Running on Tilt

Media Race

A different kind of pain

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I’ve been told that after a marathon a runner should decompress for a month before starting the training again in earnest. In hours that I otherwise might have been running over the past six weeks, I’ve completed one of New York City’s more tedious rituals—the apartment hunt—and I enjoyed an epic adventure with a few chums to Washington D.C. to see Randy Johnson’s bid for his 300th career victory. On that trip our Amtrak train was cancelled and the next one was delayed, but we arrived at the ballpark in time to enjoy the brunt of a four-hour rain delay before catching the midnight MegaBus back to New York after the game had officially been rained out.

An exception to the non-running rule was the Media Race on May 20th. The race was the first of five such Media races this summer. The series, which pits employees of McGraw-Hill, the New York Times, CBS, Conde Nast, News Corp, and a few other companies against one another, was launched in the early 1980s as an alternative to the overcrowded Corporate Challenge. The race covers the lower loop of Central Park twice. There is no police escort for the front runner, and volunteers do not line the course telling runners to stay to the left. It’s a free-for-all, in which the racing herds envelop whoever else happens to be running the lower loop at that time. To racers and to spectators, it’s not clear who is in the race and who isn’t.

In each Media Race, the top five men and the top three women score for their companies. Cards are distributed to finishers, the numbers are tallied, and at a post-race pizza party the results are announced, with trophies for the winners and for the masters and grandmasters winners. The powers-that-be discussed over this last off-season expanding the scoring to include five men and five women from each company, or seven men and five women. But the idea was nixed due to a fear that layoffs in the economic downturn would render most teams incomplete.

Despite whatever thinning of the ranks took place at the media companies, the race was well attended, with 122 male and 83 female finishers. Maybe the race’s high turnout was due to the sunny, 70 degree weather, or perhaps because it was free, or about $30 cheaper than the typical New York Road Runners event.

Relative to a marathon, a 3.5-mile race is less about aching and more about pain, especially when you haven’t been training much. During the race’s second loop, a knot formed in my abdomen, and a wet burp reminded me of the sliders I had eaten for lunch. With the power vested in me from all the marathon training I had done before the decompression, I was able to disregard the pain, for the most part. A runner passed me with a half mile to go, but I was able to stay within reach and to sneak by him a few meters from the finish line.

My time was 21:01, good for sixth place. Better yet, our team won. I learned after the race that the runner I had outkicked was a Frenchman who actually works for the same company I do, so he’s on the same team. I asked if he was going to the pizza party, and he said no because he and his wife were having a picnic. How winningly French. As the rest of us stuffed our faces with pizza in a grey room somewhere, he shared a bottle of wine with his wife at sunset in the park.

After the race I shared my observations on pain with teammate and fellow marathoner Gregg Lemos-Stein. He agreed that the 3.5 mile race is in some ways no less a challenge than a marathon. During the shorter race “you find yourself in a world of hurt,” he said, “and you just have to deal with the fact that that’s going to be your life for the next 15 minutes.”