Within an hour or two of my post yesterday, the 2012 New York City Marathon was canceled. I am still not choosing a side on the cancel vs not cancel debate. I can still see both sides.
It's reasonable to think that the marathon would have brought New York City together. I saw the people of New York last year. I know how they line First Avenue cheering for people that they don't even know. I heard strangers in Queens yelling "Thank you" for coming to their city and running the race. I didn't really consider it earlier in the week, but if someone had asked me if New Yorkers would be happy to have the marathon still go on, I would have remembered these things and probably said yes. I really, truly felt loved in New York last November. Marathons show endurance and pushing through strife - that is what we as marathoners do.
I would have also supported Mayor Bloomberg if he had chosen to cancel the race on Tuesday or Wednesday. When a city is hurting, when it is full of people who are struggling for power, or food, water or shelter, of course it would have been acceptable to cancel the race. New York just suffered a major disaster, canceling the race would have been a smart choice. Like I said yesterday, I couldn't imagine the marathon without the subway, so the decision to go on with the race was actually a surprise to me.
So, I am not choosing sides in that debate. Maybe I am naive to think that the Mayor had the city's best interests in mind when he chose to go forward with it, I don't know. I am not the mayor of New York City, so I don't have to make such decisions - and therefore I'm not going to.
So, what is my problem? When the race wasn't canceled, runners were placed in a difficult decision about whether or not still come and run. On the one hand, the mayor and the NYRRs were saying "come, it is fine." On the other hand, the backlash from New Yorkers was staggering. People who have trained for months, paid potentially thousands of dollars in airfare, hotel and race entry fees were forced to consider whether or not to run a race that was apparently still going to happen. Some of these people were running to run a marathon. Some of them were running for a cause such as cancer, autism, heart disease, and any other number of charities. Some of them had raised thousands of dollars under the assumption that they would run the race. Some of them had planned to pin photos of loved ones lost to disease or tragedy to their shirts and run in their honor. Running a marathon, especially New York City, is not just about running. Not only that, but the marathon in 2011 brought in $350 million in revenue to the city. That's not something to sneeze at.
Even this week, runners planning to still run the race were collecting supplies to bring to New York with them. They were struggling over the decision of whether or not to run. They were raising money for hurricane victims. They were offering to volunteer to help in New York after the run. They were trying to help.
So, when I read the things that New Yorkers were saying online, not about the NYRRs, not about Mary Wittenberg, not about Mayor Bloomburg, but about the actual runners of the race and the race itself, I felt betrayed by the city that had welcomed me and loved me just a year ago for coming and running through the streets. I feel that there is a vast misunderstanding about the race, about the runners and about how this event could have been turned into a positive thing once the decision was made to go ahead with it. This could have been a rallying cry, but instead it was an embarrassment.
What I saw on Facebook was runners being called selfish. Runners were called narcissists, shallow, and swear words that I won't repeat. Some people posted that they wanted the marathon canceled not only this year, but forever. Others worked on organizing people to go down to the marathon to throw garbage at the runners as they ran the race. Some people posted that they were hoping and praying that runners would die during the race. I kid you not, they said these things. Where was the woman holding up the sign that said "Brooklyn loves you!" just 12 months ago? Was she collecting garbage to throw? I can look at it as "these are just comments on the internet", but they were so fierce and so terrible, that I would have feared for my safety if I was a runner running the race tomorrow, and I would have canceled simply because I felt so unwelcome.
Runners are not the enemy here, but no one seems to realize that, and because of that, I am heartbroken and sad. The people of New York are the reason that the New York City Marathon is so great. Without their support, the marathon is nothing. And, I don't know how I would feel even in 2013 about coming to their city to run with the attitude that I see now.
Maybe the problem is that I tend to sense a general hatred of marathons and runners anyway. Just take a look at Chicago's 5 Things to Hate About Marathon Runners. Or how about when a mayoral candidate in Toronto made it an election platform to remove the marathon from its city streets? Or how about all of the examples that many of us have had about road rage against runners? Maybe I feel like people hate runners and marathoners anyway, so this whole charade was boiling all of that resentment to the surface. And it makes me really, really sad. I mean, the runners that are being chastised for "taking away resources" from victims are the same people that paid $255 each to pay for those resources to exist in the first place.
Let's also not forget that the basketball and football games will go on this weekend - and they will bring in more people to the city than runners planning to run tomorrow. Is it any wonder that I feel like there is a bias against running going on here?
In the end, the decision to cancel last night was probably the worst thing that could have happened. If the argument is that runners were taking hotel rooms from those in need, then canceling the race when these runners had already gotten into town was not helping anyone. If the argument was that the water, bagels, bananas, etc being brought in for the marathon should have been used to help the victims - I wonder if it actually will be. It's not exactly the NYRR's area of expertise to distribute bagels and water across a huge city to victims of a disaster. And, I wonder what if the marathon hadn't been planned and none of those things had been there in the first place? And I wonder if the victims would have been better served by the charity the runners were feeling coming into town - which has now been soured. Yes, there were generators being used to power the race - but do we really think that those generators would be redirected to the victims if the race hadn't been going forward? Do we really think they'll go the victims now? I don't.
I am disappointed in the whole ordeal. If the race was to be canceled, it should have been canceled on Tuesday or Wednesday. I would not have questioned that decision. Instead, we have an embarrassment and a debacle and cluster that I am ashamed of.
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