Thursday, August 31, 2006

NYC Half Marathon: A Personal Record and a Public Debacle

This past Sunday the New York Road Runners teamed with Nike to present the inaugural New York City Half Marathon. Of course yours truly was among the 10,294 runners who completed the race. Cool.

I dragged my bleary-eyed self out of bed at 4:00am to allow plenty of time to get to the 7:00am start in Central Park. On my way in, I passed my neighborhood bar. Though all the lights were on and the chairs upended on tables a few bar patrons lingered, finishing their icy, watered-down “last-call” cocktails. I hope they tipped well!

I also bumped into a few other revelers stumbling their way home after a long hard battle with Dr. Booze. Waking up at 4:00am is decidedly not cool.

Fortunately enough for me I was granted a preferred start for this race. This put me up toward the front of the starting queue just behind the elite and sub-elite runners rather than cramped in the back with the slower, inexperienced, huddled masses. Obviously this helped my start tremendously. I got off clean and found my pace right away. I still had the urge to go out hard but fate once again smiled on me and prudence outweighed stupidity - I took it easy. Perhaps I was calmed by the lovely string quartet at the starting line (very nice touch – kudos to the race planners!).

Somewhere around mile 3 or 4 I bumped into Eamonn, a teammate and running buddy. Eamonn was good enough to come up from behind and pass me. This immediately triggered the friendly competitor in me and I was off to catch and pace with him. Thanks for that Eamonn!

At this point, about 6 miles into the race, I was still feeling strong and knew that the toughest of the hills were already behind me. It was time to start pushing a little harder. Coming out of Central Park and heading down into Times Square I was probably running a pace of ~6:00/mile. Methinks this was maybe pushing it a little too hard but what can I say… Up to this point I was running a very smart race and I was feeling strong.

As the race made its way to the center of the universe (er, I mean Times Square) I noticed it was oddly devoid of traffic and the usual throngs of tourists. Cool.

We turned right onto 42nd Street and over to the West Side Highway. At this point the fatigue began to set in and my legs began to tire. Not cool.

“Push you fool!” I told myself “Don't be a wimp!” and before long I found myself cooking down Manhattan’s West Side Highway (also closed to vehicular traffic) towards the finish. Then, without warning and without care for the day’s events, Mother Nature decided to rinse off her sweaty runners and thus unleashed the rain! It was a cool and driving rain and I was immediately soaked through. My expensive lightweight running shoes took on water like a sinking ship but still I ran onward, splashing through the flooded thoroughfare.

“Josh!” “Go! Josh!” came the shouts from Hellgater’s Jared, LuAnn and Alan. I smiled, waved, absorbed their awesomeness for coming out and cheering in the rain - and then grimaced. With 2 miles to go, it was time to see if I had any kick left. My splits break down as follows:
  • 5K – 23:01 – 7:24 per mile pace
  • 10K – 45:49 – 7:22 per mile pace
  • 15K – 1:08:54 – 7:23 per mile pace
  • Finish – 1:34:14 – 7:11 per mile pace

Apparently I did have a little something left as I pushed hard through the rain to a new personal record for the Half Marathon – 1 hour 34 minutes and 14 seconds.

So there’s the account of my personal record and now you’re wondering what the public debacle is all about... The short answer is baggage.

As you can imagine, the logistics and organization required for an event of this scale are tremendous. The New York Road Runners have in my opinion always risen to the challenge and consistently put on some of the best and most organized races in the country.

For the benefit of those readers not familiar with how baggage claim is supposed to work at a race like this let me explain. The race starts at one point and ends 13.1 miles away. Runners generally bring personal belongings to the start (a cell phone, dry clothes to change into, maybe a bagel or a piece of fruit). You load your personal belongings into a bag that has a number identical to your race bib number. That bag then goes in a truck which in turn corresponds to the last digit on your race bib number.

In my case my race bib number was 7617. Since the last digit is a "7" I put my things on the "Number 7 Truck." The trucks then drive to the finish and await the runners. Friendly volunteers retrieve your bag from the chronologically packed truck. See how easy this really is? Organization is really the key element here.

Unfortunately for all the runners with their belongings in the "Number 7 Truck" the club failed miserably. I waited for an hour and fifty minutes to retrieve my bag. That’s right and hour and fifty minutes. It took less time to actually run the race than it did to retrieve my bag!

I was cold, wet, furious and exhausted. The patience and restraint that many runners were exhibiting began to wear off as time passed. By now the large and still growing crowd was irritated and began pushing in toward the truck, clamoring for their belongings. A few women were reduced to tears and I actually thought at a few points that the pushing and shoving would turn to fisticuffs.

Luckily cooler heads prevailed over clenched fists of fury and eventually - if slowly - things were sorted out. Mine was one of the last bags to be “found” and as luck would have it, it had been stepped on and trampled causing a Gu pack to rupture leaving my things a nasty, sticky, sweetened glucose mess. Also decidedly not cool.

I generally think of myself as a proud member of the silent majority but I was so perturbed that I actually I emailed the Road Runners Club to politely and professionally inform them of my experience. I was delightfully surprised when Saul Zuchman the Vice President of the New York Road Runners Club emailed me back 10 minutes later. He apologized that I had such a poor experience with baggage and that he and the race production team would take my comments and experiences into consideration when planning future races.

While I won't be able to get my wasted time back nor will I forget the frustration and anger I felt while waiting in the rain I will admit that my confidence in the New York Road Runners organization is restored.


the_ubster said...

Great Job! Some days it takes me more than 1 hour 34 minutes and 14 seconds to wake up!

Did you know that you said "cool" six times in that post? Cool!

Deene said...

well done!! congrats on PR!

Ginger Breadman said...

Great race report! I got the feeling I was out trudging through NYC in the early am. Although the baggage sounds frustrating, it's amazing how quick the response was when you had a complaint. That's the sign of a good organization - sounds like the truck thing was a fluke for them.

JustRun said...

First, congratulations on a great race.

Second, that definitely goes up on the list with bad race expereinces. I'm glad it was after you'd run a good race. Imagine how it would have been if the race didn't go well. Yikes!

DebbieJRT said...

congrats on the fantastic time! PR in the rain - I bow in awe :-)

nyflygirl said...

congrats on a great race and your PR! you had nothing to worry about in your previous post... ;-)

oh yes, the baggage situation definitely needed much improvement. mine was on the 2 truck and the people running it were idiots-they were just picking up random bags and calling out numbers, regardless of if the runners were there or not-i finally saw my bag thrown outside in the rain with a bunch of others, with the strings untied (they were tied before i checked it)-i had to check to make sure everything was still in there! (everything was, thankfully.)

Yvonne said...

I hadn't heard about the debacle - what a way to spoiil an otherwise great experience.

Awesome job on the PR. Out of all the runners I know, I think you have improved most since the time I first met you. The best thing for a runner to witness is another runner's improvement - especially a friend. Keep it up =)

Sempre Libera said...

Nice race! Congrats on the PR.

As for the 'debacle,' I'm glad NYRR responded so quickly, but the skeptic in me attributes the mess to the Nike folks. NYRR always does such a good job, and I'm not sure why the Nike races always seem to throw a wrench in the process. I was so frustrated with last year's Run Hit Wonder that I filled out their post-race questionnaire hoping to provide some useful suggestions -- except that the entire thing centered around the likelihood that I would buy more Nike products, with no room for race input. Guess that showed where their priorities were...

Morrissey said...

Hey man, I didnt see you at the blue corral start- but nevertheless, that is an awesome time! Fortunately i avoided the baggage debacle mainly because I never have my bag checked. All i bring is a few extra bucks, a metrocard and a key and place it on my shoe wallet. I'm a shit magnet when it comes to baggages....(ie. delayed flights/baggage claim) hence I avoid it as much as possible !

stephruns said...

what an awesome time! how do you do it???
that baggage situation must have sucked big time...nothing worst than being cold after a race!

Morrissey said...

one more thing regarding to leaving your place at wee early 4am in the morning....i too saw the same thing around my block where hordes of college grads coming out of the bar after last call. they were in the their usual get up with jeans and striped button down - i asked myself.....damn, shouldn't I be drinking too?!?!??!