There is a potential problem brewing in the sport, and who can say what the long-term effects could be?  As was reported in the New York Times this February, in an attempt to generate increased revenues to make up for the city’s budget shortfall, the New York Police Department is looking to charge the New York Road Runners the full cost of shutting down hundreds of city streets along the five boroughs during the annual ING New York City Marathon.  

This additional cost would have a significant impact on the overall staging of the event.  In 2010, the NYRR paid more than $850,000 to city agencies, $107,000 of which went to the police department.  According to Mary Wittenberg, the CEO of the Road Runners, the club is willing to reimburse the police for more of its costs, though how much more has yet to be determined.

Notwithstanding the $200 million in economic impact generated by the event, the potential for real harm to the marathon is apparent.  What to do?   

You see, the police do have a point.  One of the major problems with today’s marathons is sheer numbers and time.   As road racing continues to expand with its bucket listers and charity fund raisers, the time it takes them to traverse 26.2 miles is such that the police are forced to remain in position long enough to just about take root.  

Therefore, in order to bridge this gap in need and cost, I propose the following:  Instead of timing everyone over the 26.2 mile distance, beginning in 2012, when the winner hits the tape in Central Park, everyone just stops where they are along the course.  Places and awards are then tabulated based on the total distance travelled, not total time taken.  

This way we all go home about a day and a half earlier, streets are cleared faster, and the cutoff time for city officials would be something less than the official time your loving mother spent in labor giving you birth.  Next year everyone would have a distance goal – “Yeah, this year I made it into Queens” – not a time one.

Furthemore, the NYRR wouldn’t be left holding a hefty bill afterwards – except for all those meat wagons they’ll need to collect the troops.  But they can more than make up for that up by the savings on finisher’s medals. They’ll only need one.   


13 thoughts on “JUST AN IDEA

  1. Scott, I understand the rules regarding point-to-point courses with a significant elevation drop and am aware that the ruling has been around for two decades; I appreciate your defending it but I wasn’t suggesting that there’s a problem with it. I was simply using it as an example of a rule that perhaps, as I said, needs to be applied to the other end of the spectrum regarding finishing times; perhaps it wasn’t the best example to use to get my point across. This isn’t a debate about point-to-point net downhill courses, it’s about masses of people walking and/or slowly (very slowly) jogging marathons, a phenomenon that didn’t exist three or four decades ago, back when I started running, in 1981 when I lived in MI (I used to race against your former wife, Karen, on a regular basis, Scott. My last name was Ciavarella then) Back then the Detroit Free Press Marathon was smaller participant-wise, but people actually ran it. You didn’t see people walking or slowing down unless they were having a problem. That’s why I got into running: I went to watch the marathon because a friend was running, and I stood at the finish line (in the rain) to watch the last finishers come in. I remember that for the most part, they were all running, not particularly fast, but they were running. I certainly wouldn’t have had the same inspiring and exhilarating experience if most of the participants had been walking. People were running the marathon because they loved running, they loved the feeling of being out there, challenging themselves to do things they had never believed they could do. I trained for my first marathon with two women who had never run faster than 4:30, they were proud of their accomplishments, and since I had never run a marathon before, I admired them. They RAN it, not fast, but they ran: they weren’t doing the marathon to raise money for charity (there were a lot of charity walks then) they were doing it for themselves, and how it made them feel. I don’t agree with the idea that the “horse has left the barn” and mass marathons with thousands and thousands of participants is the way things are, and always will be. Let’s face it, it’s all about marketing. Look at the progression over the years from station wagons, to mini-vans, to huge SUVs to smaller SUVs, and now (thankfully) back to even smaller SUVs and station wagons. Market the marathon as something special, something that not everyone can do, but once you have, you can call truly call yourself a marathoner.

    Andrea makes some very good points, particularly about Ironman. I agree that individual races should take a look at their own data and make a determination based on the slowest finishing times as to what their time-limit will be.

    And one more point: what, exactly are the positives of “the masses” walking and slowly jogging marathons? The amount of money being raised for charity? The health benefits? Considering that there are many other ways for people to raise monies for charity, and that obesity rates in this country sky-rocketed over the past two decades (only leveling off in 2010) one has to wonder what makes this concept of mass participation in marathons such a great idea.

