With runners ranging in age from14 to 85, the NYRR Team Championships are proof that, young or old, fast or not so fast, everyone counts when it comes to winning.
“The placement and time of the 10th man or woman on a team is often more important than that of the first runner,” said Bill Staab, president of West Side Runners, which will field the top-seeded men’s team in the race on August 4 in Central Park. Depth, he explained, is what spells the difference between victory and defeat.
This will be the 30th year for the NYRR Team Championships, which began in 1983 with an entry fee of $1. To participate, teams must be established, not formed ad hoc, and meet qualification standards set out by NYRR; for instance, each runner must have competed for the team in at least one previous NYRR-scored event during the year. The Men’s Team Championships race begins at 8:00 a.m., and the Women’s Team Championships follows at 9:00 a.m.
Last year, 871 men and 608 women participated, with more than 80 teams in the men’s race alone. The New York Athletic Club won both the men’s and women’s open divisions. On the men’s side, the West Side Runners were a close second, and the women of Central Park Track Club New Balance missed first place by only 20 seconds. Top teams over the years have also included the Warren Street Social & Athletic Club, the Greater New York Racing Team, Athena New York, and the Westchester Track Club.
This year, West Side Runners is favored for the men, with NYAC favored to repeat for the women.
The team-centered approach is reflected in the finish location of the race at 97th Street, where there’s plenty of room for picnics and other gatherings, some of them almost as strenuous as the race itself. Phillip Falk, a member of CPTC and a frequent top finisher, said that one of the things he looks forward to is his team’s post-race softball game.
Cate Robbie, an NYAC member and a four-time Team Championships participant, said that she uses the team mentality to motivate herself. “Running a race as a team gives the race so much more meaning and purpose….when I’m running for myself, it’s easier to give up when my legs are tired, but when I know that my team is counting on me, it’s easier to push through the threshold of exhaustion, get a second wind, and continue to pick people off.”
Robbie was formerly known as Cate Guiney, a New Jersey high school state record-holder who was an NCAA All-American at Boston College.
Lesley Higgins, the unofficial NYAC captain, recalled how the 2009 Team Championships race made her realize how much her teammates mean to her. She was just coming back from a stress fracture and was running in last place for her team. Instead of lamenting that she wasn’t in her normal position at the front of the pack, she remembers being delighted that her teammates were having spectacular races.
Fiona Bayly, a member of the Urban Athletics team for 17 years and a five-time participant in the race, said, “I love running’s potential: [the] potential for challenges, for relaxation, for friendship, how to endure pain, appreciate success, and accept failure.”
But the team aspect adds an important layer. “If one has a team,” Bayly said, “there are automatically many more reasons to keep those feet moving.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg