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.