The NYC Marathon Elite Start
by Glenn Ribotsky
August 16, 2002 - The New York Road Racing OmbudsAssocition (NYRROA), as the leading runners' advocacy organization in the metropolitan area, goes on record in disagreeing with the New York Road Runners' decision to have a separate elite women's start at 10:40 AM at this year's New York City Marathon while the rest of the field starts thirty-five minutes later.
It is not the fact of the separation of the elite women from the rest of the field that we disagree with; indeed, we have no problem with a separate elite women's start, or, for that matter, a separate elite men's start. Our objection stems from the timing. The New York City Marathon has always had one of the later starts (10:50 AM) among the large marathons. This has led to the large majority of the runners having to stand for a considerable amount of time in the very crowded "runners corrals" leading to the start on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, and to run much of the race during the hottest part of the day. (Though the race is in November, there have been enough September-like race days over the last two decades to convince anyone that global warming is no myth.) Moreover, owing to the peculiar nature and security concerns of the Central Park finish line and the baggage pick-up/family reunion arrangements, non-elite race finishers traverse an additional mile or more, again at a time when the weather is most likely to be unfavorable. We feel that the even later start time proposed for all runners other than the elite women would put those runners through an even tougher set of circumstances than already exists.
We recognize that New York Road Runners, in a tough competition (with such races as Chicago's) to attract high-level fall marathoners, is trying, in promoting a separate elite women's start, to make the New York City Marathon more attractive to elite female racers, who can expect more attention/coverage for their "race". It's not a bad strategy; elite women's marathoning, with all the record-breaking over the past year or so, is, like women's tennis, a more exciting competition these days than men's (at least from the standpoint of much of the press). Additionally, it can be argued that the best female American marathoners are, as a group, closer to their top competitors from other countries than are the best American males (with all due respect to the naturalized Khalid Khanoucci). Nevertheless, we feel that the difficulties that will accrue to the rest of the field from their even later start will detract significantly from the quality of their race experience-and it is the rest of the field that not only pays the bills, but ultimately gives the New York City Marathon its reputation and character.
We would strongly urge the New York City Marathon/New York Road Runners to examine starting the elite women-and, for that matter, the elite men, and the whole race-earlier. We think it would enhance the entire race for the elite and non-elite alike, and make it a more tolerable experience for especially the latter, without unduly inconveniencing the volunteers, the civil servants, or the press (to name three groups that, the argument might go, need a later start-earlier starts have not seemed to cause too much trouble at other large marathons).
Glenn Ribotsky, Chair
Daniel Gussman, Vice-Chair
New York Road Racing OmbudsAssociation (NYRROA)