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It’s been a while since I’ve commented about NYRR, largely because I’ve not been paying much attention to it. Sure, I noted Mary Wittenberg’s comment that nobody has any problems with NYRR’s general baggage-policy, since plenty have wondered what the point of something that is a major inconvenience is, but for the most part it seems to be doing a good job. It is generally responsive on its Facebook page, where I sometimes lurk, and so its communications have improved.

Someone just commented on a post from long ago, Why Would Anyone Run An NYRR Race, and that reminded me of what is a hugely-positive step that is being rolled out by NYRR. This is the “Classic” race series. I don’t know how the races are selected or how many there will be, but the bottom-line: no-frill (i.e., no t-shirt) races for $10, open to NYRR-members only. These are normal races on the NYRR calendar and they are capped at 2,500-3,000.  No Marathon-qualifier.

Subject to the race-selection, it’s a good sign that NYRR is open to a constituency — people who want to run races and don’t want to pay a fortune to do so and don’t care about 9 + 1 — that has often seemed forgotten.

In Other News

As to my running, my fall turned out to be more of a problem than I had first thought. I strained a back muscle and couldn’t run a step for weeks. Finally I did a bit over 10 minutes with no pain last Sunday and got up to 34 and change this morning. There were some days in that stretch when I didn’t think the pain would ever go and then it was gone.

In Marathon news, Brenn Jones rather easily broke the 3-hour barrier with a 2:56:40. I was monitoring his progress and, well, there really was no suspense at the end.

Sebastien Bois Baret [ed.: correct thanks to Sham. I don’t know who of them would be more insulted. It’s Stephane Bois and Sebastien Barar, I mean Baret.] was pacing a 3-hour group and he screwed up, running an almost-perfectly paced 2:59:46. Better luck next time Seb.

Helen was cruising but DNFed as she accompanied a friend to the hospital. All is good, but she said she saw the ugly-side of the marathon that day.

Bobby earned a friend-for-life with is pacing but she just missed 3.

Frank was happy with a slow race but one that followed a long injury stretch and Emmy finished her 25th NYC Marathon. I haven’t even watched that many.

And Steve finished too.

When I first saw this, I thought it was a mistake:

“Shakin Boreyko Consulting (SB Consulting) provides advice, review and editing of written materials needed to help board members feel comfortable in discussing NYRR’s programs with their colleagues/friends/family.”

Yet it appears in NYRR’s tax report for the years-ending March 31, 2010, 2011, and 2012. There seems to be some overlap, but at the least SB Consulting received $64,000 for these services in this period.

UPDATE: Last month I posted about NYRR’s non-response to my query as to why the corrals closed 30 minutes before the start of the NYC HM.  Apparently there’s a good reason because it’s the rule for the upcoming Brooklyn Half. This is a club race.

It’s not my fault. I was driving in Brooklyn, on Eastern Parkway as I recall, when I heard Brenn Jones’s description of his NYC HM on his (and Gregg Lamos-Stein’s) most excellent podcast Cloud259. He said matter-of-factly that he stood freezing in the corral for 30 minutes before the start of the race and that it took a few miles for his feet to thaw.

Having suffered similarly in NYRR races, I got to thinking. Why did the runners have to be in their corrals 30 minutes beforehand? I’ve been puzzled by the shorter periods in other races, and that is a major factor in my not doing NYRR races anymore. I don’t understand why I have to be standing for 15 minutes before the start of a 4-miler. Not to say that there’s no reason. I don’t understand.

So I posted on NYRR’s Facebook page. So as not to belabor things, it was suggested that I write to NYRR and, you know, ask. So I did and after receiving no response asked why I hadn’t received a response to my prior inquiry. And no response to that.

So I posted a follow-up on Facebook saying among other things, that I hadn’t gotten a a response from NYRR. To which I got no response from NYRR.

Then someone named Andy Greenblatt, who I believe is a woman, posted:

OMG- give up this ridiculous question. Why? because 15000 persons takes awhile to get lined up. DUH….. You don’t run NYRR events (As you have posted before) and are not a member, so stop asking just to get a reply.

Which got me thinking. And led to this response:

I guess if the runners and NYRR don’t care, I shouldn’t. If the runners and NYRR don’t care that, say, the Scotland course was short, why should I?

But I think the runners do care. Most of those I know, though, think that NYRR doesn’t care about them at all. I”m talking people always in the hunt for awards and middle-of-the-packers. As to the issue-at-hand, I would think that even the NYRR’s greatest sycophant at the NYC HM wondered, if only for a fleeting moment, why she had to be there so early.

