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Budd Bailey’s Running: New rule changes age-group scoring in ROY series

The rules of our fun and games are often painstakingly written, as experts spend hours trying to cover every possible loophole. And then, something out of the ordinary comes along to force those experts to get out an eraser.

On a smaller scale, that’s also happened to the rules of The Buffalo News’ Runner of the Year series. We’re installing a very small change into the scoring system for age-group runners after an unusual set of circumstances came up again in 2015.

As the Turkey Trot approached last November, one of the age groups featured a tie at the top between two runners. When the results of the Trot had come in, one of the runners had finished ahead in “gun time” – that is, he was the first one of the pair across the finish line. But the other runner was the winner in “net time” – he was faster over the distance, but started farther back in the pack. The “net time” winner wrote me to say he thought he should receive the extra point and the age-group championship.

I checked with Jeff John of, who keeps the statistics for the series with great enthusiasm. Jeff told me about how the same situation came up in 2004. The series at that point used net time – when it could obtain the numbers – for awarding points. However, Jeff and columnist Mike Beebe discovered that this policy went against USA Track and Field rules. So the series adopted a strict gun time policy for determining winners for 2005.

The rule was still in effect for the series in 2015. That fact decided the issue in this case, since I was not going to change the rule retroactively.

However … Jeff pointed out that the USATF had changed its policy about the standings of races in 2015. While the overall finish of races was still determined by gun time – because the first person to arrive at the finish line should be the winner – races were given the option of using gun time or net time in determining awards for age groups.

This was done because some races, like the Turkey Trot, have become so big that it’s unrealistic to expect top age-group runners all to be at the front of the pack for the start of the race. That area is reserved for the elite runners with a chance to win an overall title. Using net time, then, is something of a compromise. Admittedly, someone could start way back in the pack in order to avoid the traffic at the start, run a great if discreet time, and finish several minutes after others have finished and still earn points. But, as we discovered, there’s no perfect system out there.

Therefore, we have decided to follow the lead of the races themselves. If you win an age-group award from a given race, you will be rewarded with points in the Runner of the Year series. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. Most races in the series are small enough to simply use gun time for everything. But if the Turkey Trot or Shamrock Run want to take advantage of the new rule for the USATF, we will follow their lead.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the series. There are no changes in the race schedule, as the same 11 events are on the calendar.

The goal remains the same. We try to pick races so that runners have a variety of distances and locations. That way, a worthy champion is crowned at the end of the year. Last year, John Beyer and Jennifer Boerner certainly qualified.

Looking back

Recently this space carried a brief reference to Fritz Van Leaven’s annual report on the state of road racing in Western New York. Fritz always puts a ton of work into this study, and the results are always interesting. Here are some of the highlights:

• The number of participants in races in a given year has not dropped since Van Leaven started keeping track in 2006. Therefore, 2015 saw another record fall with 128,440 runners competing in the races. The number of races also broke a record at 367. He includes some races in nearby parts of Southern Ontario and Northwest Pennsylvania.

• The Turkey Trot had yet another banner year, moving up to 12,837 runners – 608 more than last year. The most impressive jump, though, might have been by the Superhero race. This event had 268 runners in 2014, and went all the way to 767 in 2015. That’s a jump of 186 percent.

• The Biggest Loser 5K went from 943 runners in 2014 to 320 runners in 2015. The Loser’s Half Marathon also dropped, going from 893 runners to 501. There is no sign of either race on the local 2016 calendar, and the race website has not posted a schedule for the coming year.

• The largest 5K of the year was the Girls on the Run event, checking in at 2,605 finishers. Second was the Susan G. Komen WNY Race for the Cure (1,175 finishers, with 3,600 total participants).

• Five races in the News’ Runner of the Year series saw an increase in runners, while six went down. The overall total climbed up to 22,117, up 1.6 percent from 2014.

• The most successful debut was from the Bills’ Fifty Yard Finish 10K, which had 525 finishers. That race is dropping the 10-kilometer event this year, sticking only to a 5K race. The James Metz Memorial Race got off to a running start with 501 runners.

• Van Leaven reports there were a total of 232 5K races in 2015. All of the other distances totaled 94 races.

• October remains the most popular month for races, as it holds a 52-51 edge over June.

Race calendar

• St. Patrick’s Day Dash, 3 miles, 319 W. Third St., Jamestown, 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, 489-3489.

• The Mustache March, 5K, Mang Park in Kenmore, 10 a.m. on Saturday, 877-0477.

• Bunny Hop, 5K, 1 Legion Drive in East Aurora, 10:30 a.m. on March 26, 866-0136.