I was surprised to see that only a 1:23 half marathon was enough, once I’d paid the few hundred dollars entry fee, to secure me a place in possibly the biggest running event in the World. A bit of research into hotels, flights, etc and permission from work to have some time off and I bit the bullet and went for it.
On Monday afternoon, when daylight had appeared on the East Coast of the USA it became very apparent that things were a lot worse than imagined. I was pretty confident that there would be no way that I would be in New York the following weekend. Yet the noises from the officials in charge were defiant. New York Road Runners (NYRR), who had issued statements prior to Sandy hitting stating that they did not anticipate any changes to the marathon build-up, did not cancel. It was announced that the Mayor had given the go-ahead and NYRR had confirmed this via official statements, but now with some changes to the organisation (‘Details to follow’ – I got very used to that from NYRR). As airports began to open and flights started up again, I became more confident. The race was re-branded THE RACE TO RECOVER, the marathon was hailed as just the thing that NY needed. The economic benefits aside, it was declared by the Mayor as a positive event for the city and its people.
I landed at JFK airport sometime around 6pm local time. A delay waiting to go into the terminal meant people inevitably started turning their phones on, which meant that the bad news finally came through. Texts arrived, I frantically logged onto the internet via my smartphone and the devastating news took hold. If you had have offered me the opportunity to turn the plane around and fly home at that instant I would’ve gladly taken it. It seemed that the comments I’d viewed on the Facebook page were only the tip of the iceberg. As I waited in immigration people all around had the same shocked expressions as me.
Now before I go on I should make it very clear that I totally understand the reasons for calling off the marathon. Particularly given that Staten Island, where the start line was, was in such a mess. What angered me so greatly was that less than 48 hours before the race, where approximately 20,000 international runners take part, was seemingly considered fair warning. I arrived, checked into my replacement hotel, ate and barely slept all night. When I couldn’t take it any more I got up, went to a coffee shop and made use of the WIFI. The pure vitriol directed at the marathon became very clear once I started looking for it.
On Sat morning we ventured across to the Expo, which felt like a funeral of sorts. I picked up my number and t-shirt and wandered around the stands. I talked to a lad who was working at the Expo who had been living in a hotel since Monday, as his building flooded. Missing a race doesn’t seem quite so bad in that context. He told me how the news had been received at the Expo on Friday, with people all of a sudden receiving phonecalls, texts, then all frantically looking for confirmation. Official confirmation from NYRR didn’t appear until HOURS later.
On Sunday my wife and I got up early, got on the now functioning subway and headed to Central Park where I had decided to do some running. As we approached it became very obvious that there were already lots of runners there. I started running laps of the park, alongside the multitude of runners wearing their marathon t-shirts and charity vests, with lots of international runners wearing the colours of their country. It was beautiful day for a run and the atmosphere was amazing. People lined the route at various points, runners cheered and told each other ‘Good job’ as they passed each other. I happened upon the still standing finish line, which was unfortunately cordoned off. People sat in the spectator bleachers still set up, cheering and clapping the runners. It was infectious and inspiring and a simple 10 mile plod around the park became a half-marathon paced blast. I was desperately sad to stop at 14.5 miles in order to meet my wife. It would’ve been marvellous to finish the full-marathon, with surely a PB on the cards! I left the park a great deal happier than I had been at any point that weekend and it ranks as one of the greatest runs I’ve ever been a part of.
I personally feel that the marathon was targeted by people who wished to express their frustration at the seeming lack of progress in the aftermath recovery. It seemed hypocritical to focus on one event, when the NY Knicks basketball and NY Giants football teams played unhindered the same day. The reasons for this are entirely understandable, given the mood and problems still evident, but I’m still not sure what cancelling at this late stage achieved – there were items destined for the marathon that were redistributed, but whether this made any real impact is open to question. The organisers insisted that by using volunteers and private companies that no emergency services would be diverted from recovery efforts, a claim that we’ll never be able to put to the test. However, potentially running a gauntlet of hate instead of the fantastic support that the NY marathon is famed for would’ve been a hideous experience.
My disappointment is great, but at least I have a roof over my head, electricity and my loved ones are safe. I also have the happy memories of Central Park. I don’t expect any monetary compensation from race organisers, but I would like a fuller explanation and some recognition that for many runners, particularly international runners, that the timing of the cancellation was so wrong.