Writing and running in Austin, TX.
If you run, follow running, or listen to news at all, by know you know that the sh*t hit the fan of the running world late this afternoon as city and race officials made the call to cancel Sunday’s New York City Marathon. I can honestly say that I’m shocked by the strength of my own negative reaction to this decision.
Let me preface this all by saying up front that I am by no means meaning to show a lack of sympathy to the thousands of people who lost their homes, livelihoods, and even lives as result of Hurricane Sandy. The storm itself was a huge tragedy, and my heart goes out to all those affected by it. I realize I might still come across as sounding like a selfish runner, and if so, I sincerely apologize.
So why am I shocked by my own negative reaction?
Well for one thing, I hate the thought of being seen as a selfish runner!
Yes, I’m a diehard runner, but I don’t think I’ve ever made my feelings about New York unclear. I just don’t get it. Seriously, what is the big deal about running NYC?? Okay, yes, it’s the biggest marathon in the world in one of the biggest cities in the world, but you know what that means? That means it’s a logistical pain in the rear!
Hotels cost an arm and a leg, the race itself has the highest entry fee of ANY road marathon ($216 for New York Road Runners members, $255 for non-NYC based Americans, and $347 for international runners), and everyone I know who’s run it has a story of freezing their tail off on Staten Island waiting for the actual start.
Of course best of luck on even getting the privilege to spend that $255. Almost half of entries are reserved for international folks (they comprised roughly 23,000 of the 47,000+ finishers in 2011), another chunk is reserved for New York Road Runners members — not that I can legitimately begrudge locals the chance to run their hometown race — and a third set for runners fast enough to run ever tougher “qualifying times”. It’s not quite so bad as Boston, but I know I’ve got a long way to go to get there on these two legs.
In summary: I’m from Chicago and Chicago is better than New York, so there.
Okay, kidding, kidding. Mostly.
Anyway…as you can see, if I have such vehement…umm, apathy?…towards this race, why should I give a hoot that it’s been called off?
I don’t even know where to start.
I could write you a list of the top 10 reasons I disagree with today’s decision to cancel the race, and at least 7 of them would involve terrible planning/decision-making. Frankly, it probably does make sense to postpone the race a few weeks, but that’s a decision that should have been made a WEEK ago. Yes, Hurricane Sandy surprised a lot of us in terms of the devastation it caused, but the fact that the storm was headed to the coast was a surprise to no one.
I might even give you that it’s hard to know where exactly a storm will hit until it hits, but by Tuesday night we knew pretty darn well where it was going to hit. Calling this thing on Tuesday would have at least saved SOME people a whole lot of time and money. After all, I might complain about 23,000 slots being reserved for international runners, but I by no means think it’s fair to expect those 23,000 people (plus friends and family) to waste a ton of time and money flying all the way to NYC. And trust me, if you’re flying internationally for a Sunday race, you’re in town by Friday afternoon.
Then there’s the elite field. Many many elite marathoners base their entire livelihood on 1 or 2 big races a year. The fact that Meb was planning to run NYC was a huge deal not just because he’s Meb, but because it would mean 3 full marathons in a calendar year (Olympic Trials, Olympics, NYC). The mileage load and accompanying risk of injury to that kind of schedule cannot be overstated. Take as a case in point the fact that Meb was the only one of the 3 Americans to actually finish the race in London.
Elites don’t mess around when they commit to a marathon. They train to peak at a very exact time and place, and to not give them the opportunity to find another race is potentially bankrupting. (Okay, probably not for Meb, but believe me, there are entire villages in Africa that depend on the winnings of one internationally competitive runner.)
Finally, I’m against the cancellation of the race because I feel like it amounts to caving to a collective temper tantrum. According to the cancellation article on runnersworld.com:
“We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track,” a joint statement from the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYRR said. – Read the full article
The internet is a wonderful and powerful thing. It can be used for good or not-so-good, or even for both at the same time, depending on your point of view. If you’ll recall, I personally was thrilled when a similar iTantrum caused the Komen Foundation to reverse their decision to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates.
I can’t really say if I think the people who’ve spent the last few days calling for the race to fold were right or wrong. I’m not in New York and I can’t see how bad things really are. Honestly, I think the decision by city/race officials NOT to postpone several days ago was pretty obviously wrong.
But, I think it was equally wrong for those officials to change their minds based largely on a bunch of angry comments on the internet. They had to know their initial decision to move forward with the race would be controversial. They made that call anyway. To reverse course at the last minute – and to own up to the fact that were doing so NOT because they felt it was necessary to hurricane clean-up efforts, but because it had become so controversial – was, in my opinion, weak and irresponsible.
There is obviously no race in the world as important as helping people in dire need, but I just can’t make myself believe this race was cancelled for the purpose of helping others. From what I have read so far, it looks like it was cancelled to save face, with the result of stranding several thousand more people who travelled from near and far on the word that despite the storm, the race would go on.
In case no one else thinks to say it, I want to put this out there — To all of you who travelled to New York because you were told to expect a race: I’m sorry.
PS – Yes, I do appreciate the irony that I’m ranting on the internet about people ranting on the internet. =)