If you gave something away for free, you'd think that it would be hard for people to complain. You'd think wrong.
Look no further than the recent Christmas Marathon held Van Cortlandt Park. One blogger voiced objections to some aspects of the free event. Having just run in their snowy, and very fun New Year's Day race, I feel compelled to defend the organizers of the Holiday Marathons. In fairness, the blogger does say some very complimentary things about the race, and seems to have his heart in the right place, so I'm not trying to slam him or start a flame war. But I do feel that a few things need to be explained.
Among the complaints were the lack of Gatorade and water stations anywhere but at the start/finish of the 6.55 mile loop and the lack of volunteers equipped with mobile phones at every mile, as well as their lack of insurance (which they make abundantly clear at their website). In fairness, he does suggest instituting a fee for the race, but I'm content to let the organizers do what they want, rather than tell them how to run their race. (And I'm happy to throw a few bucks in the kitty afterward because I appreciate their work, but I can't imagine that they're not losing money at present.)
My best guess is that the blogger is primarily familiar with road races, and probably those held by NYRR. More to the point, he probably hasn't done many trail races, or he'd know that mile markers and multiple water stops are not amenities that you see at such events, whether you pay an entry fee or not. As for the lack of insurance, I look at these races as roughly akin to inviting a few friends that you're going for a run, and inviting them to join you. There's no promise or pretense of insurance, or of anything else that they're not offering. Runners should expect to be self-sufficient, and not expect to sue anyone if they get injured.
The organizers of the Holiday Marathons are putting on a series of fun, quirky, free events in which the spend hours marking the course and compiling the results. They give out free fruit, water, and unique prizes. People post professional-quality photos for free download. And the assembled crowd has a great time.
The way I see it complaining about the lack of amenities at a quirky, free, grassroots event is like writing a review of a small, family-owned, macrobiotic restaurant and suggesting that they'd be much better if they'd just serve beef. If you want to eat beef, you have a multitude of options. If you want McDonald's for generic burgers you can stop in any time. If you want fillet mignon and are willing to fork over a hefty sum, and maybe wait for a table, you can go to Peter Lugar. Similarly, if you want to run generic races with water every mile and chip timing, while wearing your ipod on the same loop that you raced last week, NYRR has plenty of races for you. And if you want a top quality events and you're willing to pay top dollar for them and risk not getting in, they offer those as well.
Interestingly, in the blogger's next post, he has nothing but praise for Harry's Handicap race on 1/1. For the record, Harry's Handicap is a fun, low-key event held by the good people at the Prospect Park Track Club. They have no mile markers, no water on the course, maybe no insurance, few (if any) volunteers on the course, and they charge a nominal fee. So why the double-standard?
The Holiday Marathon organizers don't need a list of solutions to problems that they don't have. There are lots of runners in NYC, with lots of different preferences. NYRR and other larger management companies should continue to do what they do best, and the Holiday Marathoners should keep their small but loyal group of fans happy and continue to let their freak flag fly.