This weekend brings the New York City Marathon, a race I was fortunate enough to run in 2010. It’s a World Marathon Major and that alone makes it a big deal. But as the 2012 edition comes to the fore, the circumstances surrounding the event are anything but ordinary. Superstorm Sandy brought the world’s mightiest city to its knees in a way that even 9/11 didn’t do. Having lived in the Bronx for a few years as a young child, I know of how resilient New Yorkers are and that they will bounce back from this stronger than ever. But right now the wounds are so raw, with devastation, deprivation and even death all around, that the “show must go on” mentality from the organizers regarding the marathon has a lot of New Yorkers in a downright ornery mood.
Truthfully I can understand the arguments both for and against going ahead with the race this weekend. This is after all a World Marathon Major, not just any other race. Whether you’re an elite or a back-of-the-packer, you’ve put your heart and soul into training for this race. And many of the ordinary folks in this race are running for more than just themselves, using the race as a way to raise money for a wide range of charitable organizations. Organizations such as Team in Training, who I’ve run for in the past, depend on these athletes as their life blood who make possible life saving research. And let’s not forget the economic benefit to the city, which runs into the millions, maybe even billions of dollars. For these and a wide variety of other reasons, canceling the race outright is simply a non-starter.
But the locals have a point, too. Marathons, in addition to being a source of civic pride, are a huge logistical undertaking that involves thousands of volunteers, city government employees, law enforcement, and emergency personnel. New York City has shown time and time again it has the muscle to put on a first-class marathon, but it’s never faced a calamity such as this year. Residents are shellshocked and desperate. They can’t find food, gas and some cases even a place to put down their heads at night; many of the hotels booked by incoming marathoners are housing suddenly homeless New Yorkers. The public transit system, which forms the backbone of the strategy for moving all those runners to Staten Island in time for the start, is crippled. Law enforcement is strained to the breaking point as are first responders, with no immediate return to normality in sight. To stage a marathon in three days indeed seems unthinkable. I can’t say whether it’s a majority or a loud minority but clearly a large number of New Yorkers are loudly and defiantly voicing their consternation about all this.
Clearly the city and the New York Road Runners Club are between a rock and a hard place. As I said above, canceling is not an option. And even postponement is tricky. However, to me it seems the only option. So what to do? Well, if I was advising Mayor Bloomberg or the NYRR, I’d tell them to put the race off by two weeks. One week is not enough as the city will still be getting back on its feet. Three weeks is not viable either because that’s Thanksgiving Weekend. And beyond that? Fugghedaaboutit. December is holiday season not to mention the weather in New York could start to get harsh.
That leaves the weekend of November 17-18. This of course, conflicts with the Philadelphia Marathon (where I am running the half marathon this year), which has grown considerably in popularity since my first marathon there in 2006. But aside from a few Marathon Maniacs I can’t imagine many athletes having to make a hard choice between running Philly or running New York. Those registered for both races will run New York. Everyone else will run Philly. It’s that simple.
I’m sure there are unbelievably complex issues and red tape to work through to make such a seemingly sensible compromise come about. But I start from the simple conclusion that the plan for going ahead with the race this weekend is just not going to end well. There’s still time to save face, support those who’ve lost so much, and then come together to put on a great marathon that lives up to its usual billing and celebrates another great New York comeback.
Update November 2: the race has been canceled. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57544624/nyc-marathon-canceled-amid-outcry/