Amy Shapiro posted something from Runner’s World On-Line on the Marathon’s Facebook page, which goes a long way in explaining the inexplicable:

“From RWOL: I have friends at NYRR. Every one there is p!ssed about this decision. Mary W. did not make it. She and everyone that works there know that runners all want their bags. The City of NY demanded that they get people out of Central Park faster or they would not renew their permits for the race. Runners suffer in the wall-to-wall crowding in the very slow walk of more than a mile in which a lot of runners walk for an hour or more to get baggage and leave the park. NYRR did not want to do this until next yera but they were forced. Now they are getting slammed everywhere as they knew they would be, posters saying they are getting money out of this. They were not paying UPS at all, UPS is a sponsor and gave their services free, and they are still a sponsor. Now NYRR had to buy 50 thousand ponchos and take all this heat. They hate it. City officials will verify that they forced this decision.”

Has the patina of truth. I then posted this:

From the information that it was the City and not NYRR that insisted on the change, we see that the race has gotten too big. It can’t handle as many people as it has — although I think some alternative should have been achievable. NYRR, though, is so tied in not to the marathon per se but to the 9+1 system that fills its races. But it has so many 9+1ers that it doesn’t have much space for anyone else. Hence it’s changing the auto-entry times, to lessen those. [Someone pointed out that the international contingent gets nearly half of the available spots.]

At a lower number, the race will be nothing but 9+1ers. So rather than doing the sensible thing of reducing the field size, which it did between the 2010 and 2011 NYC HMs because the field was too large (which was changed this year by altering the start/finish set-up), it has removed an important service to runners. There are those runners who say no-baggage is no big deal, but that’s not true for many others. Plus NYRR’s ponying up for the cost of the ponchos.

Because congestion is defined at some range of times, something north of 3:20 perhaps, it would make sense for NYRR to have X slots available to people at those paces (or people with no paces), divied up equitably. For those faster than those paces, who do not affect the congestion/density of baggage check, allow them all in. Baggage for all. The field size would not be as small as it would with a fixed number for everyone, but would be around one that would eliminate the congestion problem. Like an early-bird special at a busy restaurant. Oldsters eating at 5 have no effect on those with reservations for 7.

But even if things are not broken up that way, NYRR needs to cut down the field-size to restore the service (and allow those who don’t want to wait early exit, as many have suggested). I fear, though, that NYRR is so dependent on 9+1 for its revenue — someone needs to pay for its $13 million payroll — that it will never back down.

I don’t think it fair to criticize NYRR officials for the decision since it appears to have been made for them (although how it handled the decision leaves quite a bit to be desired) but how it reacts in the future will be the key.

Finally, I’ve no stake in this, having given up running marathons. Nor am a still a NYRR-member. I think everyone in the running community, though, has an interest in this.

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