Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, December 8, 2013
Copyright, Madeline Bost, 2013
A RACE EVERYONE AND NO ONE WILL MISS
What race is no one going to run next Sunday? Trick question. Did I get you?
It’s the USATF New Jersey ten mile championship that in recent history was held in Mercer County Park in, well, Mercer County. That race was a lot of fun. Remember?
One year the course was flooded in sections and then frozen over. That year a new uncertified course was quickly redrawn to avoid the ice. A couple of years the ice might have been welcomed instead of what was presented instead – a steady cold icy rain.
Further back the race was run on top of South Mountain – three sort-of loops on the park roads up there. No shelter and only portable toilets. Hmmm. Wasn’t that fun?
Oh, further back, if you were running a dozen and more years ago you’ll remember that the race was held at Picatinny Arsenal. The first was in 1994. Much like the subsequent sites, the Picatinny course was an out and back and back out again with some zigzags thrown in. One of those races was run in temperatures so cold that the water cups froze between filling and using. At least at Picatinny there were indoor toilets and even showers at the golf club house. My, those were the days. Or is your sense of nostalgia not extending to those nasty races the second Sunday in December?
So why were they held and why do we no longer have the pleasure of running them?
Waaay back in the 90's the team grand prix was sponsored by the Liberty Waterfront Half Marathon. With that sponsorship the race was given 800 point status in the (individual) New Balance Grand Prix.
The problem was that now that was the one and only chance for runners to be in an 800 point race. If they had to miss the half marathon their chances in the grand prix were nil.
The solution? Create a second, last chance race. A Category Three that would have the 800 point value. Better yet, make it a wild card race; choose 800 points, 700 points or 500 points. Now the runners could fill in what they had missed during the season. Despite some really ugly weather it worked pretty well. When the half marathon stopped sponsoring the team grand prix, the 800 point option was also dropped. But it was still a handy wild card race where runners could choose 700 or 500 points.
Enter the USATF national club championship cross country competition, also on the second Sunday (or Saturday) in December. Beginning in 2009 the national cross country committee offered a $500.00 travel stipend to the teams, male and female, that had won the association 8km cross country championship. Talk about a conflict! The best team in an association is sent off to compete nationally while back home an important championship is being run without them.
It wasn’t just the open teams that were affected. The Raritan Valley Road Runners, the Shore Athletic Club and the Clifton Road Runners had teams that were competing nationally. Other New Jersey runners also wanted to run at the national race. They faced the same conflict. Reviewing the reason for the ten mile championship it now made little sense to offer the last chance race. More long races have come into the schedule so the need for a last chance 500 point race has lessened.
Having a championship so late in the season affected the USATF New Jersey staff as the grand prix was not over until the ten miler had been run. The New Balance Grand Prix winners and the winning teams weren’t known until almost the middle of the month of December. That gave the staff scant time to prepare for the awards banquet that takes place in January. All places have to be confirmed and then letters of congratulations along with invitations to the banquet have to be sent.
In addition the staff and many of the Long Distance Running committee members were attending the national convention the week prior to the race. That put a lot of pressure on those people to come home and immediately work on it.
All things considered it was clear that the time was right to stop hosting the ten mile championship and end the grand prix series the first weekend in December. Now the teams can go to the national club cross country race and know their places are secure within the team grand prix.
A calendar of USATF sanctioned events can be found at www.usatfnj.org or at www.raceforum.com for running and tri and biathlon events.
Contact Madeline Bost at firstname.lastname@example.org.