Color me a Runner

February 18th, 2013

When the Boilermaker was born 35 plus years ago the amount of organized races was certainly not as plentiful and participants tended to be hard-core runners (also thought to be slightly strange creatures).
In 2013 a runner can find multiple races within easy driving distance. The half-marathon (13.1 miles) an unknown event in 1978 has become a major factor in distance running. Running statistics for 2011 (2012 numbers are as yet unavailable) shows 17 of the top 50 races in finishers were half-marathons. In earlier times Marathons would dominate; in 2011 only 8 showed up (with perhaps only 7 in 2012 with the cancelling of the ING New York Marathon last November).
What the running boom has also spawn is what I would call races that are much more built around an event format than a traditional timed event. This is clearly the case in The Color Run series.
The Color Run is a non-timed 5k run where participants running/ walking in white tee shirts are pelted with colored corn starch eventually emerging as a two-legged Jackson Pollack painting. There are lanes where runners can be lightly colored or heavily doused and it’s suggested you don’t eat the cornstarch. Many wear goggle to prevent becoming colorblind (my joke).
The Color Run series is only one year old yet had over 600,000 registrants in last year. It is estimated that in 2013 they will have in excess of 1,000,000 participants- very impressive! Besides the U.S. races have been held in Australia, Germany, Portugal and Brazil.
Currently the Race For The Cure with 1.2 million runners/ walkers is the largest event series in the U.S..
An event like this where you throw/ get hit by stuff certainly seems to be a natural draw to the younger runner (there is no age limit on participation). Approximately 60% of the participants had never run a 5k.
I’m sure that many running purists look down at events like this. As for myself, while not looking forward to washing magenta coloring off my running shoes do believe that if this fun-factor gets kids, even ever so briefly, unshackled from the video games that it’s not a bad thing.
So if you think it’s cool to sport a tee that looks more reminiscent of Woodstock than the Walt Disney Marathon then The Color Run may be for you.

Moving at Hyper-Speed

January 17th, 2013

There was an informal bet among Boilermaker staff concerning when the 2013 Boilermaker would sell out. The 2012 race had sold out in 65 days. I surmised that, with the field held at 14,000 that we would be looking at hitting the cap in a month.
Surprise, surprise!
Registration opened at 12:01 am, January 12th, by 4:30 am when I woke up the count was nearly 800, a fourfold increase from a year ago at that time. Something very different is happening.
The velocity of registrants continued to increase throughout Saturday; that day we saw over 14,500 hits on the website (not including Facebook which was running white hot and registered over 49,000 hits).
On Monday evening, shortly after a Boilermaker meeting, the bomb hit- the 15k reached the cap. Frantic emails began to populate my computer; the phones began to ring and ring and ring.
A day later the 5k fell victim to the race cap. In 2012 the 5k maxed out two weeks after the 15k had filled. That year was the first time the 5k had ever hit its cap and probably caused more ‘how could this have happened’ emails and calls than the closing of the 15k.
It certainly seems clear the advanced warning we utilized worked well (some might say too well).
Months before, we had ‘installed’ a countdown to registration clock on the website. We tried to keep the ‘buzz’ going on Facebook and Twitter before the big day. Traditional local media informed its audience about both 2013 cap numbers and opening day. Running clubs that traditionally send large groups of participants were notified. Finally, we send an email blast to runners that participated in last year’s event of the impending opening of registration.
So what does all this mean?
Assuming the 2013 Boilermaker is a pleasant experience for the participants I would expect the race to sell out even faster. The Peachtree Road Race with 40,000 participants now sells out in less than an hour.
While the date of opening has significance, it’s the halfway point to the running of the race, should we move the opening of registration to a later date? I sometimes wonder if coming off so close to the New Years holiday (and resolutions) that we end up with people with good intentions but later reality sets in (holy smokes; I’ve got to run 9.3 miles on a challenging course in the middle of July).
Many races have resorted to a lottery system or a combination of first come-first serve for a set amount and lottery for the remainder.
It sort of boggles my mind I’m thinking about these things with the race nearly six months away!

We’re Number 1 (and that’s not good)

January 13th, 2013

Americans are a people proud of our accomplishments and certainly willing to tell the world (USA, USA…).
However, a recent study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that the United States leads in categories that one would not want to win.
Compared to 16 other developed countries we are both unhealthier and, consequently, die at an earlier age.
Currently Americans spend $8,600 a year per person on healthcare, which is far above what many of our European counterparts spend with universal healthcare. So I guess money not only doesn’t buy happiness, it doesn’t buy good health.
Specific areas we lag other nations include: obesity, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality.
But it’s beyond internal diseases; you stand a seven times greater chance of being murdered and twenty times greater chance of being killed by a gun than European countries.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the numbers is the majority of Americans struck down die before reaching the age of 50!
“I don’t think most parents know that, on average, infants, children and adolescents in the U.S. die younger and have greater rates of illness and injury than youth in other countries” said Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the study.
I’m pretty confident that this problems has been decades in the making and defies an easy answer. Saying that, this is one race we need to stop winning because it is literally about life and death.

