Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Corral enforcement frustration

Every year, I run the Army 10 Miler in Washington, DC.  In many ways, it should be my favorite race of the year -- it's a fun course and the weather's usually great, plus I love the 10 mile distance.  But there's one thing that always leaves me sour, year after year.  The starting corrals.

To explain further, Army is a gigantic race, with nearly 30,000 runners.  Like other big races, Army then splits the runners into different corrals, based on a past race time.  Faster runners are assigned to the corrals at the front, slower runners at the back (corrals are color coded to match each runner's number bib).  In large races, the start is also split into waves.  For example, the first three corrals will start in order at 8:00 am as the "first wave," then the next few corrals at 8:10 am as the "second wave," and so forth.  (explanation here)

There's a reason for this practice, and it's not elitism.  In any situation where you have runners with different paces, it works best for the faster runners to start earlier.  The effect is a "reverse accordion," where the runners string out as they run, with the faster runners pulling away.  This means more space for everyone to run.  That's a good thing, especially on a narrow course.

Add in the use of a wave start, which gives each wave of runners time to clear the first mile of the course and string out before the next wave starts, and everyone gets a chance to run the race at their own pace.

It works great.  But only when enforced.  And at the Army 10 Miler it never is.  At all.  To the frustration of many.

***

Army is notorious for runners from the slower corrals and waves starting in the initial wave.  I understand their motivations for doing so.  Army, like many other races in DC, has a time cut-off.  All runners have to pass the 5 mile mark of the race on or before 9:35 am (the race starts at 8:00 am with the first wave) in order to be allowed to continue.  So, runners from the back waves and corrals jump into the lead corrals so that they can start the race as early as possible, to give themselves the most time possible to hit the five mile mark before 9:35.

I'm sure many of them think that it's a victimless crime, and simply don't understand the effect of their actions on others.  Well, here it is.

***

The net effect of the slower runners starting in the front corrals is a traffic jam, as faster runners are forced to dodge and dart around them.  The faster runners, most of whom are targeting specific times, have their race potentially ruined, due to losing too much time in the first miles.  The dodging and darting also increases the chances that a runner will trip, twist an ankle, etc.  As someone who has a time goal and starts in the first wave, I debate each year whether to enter Army, for the simple reason that I have no assurance that I'll have the opportunity to go for my goal.

Those that jump into faster corrals also ruin the races of those in their original corrals.  If the first wave is slowed, then it doesn't clear the course fast enough.  So then the start of the second and third waves is delayed, making it harder for those runners to achieve their goal of hitting the 9:35 cut-off time, since they have less time to do it.

***

One cause is likely lack of education -- many of the runners in the later waves don't understand the reasoning behind corrals and waves, or the fact that runners are assigned to corrals by times.  On the train to Army that morning, I had a group that was complaining about being in wave 3 observe that I was very smart to have registered so early so I would be in wave 1...  Sadly, I also think there are some runners that are aware of their consequences, but don't care -- as long as they get to run their own race, no one else matters.

Another aspect of the issue is enforcement -- unlike the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler (my favorite race of the year), Army doesn't monitor the corrals at all, effectively perpetuating the issue.  Army could enforce simply by having race staff monitor the entrances to each corral to check bib color.  Or alternately, by looking at race times afterwords, and noting runners who crossed the start line before their assigned wave.  But they do neither.  I honestly can't understand why.

***

So, wave 2 and 3-ers, when I can't totally suppress my dirty look as you enter my corral, it's honestly NOT because you're not wearing a team singlet, or that you have a different body type from me, or you're wearing a fanny pack or hydration belt, or you're not wearing racing flats.  That's not how I roll.

It's because your number clearly indicates that you've hopped into a corral you don't belong in, so that you have a chance at a good race even if you ruin the races of others.

6 comments:

  1. I'm going to also add that, they become a danger to the wounded warriors that start the race first. I'm constantly concerned when running this race, if I try to dart around these groups who started in the wrong corral (because they seem to be in pairs, trios or foursomes), if I'm not going to wind up somehow inadvertantly tripping one of the wounded warriors, because these corral cheaters are so oblivious.

