UPDATE 7 September: Organisers of the New York Marathon have backed down and will now provide a baggage area for runners in this year’s race. Read the New York Times report.
The organisers of the New York Marathon have just announced that this year there will not be an area for runners to leave a bag for collection after the race. It has proved to be a controversial decision.
The race organisers cite post-race congestion at the finishing area as the main reason for discontinuing the service, which is a standard feature of most city marathons. To head off fears that finishers will suffer hypothermia if they do not have a set of clothes to put on, organisers have vowed to give all runners a “Marathon Finish Line Poncho, a water-repellent, hooded, and fleece-lined garment” when they cross the line.
If you’re trying to see a connection between baggage and crowded finish areas, perhaps the organisers are thinking thus: as well as saving several square metres otherwise occupied by bag tents, a finisher may be more likely to move off quickly if they have to go home (or to the hotel) to get dressed.
That said, the decision is ill-conceived and an own-goal for the organisers. In my experience of three Paris Marathons with 35,000 runners, bag collection has never caused congestion at the finish. The bottlenecks always occur at the exit of the finish area, where family and friends crowd around to meet their runner post-race. In fact, in this year’s Paris race the public were quite free to walk in to the post-race area. There will always be hordes of wellwishers after a marathon, so it would be more useful to focus on finding crowd-control solutions for the finish area exit.
Furthermore, there are other practical issues that the baggage ban has failed to see. What will runners do with their keys, transport fare, small cash and other essentials? Not all runners will have someone waiting for them at the finish – consider a group of people travelling to New York, all running in the race. Now they must change their routine and start wearing a belt or pouch to carry those small but vital items. Either that, or from now on all groups of runners will have to be like at the youth disco and have a friend sitting out the action to mind the jackets. If the New York organisers’ decision was inevitable, surely they could have announced it for next year’s race, thus allowing paying punters the choice to enter with full knowledge of the arrangements.
Online, many marathon runners are going mad, if comments at this Runners World article are a fair indication. Among the concerns is the fear that abolishing the baggage area is the thin end of the wedge; will future marathons provide these services only if you pay for them? Race costs are increasing, due to matters like insurance and security but also to runners’ increased expectations of things like chip timing, free T-shirts and lavish refreshment at even the smallest marathon. High-profile races like New York can attract sponsors, but this year’s Dublin Marathon doesn’t have a title sponsor; will races charge for heretofore free services to make up for any funding shortfall? In this scenario, marathon and triathlon events could resemble low-cost airlines, charging for baggage and more besides on top of your basic entry fee.
The 2012 New York Marathon takes place on 4 November. This year, event organisers around the world will pay less attention to the race itself and more to what happens afterwards.