15000 through Times Square

The NYC Half marathon race took place on Sunday; a race that I unfortunately didn’t enter because of my bad luck with lotteries. However, if you volunteer in the race, you get a guaranteed entry to the following year’s race, and that’s what I did.


The race consists of a Central Park loop, exit on 7th avenue, through Times Square, west bound to the West Side Highway then head down to Battery Park. My post was mile 5; Central Park. The mile 5 course Marshall volunteers had to be in Central Park at 5:45AM to begin setting up for this 15,000 runner race. My job: to make sure the course was clear, be on stand-by for anything abnormal, and to stay warm. There I was at 7AM just standing at the mile 5 marker waiting for the mob. This is the first time I actually had the opportunity to see 15,000 people run toward me. This is the quiet before the storm.



It took an hour and a half for everyone to pass mile 5. After this experience, I was able to draw some conclusions. The pace distribution is displayed below:


A slightly skewed normal distribution, with an average finish time of 123 minutes and standard deviation of 22 minutes. Assuming normality, approximately 2/3 of the population finished within one standard deviation of the mean; between 100 and 145 minutes. Due to the skew, the top 10% finish faster than 100 minutes and the last 20% take more than 145 minutes. I made up my own classification system.

Elite men (Top 0.1%): These guys are super-human. The best of the best. They run at a pace for an hour which is faster than people can run for their lives for a few minutes, its true. 25 minutes after the race started, the elites made the journey to mile 5. The van headed down the hill while filming the elites. Even up close, these guys make it look easy. I know they’re running for that juicy money prize and for the glory. And zoom, they were gone. Then there was silence for a few minutes.

Elite women and almost elite men (0.1-1%): The 6:00 pacers; a pace that I can maintain for a minute or 2. You can just feel the speed. The sound of the feet pounding the earth, the serious/angry-looking faces, no conversations between anyone. I noticed that they lift their legs and feet higher than the average runner. There is a split second when neither foot touches the ground. They land on the front of their feet instead of their heels as if there is no time for the heels to contact the ground. Are these the secrets to awesomeness or have optimal genes?

Insane fast runners (1%-5%): The 6:00-7:00 pacers; faster than my 5K pace. The road started to become lively with runners now. The running style and face expressions are quite similar to the previous group, except that there is harder breathing and spitting. Maybe one or two St. Patrick’s day costumes and a crazy shirtless guy. This is the crowd that finishes the race in 90 minutes or less; the Boston Marathon qualifiers (men). Could I ever reach this level?

Really fast runners (5%-10%): The 7:00-7:30 pacers. This is what I call my huff-n-puff pace. I saw James (fellow wolf-pack runner) in this crowd. Running in place seemed like a good idea for warming up, and so I did for a whole hour. I recall a runner inviting me to run with him, lol. One guy looked at the clock by the mile 5 marker and shouted “we’re right on target, let’s keep it up”. Finally, they are running slow enough to say something to each other. I still can’t believe runners are wearing shorts and tank tops. Maybe the faster you run, the warmer you feel?

Fast runners (10%-20%): The 7:30-8:00 pacers. This is my goal pace for a race like this. Everyone is looking strong after 30 minutes of running and looking forward to getting out of Central Park in into the streets of Times Square. Much more green costumes now with shamrocks everywhere. The faces started to look neutral and less stressed. I was starting to feel jealous by now. Like a kid looking out his window watching the other kids play at the park, 😦

Intermediate runners (20%-30%): The 8:00-8:30 pacers. That’s me! I suppose this makes me a runner according to my made up classification system. The crowds are filling up the road; one guy almost ran right into me. I understand the need to go around the cones to pass the slower runners, but at mile 5, cmon. Runners started throwing random clothing on the ground. Guess who has to pick it up. The crazy costumes start appearing by now, the conversations become more frequent, and I see quite a few smiles. Some more high fives for me. This group will finish between 1:45-1:51.

Novice runners (30%-50%): The 8:30-9:15 pacers. This was me last year and occasionally me still. Now here is a lively and happy group; also the most dense mob of runners, around 4,000 people. I remember how it felt to enjoy a run session without worrying about my pace. When it was all about running the distance. When you can have a conversation with someone during the entire journey. This crowd will finish this race in 2 hours or less.

Fast joggers (50%-70%): The 9:15-10:00 pacers. I’ll draw the line of runner/jogger at the average of the distribution. Everyone looks great. This is a good comfortable pace to run with friends. That is what I saw. Groups of people within the crowd enjoying their 13.1 mile journey. A few more high fives for me, but all I wanted was to run with them.

Intermediate joggers (70%-80%): The 10:00-10:45 pacers. 10,000 people have already passed the mile 5 marker. The crowds are becoming less dense. This group will be running for more than 2 hours and 10 minutes, but at least they are enjoying the journey unlike the insane/really fast runner groups who look they were suffering. I thought it would be a good time to cheer people on. I shouted “Mile 5, Mile 5, you’re gonna leave Central Park now, Yeaaaa”!

Novice joggers (80%-90%): The 10:45-11:45 pacers. Perhaps about 2,000 in this crowd. I know this pace very well, this was me in Central Park in November at mile 25 – oh the pain, but I love the pain. I realize that most of the runners have passed mile 5 by now. Our volunteer team had to just pick up the remaining clothes and dump them in the charity bin. The remaining joggers were the walk-joggers. It might take them 3 hours to complete the journey, but they’re still awesome for not giving up. A half marathon is tough whether you do it in an hour or 3. Speaking of an hour, Wilson Kipsang won first place, one hour and 1 minute, whoa.

Training Report:

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
Mar 5 Tuesday 6.01 8:12 I went out for an easy run and ended up running hard.
Mar 10 Sunday 12.89 8:14 Did I just PR on an almost 13.1 run session?! I think so. Victory!
Mar 14 Thursday 6.21 8:37 I ran the Forest Park route. I need to practice hills again, ugh.
Mar 18 Monday 12.75 8:40 I didn’t care if it was a snow storm, I had to run after watching
15,000 people run without me. Not my best performance but decent
considering the conditions outside. Photo finish below:


Random Thoughts
Where is spring?

2 thoughts on “15000 through Times Square

  1. PDX Running Chick March 19, 2013 / 5:46 pm

    I love your analysis of all the different groups of runners. I have never volunteered at such a big race to see all of that BUT I have to say that when I ran that 30k the crazy fast runners in the front of the pack always looked like they were in pain and not having a good time and there was absolutely NO conversation and no smiles — I do not strive for that. Ever. From your graphing I am officially a “fast jogger” and I’m okay with that! 🙂 Nice post Jon!

    • sephiroth796 March 19, 2013 / 8:22 pm

      A fast jogger sounds way better than a novice runner, :). To run or to jog, that is the question. Depends on the mood I guess.

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