I bet NYRR wishes it only had to deal with nut-cases like me complaining about race details. It was overwhelmed this week with the fall-out from the NYC Half-Marathon debacle.

In brief, entering the lottery for the race, which is in March, closes in November. NYRR kept putting off the lottery itself. It was held this week. The curse of social-media set in, and the reaction was swift. People started posting on the NYRR Facebook page that they didn’t know any local runner who got in.* At our breakfast at the Horseman’s Diner in Sleepy Hollow, TK mentioned that the Marathon lottery was skewed against local runners, but for that race locals have the alternative of 9+1. Without that alternative, local runners were upset. Calls for an explanation rang out far and wide.

NYRR presumably was in full damage-control mode on 89th Street, and an explanation was promised. When it came, people got angrier. First, the field of 11,000 from 2010 was cut to 9,500.

Q. How many applicants were from the tristate area, and how many of those were accepted?
A. Out of 27,737 lottery applicants from the tristate area, 3,344 were accepted; more than 1,000 other tristate runners qualified for guaranteed entry by meeting time standards.

Q. How about runners outside the tristate area?
A. We had about 5,200 national applicants from outside the tristate area and we accepted about 4,300. We had 1,710 international applicants and we accepted about 1,500. The field will be approximately 15% international, 40% national, and 45% tristate.

That’s 12% of locals versus over 80% for non-locals. People were pissed. NYRR came up with the idea of allowing automatic entry to the NYC HM by running four of the five five-borough marathons (including some on Saturdays). Today, Mary Wittenberg responded on FaceBook:

Dear Runners-

Thanks for all your comments about the NYC Half. We really appreciate your passion and commitment. We hear you. Let me be clear – we would love to accept each of you into the NYC Half, but the event is limited to 9,500 finishers. The course is such that it loops back on itself in Central Park. We learned last year that 11,000 is too many on that course. Interest in the race exploded this year, which has made it harder to get in. Yet, we must continue to limit the size of the field in order to maintain the safety and integrity of the event and provide the gold standard runner experience that you have come to expect at every NYRR event. In addition, it is an event built on the model of the marathon – welcoming and embracing fellow runners from around the world and the nation to join our NYC runners. We care deeply about you, our committed runners, and especially appreciate those of you who run with us often. We regret that we cannot accommodate all who apply. We share your passion for running in our great city. I look forward to seeing and speaking with you at our events and everywhere we engage in person, digitally and beyond. Thanks for your trust and understanding that we are here in support of you.

Mary Wittenberg
President and CEO, New York Road Runners

I think she’s buried the lead by not emphasizing it as a different sort of race.

Here’s what I think. As a race, it’s fun. I did it this year. But I have no desire to do it again, although I get in with a qualifying time (NYRR uses the same as that for the NYC Marathon). It’s expensive and requires being at the start at 6:40am. A loop plus of Central Park, down Seventh Avenue to and through Times Square, West on 42nd Street and down the Westside Highway.

When this race began, it was the Nike New York City Half-Marathon and it was held in August. It struck me as being aimed at the tourist trade. I think NYRR was surprised at how popular it became for locals, especially with the move to March. It’s created a monster (no longer with Nike’s backing). Yet its original intent, to create a destination race in New York City other than the Marathon, is a good one. Presumably it is a solid financial benefit to the City, all those tourist dollars.

This is a good thing. We’ve gotten spoiled by the frequency of races that NYRR puts on. There are non-NYRR races in the City and loads outside the City. [Product Plug 1: a half-marathon in Sleepy Hollow, March 26] [Product Plug2: NYCRuns has a non-NYRR calendar.] But, people say, most of the ones in Manhattan, the Manhattan HM for one, are in Central Park. How many loops can one do? Scotland Run, Healthy-Kidney: the same 10K course.

It’s a legitimate point. I think NYRR should look into the possibility of a 10K through Times Square as one of its races. Do it in August, when traffic would be light. I don’t know if it could be limited to NYRR-members, but if there’s a lottery, skew it in favor of locals. For all I know NYRR has looked into it and come up empty. But it can put on the Wall Street Run. How about a 10K from Rockefeller Center, through Times Square and finishing along the Hudson — NBC and Chelsea Piers can be co-sponsors.

And promote the NYC HM as a destination race, something special. Call it “special” and locals will want to do it even more, but try to get locals to recognize it as such and defer to out-of-towners as a chance to enjoy our City. If you do it, skip it for a couple of years so others can get a chance.

The alternative to getting people to buy into the NYCHM-as-Destination is that NYRR will have to adjust the chances locals have of getting in the race. Which would be a shame because there is something to be said for the race as a destination one.

I realize that people can say that it’s big of me to speak of not doing it because I’ve done it. Fair enough. But in the bigger picture, this makes sense to me.

It’s also a good thing for people to put NYRR’s feet to the fire and force transparency and explanation. This one is tricky and it’s good to see NYRR explain/justify itself. Will it be a turning-point in which NYRR is more forthcoming about its mission and how it goes about fulfilling it? Who knows. But it’s a start.

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* One of the benefits of Facebook over say Twitter is that it allows a back-and-forth discussion of an issue, or simply witty repartee, without it being overcome by chit-chat. Plus you can make fun of those not on it. Return

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