Our senior consultant Andrew Weltch looks at the success of New York Road Runners in getting people of all ages and abilities running the sidewalks, streets and parks of the five boroughs.
Running (or, more accurately for many of us, jogging) is perhaps the simplest form of exercise, and this blog has celebrated in a previous post the phenomenal success of parkrun in getting many thousands of people completing a 5k run every Saturday morning.
Parkrun’s rapid growth in recent years has seen it spread well beyond its UK home. At the time of writing [March 2019], it claims 3.6 million runners at 1,700 weekly events in 21 countries across five continents. But this isn’t the only organisation succeeding in getting people on their feet in a big way.
In New York City, there’s another body, which aims to inspire people through running. The New York Road Runners serves nearly 600,000 runners of all ages and abilities annually through hundreds of races, community runs, walks, training sessions, and other events – a programme which includes the biggest road race in the world, the TCS NYC Marathon.
I was lucky enough to get a place on one of its sell-out events last month [February 2019], the Al Gordon Memorial 4-Mile in Brooklyn.
My son, Rich, and I joined a field of over 5,000 in Prospect Park to commemorate Al Gordon – a man who started running marathons in his 80s and lived to be over 100. So it was a fitting event for someone of my ‘mature’ age who hadn’t run at all until his 50s.
This was my first overseas run, and it was a fairly familiar experience, very similar to races I’ve run in the UK – well organised and marshalled, with a friendly atmosphere.
The notable differences were the rather early start of 8am; a requirement for belongings to be left in a clear plastic bag at the bag-drop (perhaps such security measures are also found at London events?); the pre-race national anthem (I’ve never known that, even at big events in the UK); water stations at every mile (you normally expect them at every three miles here); and (a very New York touch!) free bagels as well as (big?) apples at the finish (in the UK, you might expect a banana and a cereal bar).
There were no medals or T-shirts for finishers (I think these are reserved for the many bigger NYRR races, and for winners here – who also got cash prizes), but a very nice branded waist pack was a welcome and practical alternative. In fact, here’s a post by Ted Doyle about just how practical it is.
There are many things that make NYRR so special. For one thing, unlike parkrun, which focuses on its free weekly 5ks, this organisation runs events of all kinds, including the world’s biggest, the TCS NYC Marathon, and the United Airlines NYC Half, and Popular Brooklyn Half.
To encourge participation in a range of events, you can gain points towards entry in the big races by running or volunteering throughout the year – a great idea which rewards a runner’s commitment and helps ensure support for NYRR’s whole programme.
Then there are the numbers:
- Nearly 600,000 runners annually
- 250,000 young people in free fitness programmes across the USA
- $35.5m raised for charity in 2018
And then there’s the NYRR RunCenter – a very impressive presence on West 57th Street in Manhattan. This is where you go to pick up your race bib, but it also has displays of New York’s running history, a lecture space for talks, fitness classes, and the New Balance Run Hub – an in-house store for running kit.
Taking part in a NYRR event was a very memorable experience for me, and an eye-opener into a remarkable organisation, whch is getting huge numbers of New Yorkers into running, and making a real impact throughout the five boroughs and beyond – on communities, on young people, charities, and every individual runner.
You can find out more about New York Road Runners here.
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