Day #223 — The New York City Marathon That Never Was

Earlier today, I was supposed to run the 2012 New York City Marathon. 2 hours before my 6:15pm flight to New York on Friday evening, though, just as I was getting ready to leave my office and head to the airport, Twitter exploded with rumors that the race would be canceled. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had maintained all week that the race would be held as scheduled, but in the face of unrelenting media pressure and popular outcry, the race was canceled less than 48 hours before the start of what is usually the largest marathon in the world.

Hurricane/Superstorm/Frankenstorm Sandy wrought unimaginable destruction on large portions of the Northeast United States. A lot of people have asked me what I think about the decision to cancel the race, seeing as I was registered to run the marathon. Most of the articles out there are from angered media types, but I’ve only read a few takes from people that were actually going to be running.

I am many things, but I am NOT a disinterested party — I was supposed to be out there this morning. And so, in no particular order, here is what I think about it:

The decision to cancel the race was absolutely correct, and the way that it was handled was absolutely dreadful. We runners should have known earlier than we did that the race would be canceled. Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s assurances that the race would go on, this past week I still found myself looking online for marathon updates every few hours. Why, you ask? Because it seemed absolutely insane that New York Road Runners and the city would do anything other than cancel the race.

Staten Island, which plays host to the marathon’s starting line, was basically existing in a post-Katrina state. As bodies were still being fished out of the ruins, one Staten Island councilman rightly called out the plan to run the marathon as ‘idiotic,” which was probably putting it kindly. Lots and lots and lots of people thought that this was a bad idea, but the mayor stood firm.

In Mayor Bloomberg’s most tone-deaf statement (out of many), he offered the following quote at a press conference explaining why the marathon would still be held: “I think for those who were lost, you know, you’ve got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind.” Yes, part of his justification for proceeding with the marathon was that all the people who died LESS THAN 48 HOURS EARLIER would probably have wanted the race to take place. The nation was stunned, and the city was bewildered. A PR disaster of epic proportions was brewing.

A fake ESPN Twitter account joked that, “In a reverse of tradition, NYC Marathon runners will be handing cups of water to spectators.” It was only on Friday evening after 5pm EST, after most runners who were flying to New York had already landed, that NYRR and the mayor delivered the news that the marathon would be canceled. Almost immediately after the announcement was made, Anderson Cooper tweeted, “Cop on Staten Island tells me ‘it’s chaos here. It’s bad. Police cars are running out of gas.’ And they were going to have a marathon here?!”

It would have been insane to run the marathon. I-N-S-A-N-E. But the decision should have been obvious to the city much earlier than Friday night.

I don’t blame New York Road Runners for the fiasco. I accept that this is a controversial opinion. There are a lot of people who are pretty upset with Mary Wittenerg, who is described by one writer as “the NYRR’s heartless president and CEO,” but in my opinion this cancellation was always the city’s call to make.

NYRR isn’t a typical business in the same way that your favorite pizza place down the street is a business, but they are an organization that exists in part to provide services to a paying clientele. I don’t remember people getting particularly upset with Sbarro for using a generator to power one of their NYC restaurants instead of donating it to a hospital or nursing home, so why would people become outraged with NYRR for trying to do their job?

In this case, NYRR’s job was to put on a marathon so long as they could ensure that the conditions were safe. If the city was willing to section off the streets and provide the necessary police, then those safety conditions would be satisfied. If the city would have made an earlier decision to pull the police off of marathon duty, then the marathon would have been canceled instantly, and NYRR wouldn’t have been put in the awkward position of having to defend their decision to do their job.

This next point is a minor one that won’t matter to many, but there was a sporting aspect as well that needed to be addressed one way or another. Elite marathoning is indeed a business, with a lucrative windfall for anyone that has the talents to excel. American marathon icon Meb Keflezighi could have pocketed $200,000 if he had won. The 2012 NYC Marathon was the last event in the 2011-12 cycle of the World Marathon Majors Series, and while the men’s title had already been locked up by Geoffrey Mutai, it came down to New York to decide the women’s champion. If either reigning world champion Edna Kiplagat or 2012 Boston victor Sharon Cherop had been the first woman to cross the finish line, they would have collected a $500,000 bonus to go with the $130,000 winner’s check, according to that same Boston.com article. Instead, the World Marathon Majors title went to Mary Keitany, who led in the Series standings before New York was canceled.

I’m not going to blame NYRR for doing their job until the city told them that they shouldn’t, and I think that they’re shouldering an unfair portion of the blame.

