included her running in Prospect Park for only the fourth time ever. Brooklyn’s important to me. We’d often drive to my mother’s parents in Bay Ridge and my father’s mother (his own father died long before I was born) lived either at our house in Tuckahoe or in a small apartment on Clark Street, close to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights (whence I took my first subway ride, the A train from the St. George Hotel, at who knows what age). (Bonus theatrical reference: A Hare Grows In Manhattan. What an ending!)

That’s all well and good. Brooklyn has running significance to me as well, in particular Prospect Park itself for it is there that I ran my first road race. It was entirely in the Park and was either a 5K or a 5-miler, 1978 or 79 and we drove out with my oldest sister’s boyfriend at the time.

I mention this race as a proxy for how things have changed. It was a NYRRC (as it was then-known*) race but none of the madness or corrals or shoving at the front. In those days, especially for races outside of Central Park, you could have a race where you registered at a table near the start, got your number, not get a t-shirt, and put your bag somewhere. In other words, you had a race set-up much like the local races we have now in Westchester.

The Way We Were

Races in Central Park, except for the big ones, were not so different. Before it moved to East 90th Street, NYRRC held court at the West Side Y in the West 60s near the Park. Many if not most races did not have a t-shirt. In December there was a 6-miler and a 10-miler then a “season opener” 5-miler in early January followed by a 6-miler and a 10-miler. At these and most other races you could warm-up and do some strides before sauntering to the starting line about a minute before the gun and then, after John Lennon’s murder, the horn sounded. As suburban races still do.

The vast majority of the races finished at 90th Street, going counterclockwise. (There was a “Reversible 7-Miler,” so-named because it went clockwise.) The mile-to-go was at 72nd; up Cat Hill and then a slight downhill final quarter.

Then, as now, though, the big races finished at Tavern on the Green, going clockwise. The one race that finished in neither place was the annual Club Champs. There was no season-long competition then, just this single race which was, as it remains, the single fastest non-pro race of the year. It finished a counterclockwise loop at the Daniel Webster statue. There were not so many clubs then. Warren Street, Central Park, Millrose, Westside Y, Westchester-Puma, NYAC (then, as now, chiefly really fast). Those are the ones I recall.

And I recall only a few big races. For women, of course, there was the L’egs Mini-Marathon, usually won by Grete. Otherwise we had the Trevira Twosome in May (which was enlightening and sobering in that I could start right behind the top runners in the world and they would disappear into the distance well before we hit the first mile) and the Perrier 10K in April. There may have been more (excepting, of course, the Marathon) but none come to mind.

And there were other races outside of Central Park. NYRRC put on the Pepsi Challenge at least once on July 4 (in 1983), starting on the Jersey side of the GWB and finishing in Inwood Park after a run up the Henry Hudson Parkway (remembered because Paul F., a clubmate, was pushed to the bridge roadway by someone after he, Paul, made a snide remark (as Paul was wont to do)). I ran the first Brooklyn HM in the early 80s, down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island, a left turn for a few blocks and to Prospect Park for the finish. The New Rochelle HM, of course, was a NYRRC event as was the older Westchester HM, which went from White Plains to New Rochelle for many years before some local opposition put an end to it in the mid-80s. For several years there was a Turkey Trot in Prospect Park, a 5-miler on Thanksgiving morning and for several years a Halloween Run in Central Park itself. And the Midnight Run,at which I grabbed “water” and discovered it was champagne at 90th Street.

We were talking about charity runs on my last WSSAC Saturday run, and I noted that in those days there were charities putting on races everywhere.  If memory serves, though, Fred Lebow was insistent that NYRRC would not put on races with charities, which would fundamentally alter the club’s purpose, which was to put on races. Ironic, then, that people invoke his name — as someone did on a RunnersRoundTable episode — as justification for using road races as a vehicle for raising money. Times have changed in this as well; NYRR now has numerous races affiliated with charities, Healthy Kidney and Run as One among them. I don’t object to them, however. They don’t seem to interfere with the core function of the NYRR, to put on road races, a function it handles as well as any other organization in the world, so far as I can tell.

Once you get going the races now are pretty much the same as the races then. There are now digital clocks at every mile instead of someone calling out splits (as I often did when I wasn’t racing) and I’m further back than I was then and we have the season-long Club series and the things on our shoes to avoid staying in line (which even a NYer had to do in this context) until the end of the chutes.

All I ask is a loud horn and a clear path to run upon.

Shootout in the Blue Corral

Speaking of which, SB just posted on Facebook that he “is watching the video from the Coogan’s 5k and is wondering when the NYRR will decide to clean up the front of the starting lanes from all the ‘losers’ (always the same ones) who have no legitimate reason to stand in the front of the start.” Alas, I’ve gotten to the stage in which I am as likely to be too far up than too far back, careful as I may be. I do try to be careful. The use of the corral system is helpful, but the range for blue numbers (i.e., the first corral) is too broad (except for the Club Champs, when I was relegated to red, and in which they had a much smaller group for blue).

One way to address those who line-up too far: Analyze the first 500 finishers. Average the spread between gun and chip time for 96 to 104, 196 to 204, etc. to get baselines. If the first baseline is 8 seconds and 108th has a 2-second spread, it’s safe to say she started too far up. Issue a warning. Use a three-strikes-and-you’re-out approach. If the spread is abnormally high for three races, relegate her one corral in future races, subject to an explanation. If it happens consistently for a club, dock it points.

S suggested making the corrals smaller, as was done at the Club Champs. Say sub-5, sub-5:30, sub-6. I haven’t earned the right, nor am I fast enough, to be at the front, and I have no difficulty being placed where I belong, however far from the front it may be. Although I would miss the pre-start hors d’œuvre we get in the blue corral.

Mandatory Brooklyn/Marathon Reference

Speaking of speaking of crowds in races, and this cannot be said too often, the crowd along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn is the most-dangerous mob any of us is likely to encounter. Tread softly as you pass it.

* The story I have is that the word “club” was removed because too many people were listing, quite logically, NYRRC as their “club” on race applications. Return