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The Staten Island Runner

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June 17, 2000 

NYRROArs   by Glenn Ribotsky

An ongoing commentary on issues in the Staten Island and metropolitan road racing community, complied through the auspices of the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation.


Another Staten Island Advance Memorial Day 4-mile run is history. The race produced a few surprises, but overall was pretty much the same as it ever was. (I speak more of the organization and structure and presentation of the race than of the actual competition, as would be expected of someone in my particular position.) Considering that, after all, it is a local, not-widely-known-outside-the-borough race, not given to attracting large sponsors, national class runners, or really any outside publicity, the Advance run, I have come to realize, is the quintessential turn-of-the-century road race event. That is, in one package, it is a fairly characteristic example both of a lot that is good, and a lot that is not so good, with the contemporary road racing scene.

The Advance run tries to be many things to many people, and, as would be expected of a race sponsored by a media company, it takes (perhaps somewhat overblown) pains to publicize these things it is trying to be. In recent years, it what I would imagine is an attempt to give the appearance of greater concern for the community (or perhaps it’s just an attempt to boost lagging circulation numbers), the paper has billed the race in its own advertising as more of a backyard get-together than a competition, more for the casual runner/jogger than the serious athlete. Some specific concrete and structural steps were taken in this direction as well; the course was shortened by a mile and moved to the shore and boardwalk, eliminating difficulties such as hills and multiple turns. This has had the effect in recent years of watering down the competition somewhat; a number of the Island’s best racers simply choose not to compete in the race anymore. Yet the Advance run still sponsors (and leads off) the “Triple Crown” of Staten Island road racing, which brings paradoxical emphasis back to the competitive aspects of the race. The pre-race coverage also rarely misses a chance to trot out veteran runner Art Hall’s quote about how it is “the Staten Island road racing championship”. It sometimes seems as if the race’s marketers suffer from a bit of a case of split personality. (On Staten Island, the Marty Celic Run and the Staten Island Half-Marathon are actually far more competitive races; both offer enough prize money to catch the attention of at least some talented off-Island runners, and the latter, as an NYRRC race, advertises to numbers no locally produced race can match.) Moreover, while the Advance run offers a considerable post race spread and gives nearly as much attention to walkers as runners in its attempt to be user- and community-friendly, it draws fire from the running community by being the only Island race that does not allow its results to be posted directly to Richie Re’s Staten Island Running web page. (Richie this year did manage to link up to the website to get a finishers’ list; that website carried the reprints of the Advance’s own coverage as part of its deal to carry Advance content daily, but he still had to type a list of age group winners to his web page himself.) One would think, whatever media deals are involved, a race investing in good community relations would allow its results to be posted by whomever asked. It also has a history of naming as the point person for inquiries and customer relations someone who would be better suited for another job. (I remember fondly the public and profane tirade I received from departed race coordinator Steve O’Neill regarding some scoring mistakes some years back; a Marty McGowan videotape of the finish line proved my assertions valid. It’s been speculated some of the letters the Advance received about the tirade “persuaded” Mr. O’Neill to hand the reins over to someone else. Current coordinator Christine Annunziato has been far more polite, but not easily accessible, and often more terse than necessary.)

In its efforts to try to please as many masters as possible, the Advance run, like many other contemporary road races, endangers its ability to satisfy any of them. It becomes, again, like many other current races, an event searching for its true identity, its true “reason for being”—is it going to be an event run primarily for marketing purposes, or for athletic ones? Regular readers of this column know I have discussed at length the tension between races put on primarily for charity fund-raising and those put on for the competition; the Advance run in its way reflects this current road race issue, with the added factors of self-promotion and sensitivity to community perception added to the mix. It is little wonder that the race often seem as if it is the camel put together by the committee that wanted a horse. This is not to say that the race is not worthy of participation. It is to indicate, though, that its continued viability depends on its ability to reconcile these disparate desires. The more a race wants to be a competitive test, the less it can typically cater to the non-competitive runner, and vice versa; races that want to appeal to everybody generally leave almost everybody vaguely dissatisfied in one way or another. The Advance Run, like many others, would probably do well to pick a direction and “run with it”, getting specific about what it wants its true identity to be.

An interesting little local side note—with all the effort that both the New York Road Runners Club and Vic Navarra’s Events Management Group had spent in promoting the Staten Island portion of the NYRRC’s Kurt Steiner Summer Evening Series of 5-kilometer runs every other Wednesday (every NYRRC member with a Staten Island address received a special blue insert about the series in the May club mailing, and EMG and the series were given pretty high visibility on the NYRRC web site), it’s funny that the results from the first two races in the series have not been posted either on the NYRRC web site or on this one. (By contrast, the results from the Brooklyn/Prospect Park part of the Series have been posted on the NYRRC site.) In fact, near as I can ascertain, there has been no mention of the races this year on the SI running web site at all—they’re not even on the race calendar here, which can only lead me to assume that there was no effort on the part of EMG to contact webmaster Richie Re. Considering the difficulties and controversy that the Series has gone through since it was taken over by Navarra and EMG after the passing of Kurt Steiner early in the 90’s, and the admitted improvement in administration, amenities, etc. for the series last year—though only after it had felt both the competition from Tommy’s Hart’s competing Thursday night races and the ongoing pressure at the highest levels of the NYRRC by NYRROA—it’s almost bizarre that the entities in control of these races would not be making a greater effort to reach out and communicate with the Staten Island running community. (NYRROA continues to monitor the races, and it can be said that a large percentage of the small number of entrants at the first two were from outside the borough.) If Vic and EMG had been looking for an improved reputation in his/its home borough—a reputation that has taken quite a number of hits in the last decade—this wouldn’t seem to be the best way to go about it.

Glenn Ribotsky
Chair, New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation
84 Vogel Loop
Staten Island, NY 10314