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Run, don’t walk

Race officials with the 2009 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon have officially uninvited walkers from participating next year.

For years, they have more or less looked the other way when hundreds of walkers — most of them registered participants — showed up as early as 5 a.m. to get under way before the official 7 a.m. start so they could finish the event before the course closed six hours later.

No more.

“The marathon is going in a new direction to formally ask that walkers who cannot complete our race in the stated time limits — or cannot start at 7 a.m. — seek a race with more lenient time standards,” managing director Steven Karpas said.

Karpas said safety was the primary reason the marathon decided to “step up its management” of the situation.

“We have become increasingly concerned at the hundreds of walkers who choose to risk their lives and the lives of others by crossing the viaduct at 5 a.m., unchaperoned, with no security.”

“Our leaders have had to dodge packs of walkers who do not stay to the side of the road,” he said. “That’s embarrassing. With our growth (18,000 participants) we simply cannot allow for packs of walkers to impede the flow of thousands of runners.

“Ultimately, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

[…]

The event had a five-hour cutoff from its first year in 1972 through 1996. In 1997, it increased to 5½ hours, then became six hours in 2003.

But even with a six-hour limit, many of USA Fit’s 600 walkers in the area would be unable to finish the events in the specified times — which require a pace of 13:45 minutes per mile — said Houston Fit organizer Patty Chesnick.

“Since our inception 19 years ago, USA FIT/Houston Fit has consistently pushed for longer official finish times and is willing to work with any race organizers to accomplish this objective,” she said

“While this presents challenges, not the least of which is safety and additional expense, we feel that it is important to work together to overcome these challenges in order to allow participation by as many athletes as possible.”

Said Karpas: “It’s a bigger picture than just extending the time limit. The bigger picture is Metro’s light rail being closed, homeowners enduring the inconvenience, as well as church groups and businesses. It’s emergency groups and city services that are being impacted.

“We are unable to compromise. Everything is designed to accommodate the runners.”

I sympathize with the Marathon here. Their audience is the runners, and they have to do this race without causing too much disruption in the city. The walkers do have other options. Maybe going forward, for future races, one of those options can be for them to pay extra fees to help cover the cost of street closures and race security for two more hours. Doing so up front would still be preferable, as it would minimize the outages for the general population. Finding people willing to be there for a 5 AM start, that’s their problem.

(You could turn this into a nice little math problem, too. “John starts the marathon at 5 AM, walking at a speed of 3.5 MPH. Dave starts the marathon at 7 AM, running at a speed of 12 MPH. At what point in the race will Dave pass John? You must show all work to receive full marks. Partial credit will be awarded as deemed appropriate.”)

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