November 4, 2007

I am a useless Morlock

WARNING: This post is about to contain carcinogenic levels of bitterness and self-deprecation. Do not read if you're currently happy, high, having sex, operating a moving vehicle, or pregnant. Contains high levels of "truthiness", known to the Surgeon General to be addictive.


Three weeks. *sigh* Three....weeks. That's how long it's been since I last posted and, in fact, since my last run.

Let me get the simple stuff out of the way: I took the hint from the Staten Island Half, made an appointment with my new CF doc, yadda yadda yadda...and now I'm on two oral antibiotics for my lung infection. No surprises there. I've been on them since Wednesday and already I'm feeling the effects, though there's still a long ways to go. I think I'll avoid IVs; but my training... Well, I will have to start over. Again. I am out of shape and de-trained. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which fails to perform first? The lungs or the legs? Without the breath support, I can't run continuously. Without the stress of 75% MHR, I can't train up the legs OR increase my VO2 max...

So. Running-wise, my ONLY future goal right now is to get back to being able to do three miles continuously w/ no walk breaks. I will have to learn all over again how to run through coughing fits.


Volunteerism. It's a good thing. I subscribe to the belief that everyone owes his or her community a constant debt. Some people pay 10% tithe; others, community service. I can't afford to give much to charity, but I can give of my time. It has always made sense to me to volunteer for some of the NYRR races, particularly the marathon. NYRR is always emphasizing how much volunteers are needed.

Unfortunately, events of late lead me to believe that volunteers are more of a nuisance than a help at the marathon. This one event is a horse of a different color for NYRR and they hire a LOT of temporary help - enough, I believe, to do without most of the volunteers altogether. But, as far as I know, they don't turn volunteers away, leading to a volunteer supply glut, evident at both the expo and out on Staten Island. I can't really speak to the situation in Central Park or along the route. And in a year, I hope to be writing from the perspective of someone who sees volunteers along the whole 26.2 miles.

But from what I experienced, easily half of the volunteers could stay home. As much as I believe "beggars can't be choosers," the staff in charge of volunteers could certainly BE choosier. Could also be far more intelligent in assigning appropriate jobs. ID check is not for the slow, dim-witted, or impaired, trust me. With an average of ID check rate over the whole of the expo of more than 1 person every 3 seconds, those volunteers need to be fairly efficient. Yet this was an area crippled with ID checkers who'd take a full 60 to 90 seconds per person (15 would be a better average), a blind woman, and a deaf man. I don't think the ADA applies to volunteers, but I may be wrong. Point is: NYRR needs to assess its volunteers before the expo, walk ALL of them through, desk by desk, so that everyone is on the same page, and assign volunteers according to their strengths, and not be afraid to re-assign. This first meeting could be a subtle audition: we need volunteers who are there to work and are smart enough to do so, not those who are there for the free lunch. That sounds harsh, I know.

And even among the decent volunteers, there's a certain quality I'm not interested in continuing to work with. We all want to feel important (I'm willing to settle for "useful", myself), but there are a LOT of blowhards among the volunteers. Insufferable, I think is the term. They act like martyrs for even showing up, then they take long lunches, disappear at odd times, and proudly tell anyone and everyone that they'll be doing "finish line duties," as if that makes them special. Let me tell you, handing out medals and heat blankets is powder-puff shit compared to trooping out to Staten Island at 4 a.m., enduring five hours of cold, and all for a few wan smiles of gratitude for giving out cold bagels and lukewarm coffee. I tell you, if I had the money, I would sponsor solely the starting area of the race and really bring some food, beverage, warmth, and weather protection to the starting area. I would make the NY Marathon a race people sign up for because we have the most impressive start area around. And Houston has set a VERY high benchmark in that regard!

As for Staten Island -- I truly believe that between the main "full-time" volunteers (those who volunteer for all NYRR events), the hired Staten Island staff, and the various and sundry security agencies wandering around, the number of low-level volunteers like myself that are actually needed is about 50: just enough to man the donuts and coffee. What I saw instead were three times that, with food and drink stations manned three layers deep and a whole crew wandering around for the entire morning doing little of consequence.