I wanted to give NYRR the opportunity to explain. There may be a perfectly-good explanation. It may be what you say. I don’t know. I don’t know the mechanics of getting 15,000 into corrals. I don’t know how many corrals there were.

I think NYRR does care about runners. It is consistently awful, though, in letting them know it.

I try, I really try to help NYRR. Smoke-signals? Which is pretty much all I have to say on that.

[edited to add: I noticed a few weeks back that NYRR responded to complaints that one had to go to Brooklyn to pick up number for the Brooklyn Half — and no race-day pick-up — that it was looking into additional pick-up locations. I didn’t follow what happened but Eric Freedman Goldhagen posted this on NYRR’s FB Page: “NYRR compounded this problem by holding back any details [about pick-up locations] until an hour or so before registration started. It got even more confused because NYRR then stated that they were considering having a Manhattan pickup option, and without even saying ‘we looked into it and it just won’t work’ they simply announced the details of the pickup expo“, i.e., only in Brooklyn (emph. added).]

The NYRR Facebook page is a very dangerous place right now. I’ve never seen such anger/passion on the issue of whether the NYCM should be canceled because of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. The opinion express there is virtually unanimous that the race should be canceled. My view is that if there’s no compromising of recovery efforts, the race should go forward. Doing what we do is what New Yorkers do. Of course now that the Marathon has become an event and not simply a race, it has all sorts of (figurative) baggage.

This post is not about that, though.

I try. I really try not to say bad things about NYRR. Indeed, I say good things. Just listen to the New York Running Show. Someone told me recently that it’s the way I say whatever I say that comes across badly.

I am stunned at how NYRR is responding to this.  During BaggageGate, NYRR was slow to react. Who knows what it was doing internally, but it was deafeningly silent outwardly. In the aftermath, Mary Wittenberg said how valuable social media were to NYRR because they allow immediate feedback.

Its dealing with Hurricane Sandy is inexplicable to me.

Here is the simple point. NYRR knew very early that the issue of holding the Marathon was going to be touchy. In my view, there was one thing it could have done right off the bat that I think would have significantly altered the discussion. This is no secret as I posted this on the NYRR Facebook page yesterday (and it was ignored). And it’s no secret because it’s seems pretty obvious. Here’s what it should have said:

We are monitoring the situation. We will, however, not hold the race if we learn that to do so would make it more difficult for the City and other organizations to provide needed recovery-aid.

It could add the typical NYRR stuff that we always hear. Had it gotten ahead of the debate, or even caught up to it in its early stages, the discussion would have been on the moral appropriateness of going forward when New Yorkers and New Jerseyans and other neighbors are suffering. That’s a different debate. Instead the debate has that element but is overwhelmed by the diversion meme, which may or may not be true, but that NYRR has not addressed.

On that last point, NYRR is silent on the issue. So far as I can tell, it has punted to Mayor Bloomberg.

I recently gave people at NYRR lots of credit for being smart and dedicated. But for people who appear so attuned to the PR game, I don’t understand how these smart people can fuck up so badly, and so frequently. Color me naive.

If you’re wondering whence the title for this post, it’s a reference to one of the great movies, “Die Hard”. When the LAPD cop slowly drives up to the building before all hell breaks out, John Mcclane stares down and says, “Who’s driving that car, Stevie Wonder?”

NYRR has “capitulated”. Runners in the marathon will have the option, which must be exercised this month, to either bring a bag as before or go bagless and get a poncho, a t-shirt, and a quick exit from the Park. I don’t know the extent to which NYRR capitulated. It may be that it was the City that did. I give NYRR credit for understanding that the no-baggage approach did not make a lot of sense. While Brenn pointed out on the New York Running Show that there is something to be said for that approach — specifically that for many getting a poncho shortly after the finish is preferable to having to slog for who-knows-how-long to get their own bag — I think allowing baggage (for both the front- and the back-ends) is the way to go, and if the field is too large to allow  it because of congestion then the field should be shrunk.

NYRR does warrant severe criticism, though, in that it apparently knew the no-baggage policy was an option well before people had to enter yet said nothing. (It was, for example, reportedly the topic of a Club Council meeting.) By not saying that there was the possibility that there would be no-baggage before people entered although it knew of that possibility, NYRR was wrong. In stock-market terms, there was a failure to disclose a known risk factor, particularly since so far as I can tell NYRR has always had baggage-check for all of its races. Tell people there’s a chance; let them decide. This was deceptive by NYRR and it, especially its lawyer president, should have known better.