  2. Interesting posts… I’ve run a 2:34:20, but that was back in the day before I was hit by a car on my bicycle. I’d still like to run a marathon someday. Maybe a 6 hour time limit. Maybe look at races and see what MOST people finish under. I hate leaving others out, but I DO think time limits should be imposed—maybe at least in crowded marathons or urban ones. There are cut off times for Ironman races at each leg, I think. At least this is true in Hawaii. For sure, there are cut off times for the entire race.

  3. Working in reverse order toward Toni’s point: no Claudia, there was no argument about whether times at Boston would count as records. The rules about record-eligible courses have been around over 20 years. The purpose of the rules is to try & ‘level the playing field’ to fairly compare times from the various routes at road races. Without those rules, we could have a ‘Wild West’ where all records are set on steep downhill, point-to-point courses – courses designed to take advantage of assistance afforded by running down a slope and/or aiding wind.

    I think we’re too far gone to turn back the time limit standards at races…unless, as the NYRRs may soon decide, costs force them to go w/a faster time limit. In the end, costs may be the thing that forces hands across the country to scale back. I don’t see time limits scaling back otherwise. The ever-growing masses are here for a while.

    I like Toni’s idea to stop runners in their tracks when the winner finishes…as a hypothetical exercise. As finish line announcer for the Crim 10 mile, over the years I’ve reflected on the position of the last participant after the first man finsihes. Typically, the last people are only 35% of way done. That means there are thousands of folks stretched over 6.5 miles of city streets in Flint, MI. Prorate that to a big marathon and it’s likely the last people are barely at the 15 km mark (27 km, or more, in arrears) as the winner finishes. Those figures aren’t going to change soon and little is gained by noting how many are going so slow in recent years.

  4. Appreciate the give and take, Aaron. Please continue to vent, foment, and rail against whatever winds of injustice you encounter. Run, too. Oh, I’ve worked at the Honolulu Marathon every year since 1979, and they never close their course. it takes some folks 12-13 hours to finish, and there is always an official at the line to award them their medal.

    1. The two most moving things I have seen in running have happened close to the Chicago course closing at the 6:30 mark. In 2008, while walking back along the course to meet my wife, I passed a soldier in full marching gear (heavy pack, boots, etc) walking/jogging toward the finish. He was raising money for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. I could tell he was hurting with all that gear and weight, but he was a rock star. Naturally, I stopped and cheered. Then, in ’09, also while walking back along the course I happened to see a runner who had been in the training group I led. He was having one of those really bad runs and was struggling. Without hesitation, I jumped back onto the course and ran with him a bit to offer encouragement. Months later, I got an email to thank me for getting him to the finish. That and the official at the Honolulu finish are the kind of stuff that makes me glad they leave some courses open late.

      Just today, a friend told me about the story of Fred Lebow asking Grete Waitz to run the NY course with him in ’92 and that she said it was the most emotional race she had ever run. It seems that the great marathon stories come at both ends.

      I think Sammy Wanjiru, Ryan Hall, and Deena Kastor should come and run a slow marathon with us some day. Wouldn’t that be a sight.

      Have a good weekend and keep up the great writing.


  5. Hey Toni:

    First, sorry about the “she” thing. I should have Googled you first.

    Also, I had a feeling your post might have been written in humor.

    I’m cool. I was just venting a bit. Since my first marathon back in 2006, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about marathons being watered down by all the slow runners. I just don’t agree that marathons have to be raced by everybody. Unless they are specifically set aside for speedsters, people should be allowed to run however fast or slow they want. Sorry, I seem to be climbing back to the soapbox.

    You definitely got people thinking.

  6. Aaron, calm yourself. Evidently it was a poor attempt, but yes, the column was written tongue in cheek. The key to racing isn’t the speed, it’s the effort. Trying hard is the common denominator. To one man in the world a fast marathon means 2:03:02 (Geoffrey Mutai, the Boston champion). To most fast is significantly slower. Trying to improve is what counts. I was just having some fun.