And, yes, that last crew included me. For the record, I could NOT do food and drink service again. It would have boring, for one thing, but at least I would have met and talked with runners....more important, I do have a lung infection and feel food service would be ill-advised. For the sake of the runners. Instead, I was on a "jump team" that got called hither and yon to do various jobs...none of which actually needed doing. I literally didn't do a goddamn one useful thing the entire morning other than advise a few green start runners as they came up to their starting line, "keep that shirt/jacket/trash bag for now, the bridge will be cold!"

In fact - and it grieves me to have to note this - due to the fact that the Staten Island organization and labor is mostly outsourced (and is patently NOT the province of NYRR-directed labor), I saw some disturbing events. Incidents involving runners and staff that I will be writing to Mary Wittenburg about and sending via registered letter (Restricted Delivery and Signature Confirmation in today's USPS). Yes, it was that bad. No, I didn't make a big deal of it at the time, preferring to keep things running smoothly. No, I didn't think to fucking document what I was witnessing or get the names of other witnesses, though I can recognize any of the participants and my fellow volunteers by face. No, I don't trust that a mere report through the "proper" channels will actually reach the people who need to know what went on. Yes, there was at least one, if not two, arrestable offenses. At the very least, I hope that particular crew is banned from future NYRR events, as employees, volunteers, or even runners. No, I can't go into more detail at this time.

Weather: perfect. I am jealous of the runners for having had the most perfect running weather I've ever experienced. Danny Farkas (Training For My Next Marathon) ran an absolutely amazing 3:44 today and I'm so thrilled for him, you'd think he was my only son. I am proud to know such a capable man.

Staten Island layout: same as always. Not as cold as last year, so everyone was more comfortable. I couldn't fucking find any coffee stations - probably hidden behind crowds. I answered a lot of questions - the same questions I'd been answering for three days previously, except with "Do you know where the ING tent is?" added in. Same confusing map as last year. Same confusing layout, same confusing start.

Actually, the start is multi-tiered, with handicapped and pro women going off before the pro men and the rest of the crowd. Pretty good idea and it works. This year's green start was looking at narrowed lanes on the Verazzano bridge, so they tried a staggered start - a "wave" start. This, IMO, was unsuccessful, even though it was "run" by "experts." It was almost a complete disaster, with staff members losing their cool, runners being uninformed, and everyone asking "where's the start line?" because, get this, they hung the fucking start banner BACKWARDS where the runners couldn't see it. The green start was, in fact, physically smaller than many of the half-marathon starting areas I've been in here in New York. Instead of trying for an ill-conceived, badly-managed, last-minute wave start, they should have gone with the simpler solution: use the barriers and buses available to create a physical bottleneck - this would result in runners crossing the start line at a restricted rate and keeping congestion on the lower level of the bridge to a minimum, as desired. But such a simple solution never occurs to the powers that be. Instead, they tried this fancy-schmancy solution that has never worked before when they tried it and expected to implement it correctly in a week and have it work flawlessly. What a joke. Another simple method: they could have simply routed every third green corral to the blue or orange starts. Again, problem solved. The upshot of this whole clusterfuck was that the very last runner to cross the start line - last of the entire race, since orange and blue starts were empty 20 minutes before green - finally crossed the start line 45 MINUTES after the start of the race. He made light of it though, stopping to pose for cameras, got the photographer's name and email, and made sure his crossing the start line was a Kodak moment. After a tense and unhappy morning, I appreciated his good humor.


I could go on for another 8,000 words or so, but I won't. I think you get the idea. I'm deeply unhappy with the management of this marathon. It's no longer for New Yorkers or about New Yorkers. It's run with imported runners and imported staff. If the executive board of NYRR thinks that those are the hallmarks of a world-class marathon (and we ARE in the Marathon Majors), they should reconsider their position. Because this marathon is losing its soul - and without the soul, the body cannot live.


runliarun said...

This is by far not your most bitter, rambunctious, venomous, or self-deprecating post ever. But I'll be patient.

Danny said...

maybe i don't express it in the same way, but i share a lot of your concerns about the race. i think overall it's well run, but there are a few issues that could be better.

and thanks for the pride! i appreciate it. ;-)

Rae! said...

Hi I'm Rae and I saw you over at another blog and I thought to hop over and say hi and feel better.
I just did my first 13k at Disney,it could have been at bit better organized.

Lora said...

Just for the record....I think you're Important AND Useful!!! :)