Yesterday I started the final club race of the year, the brain-cancer 5 miler. This was a replacement for the Joe Kleinerman 10K, but Kleinerman was relegated to a nothing race in January. Whatever.

It was a new course, counter-clockwise with a finish on the 72nd Street Transverse. The start is near Tavern on the Green (or what was Tavern on the Green). With a sore hamstring from the downhills in the Bronxvillle race I was concerned, although it had not troubled me at all after last Sunday’s run but it started up at about 1.5 miles, just after Cat Hill, and got progressively worse even as I slowed until I stopped as we headed south on the west side, necessitating a long, slow walk to get my bag and then a slow walk, albeit with Mark T for a while (he grabbed another PR), to the post-race brunch on 2nd and 84th. All pretty uneventful.

But I did notice that NYRR again screwed up on the cones and I came upon a simple way to explain what I’m talking about.

Think of a clock. You’re standing at “6” and want to get to “12”. The fastest way is to simply head up, the shortest distance between two points, etc. That’s the “tangent”. But say the course is on the road and the road is the dial. Instead of the 100 meters it is 157 meters or so (that being (100/π)/2). But you have one cone. Where do you put it? You put it at “9”. I can run the tangent from 6 to 9 and then from 9 to 12, for about 141 meters (100² = 2(x²)). With three cones I got to 7:30, 9, and 10:30, although I haven’t figured (can’t figure?) how long that is). The more cones, the closer to 157.

The counter-turns in Central Park, by which I mean the turns that go against the main direction, e.g., a clockwise turn on a counterclockwise course, are not semi-circles. But the principal applies. And my complaints about, and to, NYRR is that the cones are put down haphazardly. And so it was yesterday. And so I sent another email yesterday, noting that the guy in charge of this made over $250,000 in 2009 yet cannot be bothered, or is not to be bothered by his underlings, to do anything about it.

It seems pretty basic. Consider, NYRR puts on, what, 35 or 40 races a year in Central Park. In every one of them the counter-turns are in play. (The places to put the cones are the same without regard to the race’s direction). Yesterday’s course was certified a few weeks back. It had to be measured taking account of the curvature. It strikes me that it would be simple enough to make small marks on the curb (if the Central Park Conservancy would allow it) of the point in the center of the center lane where a cones go. If you can’t make the mark, make a notation in the course set-up book. Have someone who understands this place the cones. Make the notation once and you’re done. It’s the same every year so doing it once is effectively doing it hundreds of time, i.e., at and for each race.

A small point to some, but it gets to the essence of putting on a race. Julie did a survey in Running Times a bit ago and the top things people want: accuracy and quality of the course. I’ve never understood how an organization that has an $11 million payroll and chiefly puts on cookie-cutter races — what the marginal cost of doing this coming week-end’s 15K over this past week-end’s 5 miler — in which there are basically just three core courses in Central Park (clockwise finishing at “Tavern”, counterclockwise finishing on 102nd, counterclockwise finishing on 72nd (the only exceptions I can think of being the Manhattan Half, which is counterclockwise but hits the 72nd Street finish from the east; the Corporate Challenge; the Marathon; and the Dash-to-the-Finish 5K)). By contrast, Steve Lastoe’s NYC Runs appears to have significant more things to do to put on and help put on races on one-off courses.

I really have no idea what those people on 89th Street do. If you listened to the New York Running Show last night, you’ll hear me speak of the virtues of NYRR’s races, as well as some of the negatives. But when I think of that organization and its inability/refusal to address the course issue I raise again and again puts me in mind of, “Other than that, how’d you like the show Mrs. Lincoln”.

One last thing. NYRR spent all sorts of money coming up with a re-branding campaign. It’s now a lifestyle thing or something. In recent years it has, however, alienated the local club runner. Not in how it puts on its races, where I think it does a good job of making the race-experience work for those folks and after I pointed this out to someone yesterday I was asked, “Do you work for Road Runners” and when I said “no” she said I’d have been well-paid if I did. I have had unsolicited opinions expressed by people in numerous clubs complaining about NYRR and about having been left behind by the new direction in which the organization is headed. It is not the inside-baseball stuff of which I’ve written. It is not, as I say, a practical criticism because these changes don’t particularly affect them. It’s that it’s no longer an organization that puts on races for the sake of putting on races, as it was in the days of yore up in the Bronx and when those guys for whom races are now named (all men) ran things. Someone called me “bitter” when I mentioned this on Facebook.

So it’s branding and the sense, if not the reality, that NYRR doesn’t care. And it is the reality that they hate you, they really hate you.

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