Today I picked up my race packet for tomorrow’s More Magazine Women’s Half Marathon in Central Park. This will be half marathon #8 for me and my 3rd time running this particular Half Marathon. This run is organized by New York Road Runners (NYRR) and like all other NYRR races that I’ve done, a corral system is used. NYRR divides corrals by color with Blue bibs starting first followed by red, yellow, green, orange, aqua, pink, purple, grey and then brown. Once again, I will be starting WAY in the back with the rest of the Brown Corral. I have never started a NYRR race in anything but the last corral.
runDisney also uses a corral system. Instead of color-coding the corrals runDisney uses a letter system. Corral A is for the fastest runners with progressively slower runners to follow. As with NYRR the number of corrals depends on the size of the race. Unlike NYRR, however, I have never started in the back corral for a runDisney event. In fact for two of my runDisney races I started in Corral B (and based on their anticipated finish time guidelines, that is where I actually belonged).
The reason for such a huge discrepancy between NYRR and runDisney is pretty obvious. runDisney appeals to new runners. Many people – including me – have gotten themselves off the proverbial couch because of the running events that Disney offers. At a runDisney event I tend to finish mid-pack (at least) whereas I’m usually much further back at NYRR. Also NYRR seems to cater a bit to the faster runners. I’m anticipating a 2:30 half marathon tomorrow. I’m grouped in a corral with people anticipating a 4 hour half marathon (which is the time limit). In a runDisney event the widest range of finish times is actually in Corral A where you can get anyone from a 1:30 half marathon to a 2 or even 2:15 half marathon. Complaints about course crowding at runDisney events has led to some anticipated changes in the corral system in upcoming races but that will likely still mostly spread out the back of the pack and not the front.
The bigger question is this, “Should I care that I’m starting at the back of the race?” “Does your corral placement really matter?” This is much discussed amongst runDisney participants. Since many new runners are worried about Disney’s 3:30 half marathon time limit, and runDisney staggers the corral starts by at least 5 minutes, there is a benefit to starting further forward if you think you might not maintain the pace. More experienced runners will tell you that starting too far forward is dangerous because it disrupts the flow of the race (faster runners can knock you over as the try to pass you on a narrow course). The new corral system may prevent this type of corral hopping. I am fortunate in that I have never really worried about the time limit. Even my slowest half marathon (the first day of the Goofy) was nearly 30 minutes faster than the limit and I walked most of the race. My issue is being placed correctly so that I don’t have to pass people.
The bigger issues is one of ego. It definitely hurts my pride that I am starting in the back of the pack. With NYRR they take your fastest pace per mile in any race over 3 miles. My shortest NYRR race was a 10k on a hot and humid day with an 11:40 min/mile pace. My fastest pace ever is an 11:25 min/mile half marathon (not through NYRR). I haven’t ever run a timed 5k to get a faster pace. I try to limit my NYRR races because it puts a burden on my family for me to disappear all morning on a weekend day where there are lots of activities. I guess because this is my 4th NYRR race starting in the back, I’ve gotten so used to being in the last corral that I don’t mind anymore. Or I’ve learned to expect to be in the back.
Ultimately my goal is to get fast enough that I am moved further forward. Let’s see if I can start by running a good race tomorrow!!!