Start Spreading the News

December 27th, 2012

The long-awaited news about the ING New York City Marathon stance on runners who were registered to run this year’s race was revealed. As you are aware, a small weather disturbance called Hurricane Sandy blasted the Northeastern seaboard four days prior to the planned running of the marathon.
In what must be characterized as a mistake of the first order the Mayor Bloomburg and Mary Wittenberg (CEO of the New York Road Runners) initially indicated the race would be held prompting runners from literally around the world to descend on “The Big Apple”. Two days later the race was officially cancelled.
Many have complained that the race should simply allow everyone that was registered for the 2012 race to simply be allowed to run the 2013 race for free- sort of a reset.
Unfortunately the race had spent all the money to put the race on; the only funds unspent was the prize money. The New York City Police Department, who is paid for race support retuned the monies back to the race.
In the end the runners were offered three options:
- Full refund. This number runs all over the gamut from $216 to $500 depending on registration. No guarantee you get in next years race.
- Automatic acceptance in either the 2013, 2014 or 2015 Marathon. The runner would still be liable for an entry fee but it would be held at the 2012 rate.
- Entry in the 2013 New York Half Marathon held in March; you will play the entry fee (running between $117-$128). Space is limited to get in.
The ING New York Marathon is huge- a race hosting roughly 48,000 runners in America’s biggest city. I do not envy the work Mary has in front of her dealing with sponsor relations, the running public and image rebuilding.
An interesting side note, one cannot underestimate the power of social media in our sport. The core demographic involved in distance running are the hard core users of tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The decisions both to attempt to run the race and later to cancel it caused a digital storm over the internet.
The running of this race in 2013 will be very, very interesting.
Will they fill the field? Absolutely!
Will Mary still be the CEO? Who knows?

Moving Forward by Moving Backward

December 18th, 2012

In the December 6th issue of The New York Times Magazine was an interesting article written by Gretchen Reynolds called ‘Running In Reverse’.
Recent studies are now pointing out the benefits of backwards running. Giovanni Cavagna, a professor at the University of Milan, conducted a study on athletes running forwards and backwards on a track.
Backward running tends to burn more calories. That sort of makes sense. Our bodies/ muscles are constructed to move forward in an optimum way. Ask your body to do something in an opposite manner and it’s going to strain. Professor Cavagna found that you would need 30% more energy to run backwards at the same speed running forwards. So theoretically, assuming you can run as fast driving the human-car in reverse as forward you could get the same calorie burn in a roughly 30 minute run rather than 45 minutes.
There is a huge benefit on the balance component side. When we break out of the familiar we tend to focus more carefully. I can speak first hand to the benefits of at least walking in reverse after a knee operation. There is an added bonus in going backwards; it reduces the impact on the knees. Forward runners typically impact the ground with their heel sending a shock wave up the leg; the reverse runners will strike with the front of the foot. Just try doing it walking- your lets will do this instinctively.
Finally, mixing up your workout helps keep the boredom beast at bay. Start slowly (in both speed and time) and record your progress- what gets measured gets better.
It is strongly suggested that you do not try backward running on the road! Best case scenario you will get some interesting comments yelled at you from cars; worst case you get hit by one of those cars. Stick to a surface track.
While I doubt this will be included as an Olympic Event any time soon (although the unofficial fastest 5k was run in 19 minutes, 31 seconds) it certainly seems to make sense to move your health regimen forward by going backward.

That’s a Lot of Green!

December 14th, 2012

Recently there were two local stories that struck me as so representative of the giving nature of this area.
At the end of November Wagner Farms, located in Rome and run by Ron Wagner, donated 28,000 pounds of food to the Food Bank of Central New York. That’s 14 tons of squash, cabbage and potatoes! This donation gives the inner city poor the opportunity to access nutritious food rather than high sugar/ salt processed diet that is the staple of the local corner store/ bodega.
I would assume Mr. Wagner could have ‘made some green’ selling the vegetables rather than just giving it away.
Early in December Arthur Pultorak of Deerfield, age 83, passed away. Arthur had no children, never married, and lived in a house with no running water. A self avowed ‘poor farmer’ Mr. Pultorak had a rather large surprise to spring at his death. Unknown to everyone, except his attorney, Arthur was a rather rich man. How rich? How about rich enough to make a 1.5 million dollar bequest to the two local hospitals! For 20 years Arthur worked at a local psychiatric hospital as an attendant finally retiring over 22 years ago. Since Mr. Pultorak was a loner no one knows the reason for the hospitals as the beneficiaries. Perhaps his experiences in the psych facility ignited some fire within him. We’ll never know.
I believe I read that this was the largest single gift the hospitals. Imagine that, from a seeming nobody a bequest from beyond the grave.
This community never fails to overwhelm me with its seemingly infinite capacity for caring.
I see it every year with the Boilermaker volunteer support.
I saw it first hand with our Hurricane Sandy relief effort filling one and a half trucks with cleaning material, batteries, blankets, coats and hats in three days.
And I see it happening with the various food/ toy drives occurring throughout our community.
Ron, thank you for what you do.
Arthur; thank you for what you did.
God, I love this place!

