More Reactions to NYC Cancelation

The announcement came last night as I was out to dinner; I wrote my quick post last night in a movie theater during the trailers before Argo. (Very good film, go see it.) No one yet had time to reflect on what happened.

There’s no shortage of opinions now. They range from the measured (Amby Burfoot for Runner’s World) to the shrieking (Phil Hersh for the Chicago Tribune); even ESPN’s Mike and Mike weighed in on the matter. (ESPN, The Worldwide Leader in Sports Self-Promotion, paid to broadcast Sunday’s marathon, so race or no they’re still giving it the full-court press.)

The general consensus is that just about everyone understands and is OK with it, but wondering why it took so long to come to this conclusion. The two main decision-makers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg, probably went through thoughts like these.

Tuesday: Hey, this is New York, the greatest city in the world, we’ll be back up on our feet by the weekend.

Friday: Holy shit.

You can take this to mean any of a number of things: the depth of the disaster, the public reaction, or the various little things in the tri-state area that have become huge. They didn’t realize until too late exactly what they were dealing with, no matter what the “what” was.

The citizen runners are pissed off because they spent a lot of money and time and effort (and did I mention money?) to get their butts into New York, no easy task right now, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them. The pros didn’t even know ahead of time.

It does appear that Wittenberg took the needs of the pros to heart as much or more than the needs of the masses, and probably with good reason. ESPN wasn’t going to broadcast the race so you could see your cousin Vinny run, but to show the pros battling for the win. ING and other corporate giants sponsor it for the same reason. Many of those pros now have lost significant income. Olympic medalists like Wilson Kipsang and Tiki Gelana are going to be fine, but it’s the second-tier pros who are going to suffer the most. US runner Molly Pritz tweeted the following:

The not-quite-Olympians always live on the edge of financial ruin, and the effects of the storm may have swept some over that edge.

Whether or not the race was going to cut into needed relief for area residents, it was widely believed that it would. Water, food, clothing and electricity are in short supply in some areas. One issue I haven’t seen much in stories about the cancellation is shortages of gasoline, which is probably the #1 thing making tempers flare in New York right now. Had the race gone on, it would have used up massive amounts of fuel–especially in bussing the tens of thousands of runners out to the start on Staten Island. Those are the hardest-hit areas–Staten Island and New Jersey–which aren’t exactly Mad Max-style hellscapes…not yet, at least, but many residents are terrified that they will soon become so. The race start area could have become a very ugly scene.

And let’s face it: running races is basically a selfish act. Aside from the economic impact, they benefit no one but the participants. Yes, many runners raise money for charity while running, but it’s not as if they couldn’t get those donations from their communities in some other way. Selfish isn’t inherently bad; running races is no more selfish than, say, restoring a classic car or writing a blog about track and field. But no matter how dedicated any of those people are to their craft, unless they do it for a living, it’s a hobby. For all but those few dozen professionals, preparing for and running the New York City Marathon is, on some level, a recreational act.

Personally, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to sit on my ass on Sunday and watch the race. I watched the race from the beginning of my competitive running career (1983) until its end (1993), and started doing so again when it became available through webcasts. It’s always been a kind of a celebration of another season of running or coaching, and it’s a great visual tour of New York in autumn. ESPN appeared to be ready to do the kind of truly professional job that NBC never has and never will. I thought the matchups looked interesting and the battles could be thrilling…

…but I still thought it wasn’t going to be much fun to watch.

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