Second, NYRR’s refusal to allow refunds. Our policy is “NO REFUNDS”. Yet for many, the no-baggage policy was a material change in the terms pursuant to their agreeing to enter. If one agrees to buy a car with air conditioning and gets a call a week before the delivery that it has no air conditioning, the seller can’t say “NO REFUNDS”. I don’t want to get lawyerly here, but the statement of the policy and the manner in which it was said was wrong as well.

Who knows what’ll happen in 2013. People, at least, are warned. In all of the thanks-NYRR-for-listening noise, these additional things should be kept in mind.

I recently decided to sit down with some Dickens, and, lawyer that I am renewed an acquaintance with “Bleak House” with its plot centered around a case involving a will, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. I came upon the following (spoken by the solicitor Tulkinghorn in response to a threat):

“So much the poorer you; so much the richer I! Look, mistress, this is the key of my wine-cellar. It is a large key, but the keys of prisons are larger. In this city there are houses of correction (where the treadmills are, for women), the gates of which are very strong and heavy, and no doubt the keys too. I am afraid a lady of your spirit and activity would find it an inconvenience to have one of those keys turned upon her for any length of time. What do you think?”

Treadmills? A bit of googling, and I found this:

treadmill – kind of like today’s StairMaster. Prisoners climbed steps along a rotating cylinder designed to keep them mindlessly occupied and wear them out physically. Outlawed in 1898.

Ouch. Indeed, there are those who would have them outlawed again. Alas, though, they are a necessary evil. And, indeed, they do sound more like StairMasters than treadmills.

The book, all 800+ pages, is a schlog, but worth it. One can, however, enjoy the BBC version (although it does take some liberties, particularly in the final stages):

 

A slight follow-up on my Clock post. NYRR told me, “Our Events team go through every course and make sure it complies with the official race standards” to which I responded, “It seems, though, that you are channeling Chico Marx, who famously said ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?’ Of course if the ‘official race standards’ are ‘put the cones wherever you feel like it’, then I guess you have your compliance.” My correspondent is just the messenger, and I enjoy our back-and-forth.

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.

[I received a take-down notice from NYRR. Although I believe that my use of the copyrighted images is a fair use under section 107 of the Copyright Act, for now I’m taking the photos down, but leaving the links to them up.

[Several folks posted stuff about this on the NYRR Facebook page. NYRR has taken those references down, in contradiction to its terms-of-use, which allow “constructive criticism” of NYRR to be expressed there.

[Most important, nothing from NYRR defending, justifying, or apologizing for these lapses.]

[I don’t normally cross-post stuff from what I put on NYCRuns.com but since this is to some extent a follow-up on an earlier post, I’m doing it this time]

[Edited to add: In my original post about the Mini, I noted that the photo was by Ed Haas, NYRR. I should have noted that again here. As to the Healthy-Kidney photo, that too is from NYRR, although I do not know who the photographer is. The video is from YouTube, and it was put up there by NYRRVideo, which I assume is NYRR (and is indicated by YouTube as NYRR.]

Ironically I had a slew of things I wanted to write, but my inability to decide what to say led me to let weeks go by without writing anything about NYRR.

To my rescue was a post on the New York Road Runner page on Facebook (it’s at 12:10pm on May 15). Margaret Tang wrote:

I’d like to see NYRR improve enforcement of seeded corrals, esp. in a large race like Healthy Kidney. While volunteers are doing a great job, there are still many people sneaking into faster corrals. It’s borderline dangerous navigating around walkers, w/ runners forced onto the curb/grass, esp. in a race where crowds don’t really thin out. Check out starting line pic…There’s an 11,000’s bib lined up w/ elite men.

Corral-enforcement is an issue that pops up now and then, although I’ve never seen it as an issue in the Blue corral. But if you go to that Facebook page you’ll see that it is an issue elsewhere, an issue I’ll let NYRR try to figure out. (How about taking down numbers and DQing some misreants?)

More important, the picture has nothing to do with corral-enforcement. It has everything to do with NYRR’s altered priorities.

I had the photos up but received a notice from NYRR that, “On your most recent, wonderfully written blog post you used several copyrighted images. You do not have permission from us or the photographer to use the images, and I must ask you to take them down immediately”. (I excuse the sarcasm since I once sent a sarcastic note to NYRR.)

But the Mini photo can be found HERE. And the Healthy-Kidney one HERE.
First, here’s the photo:

And what’s wrong with the HK that picture? It’s the guy in the middle, the one wearing a number and not a name (there are others like him right behind the first row so he was not alone in this, as you can see here). He’d run the 10K in just over 59 minutes. And, of course, he has a number in the 11 thousands.

