The Sandy Marathon Dilemma

Since I got word that I snagged a lottery spot in this year’s NYC Marathon, I’ve been counting down the days til the race. I’ve trained for months, changed my eating and sleeping habits, and scheduled my life around my running. Aside from the physical efforts, I’ve also sunk a big chunk of money into transportation and accommodations for the big day. It’s pretty much all I can talk or think about. Just ask my friends– I’m sure they’re sick of hearing about it. Now Hurricane Sandy is putting a big wrench into the race and many are calling for a complete cancellation.

As I first heard news of Hurricane Sandy, I was worried about losing power here in Philly and staying safe. I was also worried about my out of town friends getting home to New York. Luckily, they caught the last bus home and Philly was spared the brunt of the storm. But as the storm barreled through New York, it didn’t even dawn on me that my big day would be on the line.

After the dust settled, a flooded and half-powerless NYC was left coping with the aftermath. Now it’s up to the New York Road Runners to determine if the city can handle this sunday’s race. My immediate reaction is that if the race can be held, it absolutely should be. But that’s a bit selfish on my part. There are so many aspects going into this decision.

Both the Brooklyn Bridge Tunnel and all subways leading to the Staten Island Ferry are flooded, with no way to know when they will be reopened. That means there’s no way to get to the starting line. That’s the first challenge. NYRR could change the course to eliminate the issue, but then the race wouldn’t go through all five boroughs. I definitely have mixed feelings on that part. It’s not the real deal if the course isn’t the same. There would also be challenges with moving the massive start villages to another location without proper scouting and planning. The villages are a staging area for 50,000 runners for several hours before their respective waves cross the starting line. That’s a big undertaking.

Another issue is the race expo itself. There are transportation issues getting to the Javits center, where the expo is to be held. Vendors can’t get into town, and can’t get to the expo center to set up. The expo is supposed to start tomorrow. While they could push the starting time back, that would surely mean bib pickup would be even more congested into the weekend with long wait times for everyone. There is also a huge holdup in shipping in the region, which means a lot of race material might not even be available.

While transportation within the city will be a huge issue, getting into the city at all will be difficult for everyone, and impossible for some. I’ve been stalking the NYRR and ING NYC Marathon facebook pages and many international and national runners have indicated their flights have been canceled as LaGuardia is still closed due to runway damage. Others have booked at hotels that are without power and won’t be open for race weekend. I’m in that boat myself. I’m crossing my fingers for power to be back before Saturday, but there’s no guarantees. I have friends I could stay with in the city, but with subways not operational, it’s going to make getting around nearly impossible. Graciously, NYRR has allowed runners to defer to 2013 as late as Saturday. However, they have said that they will not be refunding the $255 entry fee if runners defer and they will have to pay the full fee again for 2013. That’s absolutely deplorable, but not shocking coming from an organization that has the balls to charge $255 for a race in the first place, and insist on charging for other perks every other major marathon provides runners for free. At this rate, there’s no way to tell how small the field will be with so many runners stranded.

Finally, there’s a big moral dilemma at stake here. New York City is still in recovery. Half of Manhattan doesn’t have power. People have lost homes and loved ones. The NYC Marathon is a huge undertaking requiring a lot of manpower and assistance from fire, police, EMTs, and other emergency services that would otherwise be helping in the recovery effort. It seems selfish to have tons of water and food donated with thousands of volunteers providing aid along the way and cleaning up after when so much has to be done in the city. That manpower could be put to much better use. This one is a point I’m personally struggling with.

Despite the challenges this year’s race will have, NYRR has announced they plan to go on as scheduled, with modifications and adjustments as needed. There is only speculation now as to what these changes could be, but I’d assume some major transportation and course shifts will be made at the very least. While there are many, myself included, who are relieved at this announcement, there are also many cries to cancel the event completely.

With all that being said, I’m still excited and proud to be running the streets of NYC this weekend. And here’s why. The most selfish reason is that I just can’t imagine to spend so much time and money training and preparing for this race not to have the payoff of running it. Running another race in its place wouldn’t be the same. I think the race also needs to happen for economic reasons. Race weekend pumps nearly $350 million into the city every year. Even though the field will be smaller and the revenue will be less, the city badly needs this money. There’s no way to calculate how much revenue the city’s hospitality industry has lost due to this storm. But this race can go a long way to help recover. The biggest reason is really for the morale of NYC. Events like this can bring a city together. Neighbors and residents who have had a week of tragedy and bad news can join in to celebrate something positive. It’s a sign that the city can persevere through any adversity and challenge, a step toward returning to normalcy.

Runners are a tough group who face challenges with every step and every race, and overcome those challenges daily. New Yorkers are just as tough. We all deserve to triumph and cross the finish line together. I will be proud to run the streets of New York come Sunday morning.

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