  7. I hope Toni Reavis was joking. She comes off as quite an a#$ in her post. I have no idea how fast Ms. Reavis can cover 26.2, but I am getting tired of fast runners thinking that marathons should be reserved only for them. Take Boston and save it for the pros and elites only. I don’t care. Seriously, if it wasn’t for all the “charity runners and bucket listers” there would probably only be 10 marathons in the U.S. every year, because there aren’t enough pros elite runners to support them. Do the math. It is the slow masses that actually make marathons possible, not the few who can finish in under 2:30.

    Also, who is keeping you fast runners from organizing more “fast people only” races?

    Claudia, however, makes some valid points. Although I am slow and have never completed a marathon in under 5 hours (close, but not quite), I can see the sense in limiting the time that a course is open for certain races. NY, Chicago, LA, Boston, ect., but only if they choose to do so (which I don’t think they will). For most big city races, after about the 5-hour mark, the numbers have thinned enough that those left on the course could be directed to safely finish on sidewalks so that the streets can be re-opened to traffic. The question is when do you start the clock on the course? Do you start it when the pros take off? In Chicago, for instance, some runners don’t cross the line for over 1/2 hour or more after the gun goes off. I guess the clock on the course being open would have to start once the last person crosses the start line. As long as every runner is aware of the restrictions and is honest to the race directors and themselves about their projected finish time, there should be no complaints about a 5-hour limit.

    For marathons in smaller cities, they should be free to keep the course open as long as they want.

  8. I completely agree. The marathon is a great goal. A great bucket list goal. But do 10ks, and at most half-marathons until you are ready to go at the marathon in 5 hours or less. OR choose a small marathon or trail marathon where the shutdown of the city (town) is not so expensive and taxing on the community.

  9. Thanks for the kudos. Here’s a suggestion: marathon race directors, USATF LDR committee members and even faster runners should work together to change the rules in marathoning. I mean, after all, there’s argument currently about whether Boston should be a world-record setting course now that the fastest time ever was run there. Perhaps it’s time to consider marathon times from the other direction, we’ve been dealing with the fast times, lets turn our attention now to the slow times. LDR is most definitely a discipline that needs more regulation and rules (witness the confusion and disarray over illegal pacing and assistance in last year’s Honolulu Marathon) and a rule whose time I believe has come is limiting marathon fields to runners who can complete the course in under 5-hours. Boston has already begun to adjust their qualification standards, it may be time for all marathons (at least those in large cities that require significant police protection, and utilize a lot of municipal resources) to do the same.

  10. Wow Claudia, you sound like me!! I thought I was the only one who thought the marathon distance is no longer respected. 5 Hours is the perfect time limit!

  11. Marathons have become too big, and the majority of participants are too slow. Cities around the country are facing budget crunches, it’s understandable that they’re looking for ways to increase revenues, and charging more for police protection, shutting down streets and providing other municipal services so that thousands of jogger/walkers can clog the highways and byways seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. When my husband I watched the LA Marathon a month or so ago we saw people walking, some of them wearing two knee braces, and many clad in plastic garbage bags (it was raining that day in SOCal, after all) at the FOUR MILE MARK. Clearly, they had no intention of running or even trying to run or at least jog, any of the course. Perhaps some of these same folks complained about the high entry fees, there’s a lot of that going on now, on websites such as LetsRun and local running club message boards. People need to stop complaining about the cost of entering a marathon, instead they need to think rationally about why entry fees keep going higher, particularly if they’re one of the masses who’s hoping to finish in under seven hours. If you’re taking that long to “run” a marathon, you’re not running it, and you’re part of the problem; it’s because of you that entry fees are high, and going higher. If you want to raise money for charity, do a walk (there are still charity walks in existence, they don’t get much respect though anymore, which is a shame), do a shorter distance race with a charity component, or just give money to the charity or charities that mean the most to you. Marathons need to have strict time limits: 5 hours or less, that’s it. If you can’t get to the finish line in five hours, you’re on your own. Water tables will be gone, there won’t be a finish line, and police won’t be directing traffic so you can stroll through the intersection. The concept of “waddle on” is cute, funny to say and thank goodness folks are taking it to heart and getting off the couch to at least do something that might raise their heart rates a beat or two. But “waddle on” has no place in marathon vernacular…none, zero, zip, nada.

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