I ran today in the New York Road Runners' City Parks Foundation Run for the Parks 4-mile race with Jon Lewin, aka Squawker Jon, my Subway Squawkers blogging partner. I had a PR for this distance -- 47:28, 11:52 per mile. When I ran this same race last year, I finished it in 53:45 (13: a mile). Two years ago this month, during the very first time I ran this course, I finished in 55:33 (13:53 a mile). I'm still a turtle, but I am making progress! Yay! I really enjoyed the run itself, but not the intro to it.
This was the first race in which NYRR implemented its new staggered start procedure, to alleviate bottlenecks during the start of races. Theoretically, this sounded like it would be a good thing. In practice, though, it was a hot mess, at least for those of us in the back of the pack.
According to NYRR's rules, corrals close 10 minutes before the race. But in previous races, once the opening horn was sounded, you would get moving within a minute or two, keeping you refreshed from your warmup. It would take you five to ten minutes or so to cross the starting line. Today, those of us in the back of the race (Corral L) just stood in the cold and didn't get to move at all for the first 11 minutes. I heard the starting horn blow to release corrals about four to five times, but then it stopped sounding, for some unknown reason. Finally, the mass of people started moving, extremely slowly. And we eventually crossed the starting line, with no starting horn, at 21 minutes and 40 seconds in. Jon was in Corral J and they crossed a few minutes before.
Even though I had done a full warmup before the race, I was standing there doing nothing except freezing my tuchis off for over 20 minutes, and not running for over 30 minutes after my warmup. And for those of us in the back of the pack, there was the same bottleneck of people that there always is, which has actually gotten a little worse since NYRR started with the bib letters for corrals instead of the numbered ones.
It also looks like NYRR has now consolidated in the last corral everybody from 11:30 per mile or so runners to slower runners to walkers going 15, 16, 17 minutes a mile and more (the people who finished in last place today did it in just under 21 1/2 minutes per mile.) That is a pretty huge range of speeds, which doesn't even take into account the faster runners who are running late (no pun intended!) and end up in our group to start the race, because they didn't get to their corral before the race started.
So because of those speed differentials, you have a lot of chaos at the starting line, and beyond, with that variety of speeds for those of us at the back of the pack. While the staggered start procedures for the people at the front of the race may have had a better experience today, crossing the starting line wasn't one bit better for those of us behind them.
And frankly, the length of time it took for us to get going made me feel like we were second-class citizens, and not as valued as the runners in front. I have to think that if the time waiting around was as long for the faster runners as it was for us, there would be a huge outcry.
Now I'm worried that things will take even longer in future races. The line only started moving today for us after they eschewed the separate starting horns. So Is it going to be 30 or even 40 minutes to cross the starting line next time? If that becomes the norm, I'm not going to jump into the corral until my letter starts moving, and I have to think I won't be the only one doing that.
NYRR has changed many things for the better over the last year, from the number procedures to even the quality of plastic bags for bag check. This new staggered start procedure isn't an improvement, at least for those of us in the back of the pack. I hope they take all of their members into consideration when evaluating this new policy, not just the fast ones.