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The Pros from Dover

Movie- references aside, this morning was the First New York City Ekiden. NYCRuns’s Steve Lastoe kindly gave me credit for the Ekiden, but as they say in Silicon Valley, ideas are a dime a dozen; it’s all about the execution.

It was a small affair, not as many teams as I hoped. The enthusiasm throughout, teams fast and slow, young and old, was superb. It’s there in NYRR races to be sure, but as with smaller-scale events (including track and cross-country meets) it’s more evident and the intra- and inter-team mutuality made it special. So far as I could tell, it was well-received. There were several multi-club teams. Yet there were enough clubs — Warren Street, VCTC, CPTC New Balance (including Brenn and Sue doing 2 legs each), Front Runners, Prospect Park among them — that word I hope will spread since my ideal is that we can get the top clubs to suit up their five best (an ekiden should have 5 legs, but Steve did 4 for this first effort) and have at it (Penn DMR-like).

As the tag-line has it, “Not Just Another Race In The Park” and anyone who participated will agree.

Importantly, apart from the specific-race itself (won on the four-man side at least by Van Cortlandt Track Club, which had four teams and a wonderfully vocal cheerer (for all) in Mary Ann), this was LetsRuns’s first foray into a Central Park race. There are other non-NYRR events in Central Park, but the more organizers the better. (I learned that when an organization has an event in the Park, it gets that date in the future unless it gives it up. This barrier-to-entry as antitrust lawyers would describe it, does create a concern about other organizations getting preferred slots, like in the spring or the fall. It strikes me as anti-competitive and worth a follow-up post.)

Kudos to all the folks that Steve go out, at the start/finish, at the baggage/food, and on the course itself.

The Race Itself

Readers of my last few posts might be surprised that I volunteered, albeit for a shorter leg, to run. I did 5-miles on the roads yesterday. I was hopeful that I would being able to hold it together. In a manner of speaking I was. I did leg 1 for the NYCRuns team. Two lower loops. I HURT but the knee didn’t, so I was happy. One cannot race on charm alone. I neither know nor care about my time.

One amazing thing is how rude some people are. You’d think anyone who saw a runner coming her way wearing a number and following others wearing numbers would get out of the way. You’d be wrong. After my leg I did some marshaling, though, asking people to keep to the right to leave the inside stretch clear for the races and most had no problem with the request. A few, though, from stupidity or rudeness, refused.

A couple of videos, to give a sense of Central Park in the winter:



A while ago I expressed my yearning to have an Ekiden in Central Park, channeling the enthusiasm of the joy in such an adventure from Ernie Banks.

New York City Ekiden entry

I have the benefit of knowing NYCRuns‘ Steve Lastoe, and this worked out well on this front too.  He got a date in Central Park for a race and decided to “do an Ekiden”. I spoke to him a few times about it, and we hope it will expand. For now, We Have Us An Ekiden (albeit only 4-persons this year). The course will start and finish at what was Tavern on the Green and is the following clockwise loops:

  • 2 Lower Loops (3.4 miles).
  • Five-Mile Loop (5).
  • Full Loop (6).
  • 1 Lower Loop (1.7).

Basic. four-persons/four-legs. (There’s also a 2-person option.)

The downside is the date: February 26. Not so pleasant to be waiting around for teammates when it’s chilly (and let’s hope for no snow). Now this is a week before the first NYRR Club race, i.e., Coogan’s. But I hope that people can handle racing twice in, what?, seven days?

BUT: Did I mention? We Got Us An Ekiden. Not Just Another Race in the Park.

Here’s a video from the 1988 Ekiden put on by NYRRC:

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.


* Paraphrasing the great Ernie Banks.


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