    I'm absolutely fine with the wounded warriors early start, they should start first. PLUS, they always stay to one side and typically have someone racing near them who "guards" them. But it still concerns me that I will become so frustrated with the corral cheaters that I will wind up accidentally getting in the wounded warriors way. I think the corral enforcement would make that less dangerous.

    I actually was thinking during this years race, that I may try to be a guard for one of them in next years race, as I think the faster runners have a difficult time finding help.

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  2. As a slower runner, I take no offense to your post at all...because I agree. Just as faster runners have to deal with slower runners getting between them and their goals, slower runners have to deal with the same from even-slower runners and walkers. I try to be ethical -- lining up in my proper starting position, communicating when I need to squeeze by someone in a tight pack, and moving off to one side when I need to slow down. But lining up in my proper starting position last always seems to mean losing a minute off my first mile because I have to keep dodging runners who were significantly slower than me, had no endurance and choked on a slight incline, or stopped to wait for a boyfriend or friend who was lagging 15-30 seconds behind (for some reason, ONLY women do this). That was just the runners. Then there were the people who made no pretense of running at all and walked three and four abreast, seemingly oblivious to being in the way of the THOUSANDS of people (and for some reason, they were always heavyset, middle-aged women). I'm in no position whatsoever to be an elitist, but nevertheless, having to deal with that is enough of a pain that I really wish races were not so "open," even if it meant I wasn't good enough to participate.

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  3. Ah Cris, I am Totally with you on this. As someone who always tries to place herself in the correct corral, I really can't stand corral cheaters.
    When I ran MCM last time, I started back with the 5 hours group becasue that's where I I belonged at the time and by the time I got to Sprout Run (which is like mile 3-4), ALL of the people who could NOT run a 3 hour marathon were now walking up that hill, and so was everyone else. Now, I know MCM doesn't really have any type of corral enforcement, but maybe they should because I know for a fact I can run up the Sprout Run hill and I hit a complete dead slow wall of people walking last time, and it really threw off my time as I couldn't even dodge people it was so full of walking folks.

    This year I'll start at a faster corral for sure because my abilities are different this time around, but I'm sure I'll still have similar problems at Sprout Run. :-/

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  4. I can't believe the people who thought corral assignment was determined by registration date. Especially for a race that reaches capacity in less tha 48 hours. I totally agree with you about the ATM being one of the worst offenders. Why go to all the effort of requiring a previous race time and color coding bibs if you atent going to enforce it!?

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  5. I ran the Army 10 Miler (ATM) for the first time this year and was in the second to last start corral. I have no issue with that at all - I'm slow, I need to be back with the slow folks. And if I seriously cannot make it to mile five in the alloted time - even starting in the last corral, I probably should not be signing up for 10 mile races. I ran the Cherry Blossom for the first time this year as well - again second to last starting corral. My observation for both races - I think a lot of people must have jumped up corrals because the start of my ATM corral group was spread out and not crowded at all. While the Cherry Blossom was super crowded, bottle-neck start and the slowest mile of my race. So, being that the ATM was at least twice the size of the Cherry Blossom, there must have been a boat-load of corral cheaters at the ATM - because they were not back with my group. I think enforcement and education could definitely help the situation. Corral cheaters suck.

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  6. Okay, now I'm a bit nervous. This year will be my first ATM. Because I had never run an ATM or sanctioned 10-miler, apparently this is the reason I was put in the LAST corral. I do my long runs every weekend and consistantly run 10 miles in just about 1 hour 30 minutes (easy conversational pace). My understanding is that if I had run in an ATM before with that time I would have been put in corral 2 or 3, but I am in 6. I will not "corral" jump as I don't want to be looked at like a race cheater, but I got to say, I wish the Army would allow for runners that are normally recreational runners to be put in corrals based on their typical pace times. I realize people could cheat only to get in the more advance corral, so I don't necessarily have a solution. I'm just wondering if I'm gonna get dogged trying to get through the slower crowd. My goal is to finish in 1:20.

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