Claustrophobic runners have never liked the starting situation in Woods Hole for the Falmouth Road Race. Honestly, runners who don’t have a fear of confined spaces haven’t exactly loved it either.
In years past, runners were seeded based on submitted times that they’d run in the past and ushered into corrals before the start of each race. The athletes were instructed to remain in their designated areas until their predetermined start times came up. Then they would cross the start and begin their seven-mile jaunts from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights.
There were other complaints about the start of the race as well. Friends and family members were unable to begin the race together because they were put in separate corrals. Other runners believed that they should have been seeded higher, and did not like where they’d been put. Falmouth Road Race co-director Matt Auger agrees that the system was flawed.
Auger and the Road Race have also come up with a fix, one that very well could be appreciated greatly by runners.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in road racing technology was the introduction of the timing chips that each runner wears during a race. It greatly improved the way that runners receive their times, allowing for far more accurate results. It also nearly nullified cheating, as each runner must cross several checkpoints, with their chips, during the race.
With those chips attached to runners, Auger and the people at Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises have decided to revamp the starting system. Gone will be the corrals, instead the race will begin with “pulses” for all of the runners.
“There were two significant issues with the start in Woods Hole, runners wanting to run with someone else who was not in the same corral, and the congestion created by sending corrals of over 2,200 runners out onto the course at the same time,” Auger said. “The timing chip allows us to start runners in a less rigid manner than we had in the past, allowing us to eliminate a complicated corral system and to send smaller “pulses” of runners out at a time, a system we are calling a Pulse Start system.”
What that means is that runners will not be cordoned off into predetermined groups. Signs will be posted in Woods Hole, near the start, for runners to join groups with their expected pace times. Eight-minute milers will group together, as will nine-minute pacers and so forth. The elite men’s field will go off at the predetermined race start time of 9 AM. They will be followed by the sub-elite group, which has also been pre-formed by the Falmouth Road Race after a vetting process. Those two groups will be sectioned off prior to the race, and will start at their normal times.
The groups that follow will leave at intervals, between two and three minutes, that are being called pulses. Road Race volunteers will begin with the eight-minute pace runners, and use a rope to determine the “pulse” of runners who will be next to cross the start line. There will be about 1,000 runners in each pulse. Once the previous group of runners has cleared Water Street, and is beginning to turn on to Church Street, which should take about two or three minutes, the “pulse” will be released onto the course, and the next group will be led up to the start to wait for their turn.
Auger said that the “pulses” should allow for the start to run in a smoother fashion, and also help prevent course congestion along the route. The steady flow of runners, leaving at regular intervals, should also make for better race viewing along the course, with a regular stream of runners passing viewing areas until the end.
“Our goal is to send less people out onto the course at once. In the past, with our corrals, we were sending out, on average, 2,200 people per corral,” he explained. “It gets so congested because people can’t get out of their own way. Now, 1,000 people per pulse ... the intervals we’ve decided on is roughly half the time it would take for the majority of that group to get down Woods Hole Road and close to Church Street, so when the next group goes, they’re not turning the corner and running into a large group of people.”
Another boon for the runners is the choice a runner has as to where he or she would like to begin. Runners will be able to stay with friends and families and go out together. Also, Auger said that those who prefer not to be in the back of a “pulse” always have the option to wait to start with the next group. Those who think they are faster, can go out with a faster group, and those who prefer to run near the back can put themselves in lower groups. The road race organizers prefer that runners keep with groups that they can realistically run with.
“When we had the corral system, we know for a fact that people misrepresented their times because they wanted to get into a good corral, because they didn’t want to be behind everybody,” Auger said. “There is a possibility that people are still going to misrepresent their time and go up front because they want to go out, and we understand that. What we think, though, is that once people understand that they can stand with whom they want to, can start when they want to, that it will be a little bit easier for everyone.”
As far as the time it takes for all of the runners to clear Woods Hole, Auger believes that it will be about the same, and maybe a little bit faster. With rigid start times in previous years, it took about 40 minutes to get all of the runners out on the course while using the corral system. He said that with the new “pulse” system, they believe it will be anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how smoothly things run the first time through.