And what’s wrong with that picture? A core principle of racing: you start where your ability allows you. It can be rough — I sometimes start out a bit farther up than I should even when I try not to — but this is pretty basic. Yet I don’t blame him or the other fellows like him. My assumption is that he is affiliated with the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, the sponsor of the race, and was invited to stand in or near the front by NYRR. I say that because one cannot show up with the elites without permission of NYRR.

I recall the old days, before corrals, when Fred Lebow, megaphone in hand, would leap at some slow runner who had gotten himself to the front before the start — and you could tell — shooing him away with barely concealed disgust and contempt at someone who had so disregarded a core tenet of race etiquette. The race was the thing.

Could no one at NYRR on Saturday have done the same thing or thought ahead of time about this?

It so happens that all this comes up when I’ve run into some annoyance from NYRR about what happened in last year’s Mini, in particular the appearance in the final stretch of a number of toddlers, finishing with their moms. Most notoriously among them was Paula Radcliffe’s daughter. My understanding, though, is that NYRR had nothing to do with her appearance. That it was her father. Yet her child was not the only one.

My problem, though, is that NYRR widely-distributed one of its photos with 2 toddlers (including Radcliffe’s daughter), which I saw in a New York Times item on the race. I wrote a post about it at the time. Plus (video below) NYRR emphasized it in its video coverage of the race, showing a total of four toddlers in all.So as a PR stunt, NYRR sends around this photo and video encouraging parents to have their kids jump into the race. And, yeah, I know, world-record holder, race celebrating women, toddler, pregnant Kara Goucher, what’s not to love? As more than a few commented when I queried NYRR on Facebook about letting kids onto course, isn’t that kind of dangerous? (For the record, NYRR responded by saying its rules “clearly” prohibit it. I read them. They do not (or at least did not when I checked the other day).)

It’s a shame. Publicity trumps safety. “It was really dangerous.” “Yeah, but did you see that shot?” It’s a shame. Publicity trumps integrity. NYRR’s stated goal no longer is putting on road races. “It’s not the Running Society”, someone there wrote to me. “We promote healthy lifestyles through running and raise lots of money for our charities.” (As a further irony, Fred Lebow objected to attempts to use road racing as a means of raising money for causes. That’s for another day.)

You see it at the Marathon. In 2009, Edward Norton’s charity group — identified by their bright shirts — stood en masse not too far from the blue start line. They were immediately swallowed up and scattered after the cannon went off. The Chilean miner who’d never run a marathon? I know NYRR likes to point to him as inspirational. But based on his number — 7-127 — it appears this novice started in the third corral of the blue start.

On the May 15 New York Running Show we discussed what happened in Healthy-Kidney, and I note there that it was NYRR which allowed it to happen. As to promoting this in the Mini, even if it were not responsible, here’s the official NYRR video of the race; check out 3:20 and 4:00. If it is so wrong, and I think it is, why make such a point of showing it?

Perhaps you’ll say that this must have simply escaped the notice of the powers that be. Well, as to the HK picture, Margaret Tang appears to have seen the problem at a glance, and I did when I saw that Mini photo.

I had a number of discussions with Steve Lastoe of NYCRuns, who’s been instrumental in getting The New York Running Show up and running, as well as with others about NYRR. Incidental stuff mostly, like the NYC HM debacle.

Long-story short, I am going to be writing a weekly column for NYCRuns on the NYRR. I explain why I have an interest in NYRR in my first piece, The 800 Pound Gorilla. For this in particular, I’d appreciate any feedback, including ideas for columns, from readers. My perspective is mine and it’s fairly limited.

Separately, I hope NYCRuns will be instrumental in knitting together the area running community. Its calendar of events is important — although its forum hasn’t gotten traction — and is the place to go to find non-NYRR races in the tri-state area.

Along these lines, Julie suggested a non-NYRR series for local clubs. It’s an idea that I hope has legs — several clubs have expressed interest in it — and I’ll be writing about that in a bit. And in case I forget, Julie is hosting a RunnersRoundTable on Monday at 7 on Eating Disorders and Exercise Addiction. While I’d enjoy listening to her interview barnyard chickens, for this she worked hard to pull together folks who know whereof they speak.

Not much to report on this one. Same old, same old. The big thing was that JS had signed on (he who whipped me a few weeks back at Scarsdale) and John Nelson was at the start which meant that we had a three-man 50+ team. The bad new was that this meant that I had no excuses and had to finish. In the event, I would be our third man, with JS well ahead and JN only a bit.

A bit of trepidation heading in. Just before my exit on the Deegan, traffic backed up. A multi-vehicle accident had just occurred, and NYPD cars and FDNY rigs were coming up behind. Three lanes became one, and the vehicles were a mess, but it didn’t take long to get to Marcus Garvey Park, although the delay meant I had to take the subway down instead of walking.

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