By Jesse Squire
May 9, 2018
Spring means that golf leagues have begun all over the United States and Canada and much of the rest of the world. Bowling leagues are not dependent on weather and they have already been going. I live in such an old-school blue-collar city that we still have pool halls and they run leagues. If you can find an individual sport in this country with wide adult participation, you can find team-based leagues for it.
Except one. I have never heard of a road racing league.
THE TIME HAS COME
Many CITIUS readers ran on a high school track and/or cross country team. If you’re like me, the thing you miss the most about that experience is being part of a team, running with a purpose above and beyond just yourself.
If you run, you probably already do road races with friends or coworkers or training partners. But imagine your group racing against other groups in your area, with team scores generated at the end of each race and season-long standings kept. If you can already feel yourself getting a little nervous and excited (or maybe a lot of either or both), then you can see what I’m getting at. All these other sports organize into leagues for social interaction and a competitive outlet, and road racing can and should look for the same.
HOW WOULD IT WORK?
How would you organize a road racing league? I think it’s only limited by your imagination. But we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can look at existing sports and see how they organize themselves.
Golf and bowling leagues are generally weekly events and teams can be of any size but teams of two or four are the most common arrangement. Scores are aggregated from team members in any of a variety of ways. Handicaps are used to even out abilities among competitors and “scratch” leagues are generally only for the elite amateurs. The courses or alleys that host leagues usually lower fees for league competitors in exchange for the guaranteed business.
Running already has ways of aggregating team scores and the cross country format is by far the simplest. The U.S. system of scoring the best five out of a team of seven is not the only way to do it; you could do best four on a team of six (as at the World Championships) or best three of five (as at the European Championships) or any of a myriad of other ways.
Weekly competition would probably be a bit too much for road racing. Bi-weekly or so is the best option, possibly working around major local events. That would give a summer racing season of somewhere between five and ten races, starting after spring marathon/half marathon season and wrapping up before the same in the fall.
Getting an entire series of races to work together for league racing is easier than it used to be. The rise of professional race organizers means you probably can find five to ten races all put on by the same company. Such organizers probably don’t need to cut entry fees to guarantee participation, but they probably could be convinced to do so if teams paid up front for their entire season.
I think running with a handicap would be great fun. One thing is that it would give you an objective measure of progress. It’s a good race if you lower your handicap, a bad race if you raise it. It also means that you wouldn’t have to go find some speedy young guy if you want your team to be competitive, you would just need athletes who were consistent and improving and avoiding injury—the very same goals that virtually all road racers have. One other benefit is that there would be no need for separate men’s and women’s leagues since a handicap would even out the differences.
But exactly how would a handicap be calculated? That’s the tough part. It’s not enough to just figure out what your “average” 5K time is. We all know that the same effort over the same distance can give vastly different times given the course and conditions—one need look no further than the Boston Marathon to see how some courses are harder than others, and results the same course are highly dependent on weather. Furthermore, most of us enjoy racing a variety of distances. Suffice to say someone with significant statistical skills would need to analyze race results from a large number of participants across many races to assign and update handicaps. Finding someone to do that in each league could be hard. USATF has long wondered how to get the road racing masses to join its organization. If road racing leagues became widespread, joining USATF could be a requirement so that maintaining handicaps could become a full-time job at USATF’s national office.
The time has come for road racing leagues. Get some buddies together and make it happen!
If you’re a member of the CITIUS MAG Track Club or are based in New York City, stay tuned for some low key races that we may be putting together this summer. If you’re interested in joining the CITIUS MAG Track Club, shoot us an email at email@example.com and we’ll pass along details on how to do so. Support the site. Join the club. Brick by brick.
I was second in the 1980 Olympic* long jump. (*Cub Scout Olympics, Pack 99, 9-10 age group.)