Funny the Way It Is

November 5th, 2012

It looked like 2012 was going to be a mild hurricane season, even though we were up to ‘R’ for named storms only two (tropical storms, Beryl& Debby) had made landfall in the U.S.; both were relatively benign.
Traditionally November 30th marks the official end of the hurricane season as water temperatures cool so it looked like we were going to skate through.
Then along came a cruel, cruel, pre-Halloween trick named Sandy blasting through the densely populated Northeast. Floods, fires, winds, and death- for many experiencing Sandy’s wrath it must have felt like the beginning of the apocalypse.
It seems incredible that this event occurred less than a week ago- it feels so much longer and I’m not there!
Current estimates are that 30,000 to 40,000 people are going to be long-term homeless (as a measuring stick that would be 63% of the population of Utica).
We aren’t talking about lack of electric power; we’re talking about no light switch because there aren’t any walls!
Here’s where we come in.
The Boilermaker is currently in the midst of filming a documentary chronicling our thirty five year history. The producer, Bill Keeler, had to go down to Manhattan this week for an interview so he had an idea.
Rather than driving downstate in a car, how about a truck?
How about a really big truck?
How about a really big truck filled with supplies destined for our devastated downstate neighbors?
What do they need? I put it in the category of stuff you really need but are never excited to buy at the store. A short list:
Garbage bags (big ones), cleaning products, mops, brooms, masks, baby food, diapers, batteries (especially the cherished ‘D’ size) cold medicine, feminine products, blankets, socks, underwear, toilet paper, dog food, gift cards to places like Home Depot and Lowes.
Hold back on the clothes donations (except what is listed).
If there is one thing that this community is known for is its giving spirit- it glows Heart Run& Walk Weekend, it shines Boilermaker Sunday, and it burns brightly as this community (that’s not the most affluent) supports a cause.
It’s time to light that candle, or should I say (hopefully) bonfire, once again.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, (8:00 am-8:00 pm) and Thursday (8:00am-3:00 pm) of this week you can drop off donations at Carl’s Furniture, 801 Wagner Street, Utica. There will be someone at the truck (that Carl’s is offering for free) to take your donation.
Think about this- in three weeks it will be Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) when we will sit at the table with family and friends.
Meanwhile some living downstate have burned their dining room table to simply keep warm. (Hence the title of this blog ‘Funny the Way It Is’, a song performed by Dave Matthews, speaking to the dramatically different experiences of different people at the same moment.)
If anything the Boilermaker’s core mission is about promoting positive change and making a difference in people’s lives.
Here is a chance for you to feel good about making someone you don’t even know feel good.
Sort of funny isn’t it?

Four Hours

November 2nd, 2012

I want you to think about four hours.
If you were to run a four hour marathon you’d be considered a middle of the pack runner.
If you were to drive four hours west on the Thruway, south down Route 87 you would we faced with the very depths of human misery.
I want to discuss the ING New York City Marathon which is scheduled to be run this Sunday (November 4th).
Let me be straight; there is no way I would like to be in Mary Wittenberg’s shoes; Mary is the CEO of the New York Road Runners that put on the marathon.
The decision to run the race after the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy has certainly fomented a great deal of controversy. Let me be straight- I’m not coming down either way about running the race; the factors are incredibly complex and I have no idea of the ‘internals’ of the race. The whole thing feels like a Solomon’s choice.
Saying that, here’s what seems to be ‘the big rocks’ on either side of the argument.
Why not to have the race this year?
There is no doubt that there is a strain on the New York City public safety/ service group to support a race that travels through the five boroughs of New York. Race officials will now be using the services of private contractors to minimize the service of the NYPD.
The ability for the transportation system to support the movement of the runners to the start on Staten Island and from the post race located in Central Park seems Herculean. In fact the whole infrastructure seems pretty beat up.
At this point people in the area are cold, hungry, out of gas, and without electricity. The police are still in a body recovery mode. The race is perceived by many as a frivolous distraction. Should assets such as food and water be used for needy citizens rather than the runners?
Why to have the race this year?
This race provides a huge economic boost to The Big Apple; twenty thousand of this year’s field comes from outside the U.S.. It’s about the hotels, airlines, restaurants, and stores- thousands of employees benefit from the running of the race.
There is the ‘we can do this’ pride that New York City is famous for; we certainly saw it after 9/11.
Is it a good thing, for at least a few hours, to focus on something positive?
The New York City Road Runners have pledged one million dollars to the Mayor’s Fund and the American Red Cross and ING, the presenting sponsor, is donating an extra five hundred thousand dollars. I have no doubt that others, both individuals and companies aligned with the race will jump on this effort. Perhaps those from outside the New York City area who run the race and see the devastation will become the ambassadors to help the city? Maybe a grass-roots volunteer effort comprised of this year’s runners will happen- how great would that be!
To those running on Sunday- Godspeed.
To those who are in the suffering midst of this tragedy- God watch over you.
To those helping your neighbors and people you don’t even know- God bless you!

Berlin Bombshell

November 1st, 2012

Well the 2013 BMW Berlin Marathon is over- well sort of. Organizers of the event (which will take place September 29th 2013) announced that the 40,000 field is filled. Here is the astounding part of the story- the race sold out in 3 ½ hours! The 2012 race was closed out in 6 ½ weeks.

Let’s have a short math class:

The 2012 Berlin event saw on average 37 entries per hour; the 2013 event saw 190 entries per minute!

This is a race that started in 1974 with 286 runners.

Some takeaways:

-Clearly the popularity of distance running extends far beyond our American shores. This growth has not been without a little controversy as long-time runners find themselves shut out of events with the influx of new participants.

- The days of major races (including the Boilermaker) to deal with paper race applications are over. The ability of race staff to manually have to rekey in a racer’s data with a surge like this is simply impossible. Welcome to the digital world.

- While the Boilermaker has not experienced the ‘hyper-growth’ that hit Berlin I expect the 2013 race to sell out faster than 2012.

Now a short history class:

The 2012 Boilermaker 15k sold out in roughly 100 days with 13,000 runners; we increased the field by 1,000 this year and it sold out in 65 days.

Also this year, for the first time, the 5k (4,000 runners) sold out; I expect that to happen again.

In late November we will be announcing the caps for the 2013 Boilermaker and on January 13th (at midnight) race registration will open.

Bottom line- there’s a race to get in the race- will you win?

See Mary Run

October 26th, 2012

The Mary that I am speaking of is Mary Wittenberg and what she is running is the New York Road Runners, the premier running club in New York City (and perhaps the world). The N.Y. Road Runners will host a small affair on November 4th called the ING New York City Marathon that will have nearly 50,000 participants.
On October 14th The New York Times ran an interesting spread on Mary specifically and about racing in general.
By every measure the N.Y. Road Runners are big- how big you ask?
Big budget- $59,000,000
Big staff- 150 (up from 60 when Mary became CEO in 2005)
Big names- Celebrities who have run the marathon include Jennifer Aniston, P. Ditty, Ed Norton, and Oprah.
Charitable giving is up, applications are up (150,000 applied for this year’s marathon), one would think that all is well with the kingdom; but that is not necessarily the case.
Mary has had her detractors and some of those criticisms speak to the greater problems of road racing throughout the U.S..
Due to the rapid growth of the sport races are selling out faster and faster leaving many long-time runners shut out- it makes them unhappy (sometimes very, very unhappy). The Boilermaker sold out in roughly 100 days in 2011, we added 1,000 runners this year and the number dwindled to 65 days. I expect the 2013 Boilermaker to sell out faster than this year regardless of what cap number is set.
Race Directors try to expand the field as much as possible to get in more participants while (hopefully) preserving the essential appeal of the event. In 2005, Mary’s first year, the field was 37,000, now many complain the field is simply too large to run a great time. There were some preliminary discussions between the Road Runners and the City of New York to conduct the marathon both Saturday and Sunday theoretically doubling the field size. While I have no idea where this went I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg would allow the streets of New York to be shut down on two consecutive days?
Then there is the question of escalating race fees, over the last eight years cost for Road Runners members to run the 26.2 mile race has escalated from $80 to $216- its $255 for non-members. Some of the increase is due to paying for police/ traffic control and some to support charitable outreach such as youth running and obesity.
So it is a delicate, delicate balancing act that will, unfortunately, leave some angry.
Ms. Wittenberg is clearly a visionary with a focus of expanding the reach of the Road Runners far beyond where Fred Lebow, the founder of the marathon, began. In 1970, the race’s inaugural year when it was simply run in Central Park, there were only 127 runners.
The question becomes does the general running public see the vision the same way?
Time will tell.
BTW- Mary nor only runs the N.Y. Road Runners but is a pretty good runner in her own right; in 1987 she qualified for the Olympic Trials after winning the Marine Corps Marathon in 2 hours 44 minutes.
Finally, good luck to all our local athletes that will be running in a couple weeks- have and run a great time!