Should the NYC Marathon Have Been Cancelled?

There has already been a boatload of coverage and debate about whether or not the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and the City made the right call canceling the New York City Marathon. I think they made the right decision, but they made it too late. Regardless, I would not have wanted to be in charge of making that decision. It was a very tough call.

There were plenty of reasons holding the marathon made sense. The marathon brings $340 million dollars to the city, which could go a long way in helping residents and small businesses trying to recover from the devastation caused by Super-Storm Sandy. According to NYRR, no resources would have to be diverted from relief efforts to hold the race, which was one of the same reasons given for still holding the Giants game. This post on FloTrack.org does a good job of summing up how important this marathon is for a lot of professional runners, especially those who aren’t at the top of the pack. MarathonGuide.com posted a message on their homepage saying the event was cancelled only because of the media turning public perception against it.

Former Mayor Rudi Giuliani even came out and supported Mayor Bloomberg’s initial decision to hold the race, saying how important big events like this race are to NYC. He said making sure that race still happened after 9/11 was a top priority for him. After hearing this I started to think it made sense to still hold the race. After all, nothing quite symbolizes community and resilience like 47,000 runners taking on a marathon. So, the show must go on.

Then more stories started to roll out, many that were not even showing up in the news. This was no ordinary storm and it caused an unbelievable amount of destruction. How can you justify handing out huge amounts of water when the spectators might need it more? How can you justify filling hotels with tourists when they could be used to house people who had just lost their homes and all of their belongings? Too many people were hurting too badly to let the race go on – not to mention the logistical nightmare it was going to be to transport all the runners to the start on Staten Island, which was hit very hard by the storm.

Many people criticized runners for being selfish about getting upset over wasting months of training when others had just lost everything. I don’t think this is fair though, and I think many runners probably handled it better than onlookers expected. They came for the race because they’d been told it was still on. The decision really should have been made earlier instead of waiting till the last minute, but even this turned into a positive as thousands of runners ended up pitching in for the relief efforts.

There will be other marathons and most runners get that. My friend Lindsay and I ran the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in 2010. Well, at least we started it. Forecasts for race day were a bit foreboding, predicting severe thunderstorms and a possible tornado, but the race went on. The day actually started off beautifully with no sign of a storm coming, but it turns out there’s something to that saying, the calm before the storm.

Around the halfway mark, the sun disappeared behind the clouds, the sky turned very gray and eventually it opened up. Thunder and lightning rocked the course as the rain got harder and some hail even started to fall. As I approached mile 20, a cop with a bullhorn was yelling at me that the course was being shut down. I didn’t want to hear it though, so needless to say I may have used some unkind words and ran around the officer. I was on pace for a more than 30-minute PR and wasn’t going to let a little storm get in my way. The volunteers forming a human wall at mile 21 forcing people toward the finish line did however get in my way.

I angrily ran the last mile to the finish and took a medal in disgust after “only” running 22 miles. After meeting up with Lindsay and making our way back to our hotel though, we were able to gain some perspective and even laugh about what had just happened. We were able to enjoy a great night out in Nashville, while joking about our really expensive training run. The storm let up the following day and we were lucky to fit in a trip to the historic Grand Ole Opry before leaving town.

We got out just before more major storms hit, leaving most of Nashville under water including the Opry. Many people lost their homes. We just couldn’t run a race. You can’t compare the two, and we – like many of the runners unable to compete in the NYC marathon – had the perspective to understand that. It made for quite and experience and quite a story.

While it’s a bummer for the runners who put in so much work to train for the marathon, it’s absolutely tragic what many of the residents of NYC and New Jersey are going through. In my opinion, NYRR and the City made a very tough call, but they made the right call.

What do you all think about the decision to cancel the marathon? Was it the right call? If you were planning on running the marathon, did you pick a back-up race? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Check out pics below taken by my brother in Hoboken a week after the storm and pics from my 2010 trip to Nashville.

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