A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Proposed New Course for the NYC Marathon? Very, Very Risky

This has been the hot topic with various running clubs in the area when the article provided at the link below appeared in the press. The proposed course starts at Coney Island first, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, then hitting major landmarks in Manhattan before finishing on the West Side. 

Here is the article: Is Bigger and Faster Better for Marathon?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704635704575604541891533832.html

And the map of the present and proposed courses:

The organizers seem to want:

1) 60,000 people total for the race,
2) More elites in the race,
3) A flatter course for faster times,
4) A course that can accommodate 60,000 runners easily,
5) Better access to public transportation for spectators, and  
6) A course that goes by NYC's more famous landmarks.

Can they pull this off? Yeah, maybe. With the right resources, I'm sure they can, but there is a huge risk involved. Would they risk the considerations of thousands of amateurs to do the race in order to attract the tens of elite runners they crave? The present course does have numerous lures that attract the amateur runner. These include the Verrazano Bridge and a 5 borough run that successfully attracted 45,000 to this year's race.

The new course would be more convenient as it would be a quick subway ride to Coney Island from Manhattan so that they can eliminate some buses to the start. And, except for the Brooklyn Bridge, the course would be flat as a pancake, giving elites the opportunity to set records in the process. But would the course attract their main source of revenue, the amateur runner, to a course only based in Brooklyn and Manhattan? I don't know. That's a huge risk that I would be reserved to take, in my opinion.  

And those pesky hills that they want to get rid of? Well, they do often define the race. Does Heartbreak Hill ring a bell with the Boston Marathon crowd? Sure does! Everybody who talks about Boston always involve Heartbreak Hill in their discussions. Can you imagine a Boston Marathon without Heartbreak Hill, or all the hills in Newton for that matter? 

By eliminating the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the NYC Marathon, they will be eliminating the biggest hill on the course...and eliminate those breathtaking aerial images of a "sea of humanity" crossing that bridge. The organizers use those aerial shots of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as a promotional to lure people to the race, right? They sure use it a lot in their promotional material. I'm not sure if that "sea of humanity" going down Ocean Parkway on the new course would have the same effect.

An official NYC Marathon promotional picture of the Verrazano Bridge. Can Ocean Parkway beat this?

One of the mottoes that might apply here is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The New York City Marathon is enjoying life at the top of the heap, bringing in millions of dollars to the city in the process. Why try to radically change the race by designing a different course? Today's course is one of the main reasons why so many people come from afar to run this race. To the race organizers: tread very carefully here. What is probably only needed is a tweaking of the present course to fulfill all of your goals. A wholesale change would be extremely risky, and some risks can carry huge consequences. 

Remember New Coke? That blunder was so bad that Coca-Cola lost millions of dollars and had to go back to the Classic Formula to get their fans back. I'm thinking along those lines here.

That being said, they have every right to try changing the course if they want to. But they have every right to accept the huge risks involved in such an endeavor. Meaning that we as runners should not tolerate a blame game if this endeavor fails; they should only have themselves to blame.

But, if they are willing to take that risk, then I wish them luck. They are going to need it.

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