Runners Unite to Reclaim Bag-Rights

Marathon organizers struggle to find compromise in a logistical nightmare

The New York City Marathon is the largest marathon in the world, attracting more than 45,000 participants from around the world including some of the most talented athletes in the sport. Cool, right?

Sure, but not if you’re the one planning it.

Logistically speaking, the New York City Marathon is a nightmare from start to finish. The New York Road Runners, the organization responsible for the event, must use a lottery system to sort through more than 140,000 applications for a spot at the starting line; ferry and bus schedules are put on overdrive to accommodate crowds; and roads across all five of New York City’s boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) are shut down.

But it’s once the hordes of runners arrive at the starting line that things really get complicated.

As you can imagine, people bring a lot of stuff – cell phones, keys, jackets to fend off the November chill, and extra shoes for after the race. In past years, the NYRR ferried bags to the finish line, where cold and exhausted runners waited in massive lines to pick up their belongings. Not only did this part of the event receive the most complaints from marathon participants, it also upset residents along Central Park West and nearby areas who were sick of the crowds on and before race day.

It’s been a longstanding issue for the NYRR, but this year the organization had a plan. On Aug. 23, race officials told runners that no bags would be allowed at the starting line. Anything left behind would be collected and given to charity. Problem solved!

As it turned out, however, the runners were not so happy. A barrage of angry messages hit the NYRR’s Facebook Page and more than 1,500 people signed a petition urging the organization to reconsider its new policy.

The runners' efforts worked, and the NYRR came up with a new plan. Marathon participants can now either check an official UPS bag issued to them at the event or choose an “early exit” option from the park after the race. The official bags will be large enough to hold shoes, warm clothing and a few personal items, and UPS will haul them to the finish line, where competitors will pick them up. If runners choose the early exit option, they will receive a poncho and a long-sleeved t-shirt at the end of the race, as well as fastest access to the Family Reunion area, "Call Home" stations, and public transportation.

Whether this solution will remedy the complaints and help with logistics will be determined on race day, November 4.