Bringing up 9/11 as a precedent for running a marathon in New York after a traumatic event was bullshit. When the mayor’s office was still defending the decision to go ahead with the marathon, a frequently-quoted talking point was that the 2001 NYC Marathon was held seven weeks after the WTC terrorist attacks on 9/11, and the marathon acted as an uplifting moment that brought the city together. A couple things about this:

  1. 7 weeks is a lot different than 6 days.
  2. The attacks of 9/11, while being horribly tragic, did not lay waste to the entire city’s infrastructure.
  3. Again, 7 WEEKS IS A LOT DIFFERENT THAN 6 DAYS.

The mayor was comparing apples to oranges when he brought this up, and it was not a good look for him. People saw right through this excuse, and it only made the cries to cancel the marathon grow louder.

The sport/hobby of running came out looking pretty good, thanks to the extraordinary charitable efforts of displaced runners who had an unexpected free Sunday morning. A few thousand runners ran a marathon anyway in Central Park, and they all brought food and clothing to donate to the victims of the hurricane. I’m going to demand that you look at this link again, and please kindly go fuck yourself if it doesn’t melt your heart a bit.

With no marathon to run, OVER ONE THOUSAND volunteers donned their race shirts and took the ferry to Staten Island, where they ran around the borough donating food and supplies.

Manual labor was performed, as well. Some volunteers went so far as to help a homeowner move his stranded boat.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker tweeted that a group of 40 marathoners from Amsterdam volunteered to help in his city. I’m telling you guys, there ARE good people in this world. Lots of them. And on this otherwise somber morning, a lot of those good people were wearing running shoes.

I made the decision to stay home in Chicago, and I only slightly regret doing so. People have asked me why I didn’t fly to NYC anyway, since I already had a plane ticket. The fact that American Airlines refunded my full ticket price in the form of a travel voucher certainly made the decision easier, but the truth is that with no marathon to run, I didn’t want my first visit to New York City to be like this. I’ve heard amazing things about New York City, and I just didn’t want my first views of the city to be in its post-hurricane state.

I have friends in NYC that I haven’t seen in years, and I was going to be making new friends at a pre-race dinner that my friend Emma had arranged. All week long, I’d been emailing back and forth with Emma and her motley crew of agreeable strangers so that we could coordinate our race weekend. I hated being the one to inform the group that the marathon was indeed canceled.

I regret not being a part of the volunteer efforts documented above; that would have been genuinely cool to do, though I don’t think I would have been of much help with manual labor on account of my bum knee. I genuinely regret not going to volunteer, but when I had only 2 hours on Friday between when the marathon cancellation announcement was made and when my flight was supposed to take off, that didn’t leave me a lot of time for making a measured decision that took everything into account.

I will see you soon, New York, when you’re back to being as beautiful as you were before this Sandy bitch came blowing into town.

Yes, I’m going to run the NYC Marathon in 2013. No, they are not giving runners refunds for their 2012 registration fee. Instead, NYRR are offering a guaranteed entry to any runner from 2012 that wants to stump up the money again to run the marathon next year. With it being so hard to gain entry into the marathon via the standard lottery system that is currently employed (less than 10% of the 2012 lottery applicants come away with an entry into the race), next year’s offer of guaranteed entry may be my only chance to ever run New York.

It will not be cheap. At a cost of $255, the 2012 NYC Marathon was easily the most expensive race of any kind that I’ve signed up for, by over $100. On top of that, I donated an additional $26.20 to the American Red Cross, and you can too! My $255 registration fee is gone (though NYRR is making a huge contribution to the Sandy relief efforts with some of that money), but I have a friend Jessie at NYRR who has promised to mail me my shirt. At $255, it will be the most expensive shirt I’ve ever purchased.

Early rumor has it that next year’s entry fee will remain fixed at $255, which would make it a combined $500+ that I’m paying for the right to run this ONE race in 2013. That is regrettable, to put it mildly. Running NYC in 2013 means that I will likely not be running the Marine Corps Marathon in DC next year, which is a race that I’d been hoping to run again in 2013 after I had run it in 2011, but it’s also a race that is unfortunately held one week prior to NYC every year. Bummer.

Running the 2013 NYC Marathon is guaranteed to be pricey, but it’s also guaranteed to be historically memorable. The city’s sheen will have been restored, and the crowds will be enthusiastic to repay the kindness of the runners who turned out en masse to assist with relief efforts earlier this morning. If we’re being honest with each other, I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

It took a hurricane to keep me from running NYC in 2012. It will take something much stronger than that to keep me away in 2013.

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One Response to Day #223 — The New York City Marathon That Never Was

  1. Very well written. Good luck with your 2013 season. This was an excellent post!

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