A Virtual Race With Prize Money – Welcome To The Brooklyn Mile Where The Prize Money is Age Graded and Based on VDOT Scores

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(19-May) — At the beginning of the year, Brooklyn Running Company co-founder Matt Rosetti was looking forward to organizing the fifth edition of his popular Brooklyn Mile, scheduled for Sunday, June 21.  After four years, the point-to-point race on Kent Avenue had gotten the kinks worked out, and he and his team planned to welcome about 2,000 runners, including a small group of elites who would compete for prize money.  Last year’s winners, Daniel Winn and Feyne Gudeto Gemeda, each earned $1000.

But after the COVID-19 crisis hit in mid-March, Rosetti quickly realized that there was no way he could hold the event on the scheduled date, certainly not in the manner he wanted.

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“We knew probably a month ago at least that the June event had no chance, and not just from a legal perspective but from an operational and planning perspective,” Rosetti told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview yesterday.  “You can’t pull it off, or execute it anywhere near as highly as you want to with (only) four to eight weeks of planning.”

Daniel Winn winning the men’s Fast Mover Mile at the 2019 Brooklyn Mile (photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Mile)

Rosetti and his team thought about trying to reschedule the race for August, the month that the race was held for its first three editions, but they ultimately rejected that idea.  With all of the struggles the city was facing trying to fight the corona virus, this summer wasn’t the right time to hold such an event.  They also didn’t want to collect entry fees only to have to refund them.

“We were initially thinking to push it back to August which was our original date,” Rosetti explained.  “Then (we) quickly realized that was not the play for a number of reasons.  Likely, it won’t be allowed anyway.  But also, is that really the image you want even if it is allowed, to be gathering people en masse and rubbing elbows together in a corralled area?  The optics of it would have been terrible.”

Instead of canceling the event, which would have been the easiest option, Rosetti decided to convert the event to a virtual format like the Freihofer’s Run for Women in Albany, N.Y.; Quad-City Times Bix 7 Mile in Davenport, Iowa; and the Wharf to Wharf Race 6 Miles in Santa Cruz, Calif., did.  But he didn’t just want people to run a mile on their own.  He wanted to give them a competitive incentive, regardless of their age.  He got an idea.

“My first response (was) radical ideas for radical moments,” said Rosetti who won the open division of the Fifth Avenue Mile in 1998 and ran cross country and track at Lehigh University.  “That last thing we want to do is try and re-create the traditional racing format on-line.  We wanted this to be a completely different concept.”

The 44 year-old Rosetti reached out to his younger brother, Brian, 40, founder of the coaching platform VDOT O2 (pronounced “Vee-Dot-Oh-Two) which uses the formulas created by veteran coach Dr. Jack Daniels to measure running performance.  The younger Rosetti, who has a 1500m personal best of 3:44.26, had already been holding virtual races through his site and was ranking runners based on VDOT scores developed by Daniels which are age-graded.

“When the world turned upside down we essentially wanted to quickly create some virtual racing options for coaches and athletes on the platform,” explained Brian.  “Athletes are able to run any distances and we can score them based on their VDOT.”

With a little additional coding, Brian was able to adapt his platform so that the Virtual Brooklyn Mile could take place from June 19 through June 21 and all athletes would receive VDOT scores and be ranked overall and by age group.  Matt then came up with a prize money model which would be fully funded by the modest $15 entry fee charged to all runners.  Twenty percent of the total entry fees would fund a prize money pool, which would all be paid on an age-graded basis, while the other 80% would go to support New York City’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.  The Rosettis are volunteering their labor, so all of the money goes either to prize money or the Relief Fund.

“We really have no costs for this virtual race,” Matt observed.  He continued: “Anything that comes in, we can kick it out to the charity and the prize purse.”

Brian had developed strict controls for his virtual races to assure fair play.  Athletes have to sync their GPS devices to the VDOT O2 platform via Garmin or Strava, race courses cannot have an elevation loss of more than one percent (so no downhill times), and each participant has to obey local traffic laws.  Runners can compete on the road, trail, golf course, or a standard track, as long as it is open for runner use.

“We have a whole rules process to ensure that it’s fair,” said Brian.  “If you’re not following local guidelines and restrictions then you’re disqualified.  That is part of our rules process.”

Whereas the original elite race was limited to athletes who could actually get to Brooklyn to compete, literally anyone in the world can compete for a piece of the prize money pool.  Moreover, there is no limit to the number of athletes who can compete.  The bigger the race, the larger the prize money pool and the larger the charity donation.

“We thought adding the hook –a carrot so to speak– geared to competitive runners all over the world, potentially, that were training for this and had nowhere else to run or compete,” Matt said.  “They don’t have to worry about travel expenses.  They can drop this thing on a a cross country course, or a track, or their front yard, or front street in front of their house.  It really is compelling.”

Only athletes who are able to achieve the three highest levels of VDOT scores (8, 9, or 10) will be eligible for prize money.  Looking at the scoring table, a level-8 performance would be a 4:47 by a 30 year-old woman or a 4:20 by a 30 year-old man.  A level-9 would be a 4:36 by a 40 year-old woman or a 4:24 by a 45 year-old man.  A level-10 performance would be a 3:54 by a 39 year-old man or a 4:54 by a 50 year-old woman.  Remember, all of the prize money will be paid on an age-graded basis.  The full table of VDOT scores is here: https://news.vdoto2.com/vdot-levels-8910/

“Increasing participation levels is the goal of anyone putting on any race,” said Matt.  “So, the whole point of what we’re doing, what VDOT is doing with their challenges, is to try to widen running’s scope of appeal.  That’s the concept here, getting into the age-graded approach we’re taking.”

According to the rules, the full prize money purse will be paid out even if nobody achieves a level-10 or level-9 performance and there are only level-8 scorers.

“Very transparent,” said Matt.

Full information on how to enter the race, and the rules about prize money, are here: https://brooklynmile.com/faq/

PHOTO: Daniel Winn winning the men’s Fast Mover Mile at the 2019 Brooklyn Mile (photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Mile)

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