As I introduced in my previous post, there have been quantum improvements in race management, course accuracy, split timing, registration, place and final time accuracy as well as ability to correct errors quickly. The entertainment value of some races (i.e. Rock’nRoll series) have lead to huge entry lists and reasonably lucrative businesses as well as boons to charity fund raising.
With the bulge in race sizes it has also increased the numbers of slower runners by comparison to 20 or 30 years ago. We have become a victim of our own success. At one time, faster runners could easily find there way to “seed” themselves at the front. This is no longer the case. Without coming off too elitist there is a very real problem with races growing size in respect to fast racing.
What once was “understood” for racing etiquette is no longer the case. Faster runners have always known who they are, second tier knew themselves and so on once upon a time. In recent years, so many runners enter races who have never been – for lack of a better term – indoctrinated into race etiquette. Everyone wants a front row seat – walkers, joggers, run-walkers, race walkers, baby stroller pushers, pets-on-leash-runners, 8 year olds; and the faster racers. Everyone wants to get their picture in the local paper by being in the front in the first 100 meters.
The issue is not one of 15 seconds of fame. The issue is threefold:
* Faster runners are impaired from achieving their goal of running fast times, winning age group categories, or even qualifying for Boston.
* Safety is jeopardized for all runners as a result of race sizes and lack of seeding.
* Race courses are held open – closing roadways and occupying facilities – for many hours beyond reason.
I have heard hundreds of stories and I have experienced it myself. Pushed hundreds or even thousands of runners to the arrears (heaven forbid a walker give up that front row to a five-minute miler) once the gun goes off, faster runners struggle as they dangerously weave their way past strollers, walkers and children to get on pace.
Efforts have been made to ameliorate this. Some races like Boston do better because at least you are seeded by a qualifying time. Your number dictates your corral. Much more difficult to cheat this. In many races there are corrals created by minutes per mile pacing. Other races post huge signs at the sides of the starting area “x” yards apart that state an estimated minutes per mile pace. But, in most races this is an honor-system deal. It fails.
Chip timing helps in some ways. However, remember that only gun timing determines places in the top places (i.e. state, national, and age group USATF championship races for instance). Also, it is possible that someone who finishes behind you actually beats you. Yet, you never knew where they were or who they are because they were always behind you. You find out only when results are posted that you lost to a competitor you never saw and actually physically finished behind you! [Yup, that happened once to me.] You should be able to start with your “peers” and know who you’re racing. You should be allowed to hunt someone down in your race and allow competitive spirit to prevail.
Finally, to close down roadways for 6, 8 , 12 or more hours for a marathon is an imposition on the community. As athletes we share but do not have a right to monopolize a community and disrupt transportation indefinitely. I am glad that people are out getting in shape. But, I would call for separate events… like a volksmarch in Europe. But, let’s keep it on the sidewalks and allow communities to keep moving too.
I do not mean to portray the running and racing explosion in bad light. I absolutely do not infer that any novice runner or charity team runner does not have a place at the starting line. They absolutely do! The good aspects far outweigh the bad. But, the ones who have suffered from the explosion has been the faster runners.
Systems need to be developed to identify and seed faster runners. OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t think we need a sudden proliferation of qualifying times submitted (though nowadays with every race electronically scored and followed that is not an absurd proposal). And yes, I realize that self-reporting has it’s flaws. But, even a self-reporting with registration would be better than what exists now. My experience is that the group of runners I am talking about tend to be quite accurate in their time reports. I guess my faith in human honesty outweighs my skepticism of a novice runner entering a misleadingly fast time. Putting it in writing (on a registration form) has more power in being honest than a sign on the side of the road saying “eight-minute mile pace starts here”.
So, there is my two cents worth. I welcome your civil replies.