Running While Juggling Is Banned by Marathon Organizers
By Lindsay Crouse
Published in The New York Times
November 1, 2015
See original story with links here
As an elite joggler — that is, someone who runs while juggling — Michal Kapral of Canada is used to doing things the hard way. But at this year’s New York City Marathon, that meant something different: settling for an ordinary 26.2 miles, empty-handed. Marathon organizers banned joggling from the course, ruling that beanbags filled with millet seed, like Kapral’s, count as “Prohibited Items.”
Kapral, a 43-year-old editor at a health care group in Toronto, had hoped this year to improve on his world-record joggling time of 2 hours 50 minutes 12 seconds — an impressive feat even for serious runners who do not bother juggling on the course. Kapral’s best marathon time is 2:30:40, and he once won a marathon outright while joggling. On Sunday morning, he was still grappling with leaving his beanbags behind.
“I understand there have to be security rules, but this seems like it’s crossed a line where it gets to be intrusive, and maybe less about real security than about rules that end up stopping us from having fun,” Kapral said. “But what I’m really disappointed about is the kids. They love to watch me joggle.”
The joggler’s beanbags join an esoteric list of other contraband forbidden from the racecourse: no sleeping bags, no pets, no mace and certainly no drones. Knitting needles are also forbidden, so David Babcock, who has the world record for the longest scarf knit during a marathon (12 feet), resorted to crocheting flowers out of yarn with his fingers. No one, it appeared, had contested the ban on selfie sticks.
Kapral said he had counted on being a part of what he called a rich tradition of joggling at the New York City Marathon, dating from when the race founder Fred Lebow embraced the craft himself, saying, “I see joggling as only positive.”
But when Kapral contacted New York Road Runners to confirm his intent to joggle, supplementing his appeal with a lengthy footnoted anthology of his joggling accomplishments, he was surprised by the curt response.
“I figured they would say, ‘That’s cool, keep your tennis rackets and swords at home, but we have a long history of joggling, so don’t worry about it,’ ” he said. “When I got an email saying joggling is not allowed, my heart sank. I kind of wanted to cry because even though it’s just joggling, I really do love it.”
Other jogglers, like Jack Hirschowitz, a New Yorker known as the Intellectual Joggler, were also asked to cease joggling at New York Road Runners races.
Chris Weiller, a spokesman for the running group, confirmed the new policy. “In consultation with N.Y.P.D., our guidelines changed following the Boston Marathon bombing, and running with props was prohibited,” he wrote in an email.
Reactions from the tightknit joggling community were swift and furious, with members expressing concern from as far as Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.
In an embittered blog post, the joggler Chris Pert called the announcement “arguably the biggest bummer in joggling history.” He continued: “Unfortunately, I suspect that there’s more to this than just security concerns. Some people just don’t take joggling seriously.”
From the Central African Republic, where he has taught the craft to scores of refugee children, Richard Alec Ross wrote, “Once again, I am reminded what living in a free country really means ... thank you Central African Republic for being Pro-Joggling.”
And from Afghanistan, Kapral’s American joggling rival Zach Warren weighed in.
“I’ve joggled six major marathons,” he wrote. “Zero people were injured and thousands smiled.”
“When Zach and I joggled in Boston,” echoed Kapral, “Jack Fleming, the B.A.A. marketing director, sent me a welcome email.” The B.A.A. is the Boston Athletic Association. To cope, Kapral drew on resilience honed from a joggling career built on surmounting challenges.
He initially learned of joggling at age 11, when he saw the world record in a Guinness book. As an adult, Kapral began racing to raise charity money for sick children, first breaking the world record for running a marathon while pushing a stroller (carrying his daughter). He recalled the record and told some of the sick children’s parents that in his next fund-raising race for them, he would joggle.
“Then I remembered, I don’t know how to do that,” he said.
He ordered some juggling balls, using the same model as the record-holder, and taught himself alone in a park every morning before dawn to escape observation by his neighbors.
“I’d drop balls everywhere, into puddles of mud, and I wondered what I was doing,” he said. “But eventually I got better at it, and then I got addicted to it.”
He learned to avoid the sport’s pitfalls, like sore biceps and poor cadence, and upgraded from unwieldy balls to nimble beanbags (these days he trains with heavier balls than his lighter racing bags). At his first charity joggling marathon, in 2005, he dropped the ball 25 times, adding precious minutes as he chased down the record. He still managed to shatter it, logging a 3:07:41.
Then, two months later, he got a call from a student reporter at Harvard, asking how he felt about a divinity school student there breaking his record.
“It turned out that Zach Warren, who I’ve come to accept as my American nemesis — and friend — broke my record by 40 seconds,” he said. “I replied: ‘I can’t have that. I challenge him to a marathon joggling duel.’ ”
Ten minutes later, Warren called Kapral to say, “I accept.”
They faced off at the 2006 Boston Marathon, joggling side by side at less than a three-hour pace for 17 miles, until Kapral dropped a ball on Heartbreak Hill and had to pause to collect himself. Then he spilled Gatorade on another ball and it got sticky. (The rules are, you have to stop and hold all three balls in one hand to drink.) Warren prevailed handily.
“I didn’t want to stop there,” Kapral said. “I didn’t want to be the second-best joggler in the world.”
He trained harder than ever, joggling constantly, through long runs and speed work.
“I really worked on my technique,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in the house juggling. I learned how to do five balls. From behind, you couldn’t even tell that I was joggling.”
But as his times dropped, so did Warren’s.
Another failed record attempt in 2007 was almost his final straw.
“Tragically, I was on pace to break the record when I got a little tired at 25 miles,” Kapral said. “I came to a complete stop, and ended up finishing a minute slower than the record. That was heartbreaking, and I announced my retirement from joggling. But then my wife, Dianne, convinced me to go back for the record one more time.”
He finally achieved his 2:50:12 later that year in Toronto, chewing gum at the same time for good measure. The record has stood for eight years.
With his hands free, Kapral finished Sunday’s marathon with an unofficial time of 2:51:38. He is thinking about striking out on his own.
“There are no road championships for joggling, so we try to sneak ourselves into the regular ones,” he said. “It would probably be a challenge to assemble enough runners for a joggling-only marathon, but maybe someday. Maybe it’s time.”
Meanwhile, he proudly explains that his 10-year-old daughter has taken up the family craft of joggling herself, with an eye toward her father’s legacy.
“She practices every day,” he said.
Photo by Christine Spingola/Canada Running Series