Runners have been making a lot of headlines over the last few days, but not always in a good way. Sandy, the super storm that hit the northeast earlier this week, has caused a lot of damage to a lot of lives and has affected the weekend dreams of a lot of runners. I’m not going to compare the magnitude of these things, but I do think the initial backlash against runners when Mayor Bloomberg first said the race would go on was unfair. I got into a heated exchange after that announcement with a friend who runs, who openly declared online that she believed any runner who would show up and run an event under the circumstances was “selfish.” From my perspective, this statement is completely unfair. Keep in mind the following facts:
- It’s the decision of city leadership, not of runners or NYRR, to hold or cancel the race. They were the ones responsible for saying the race was still on, and they also bear the responsibility for the 11-th hour decision to cancel. Consider this: If the race were held, and even if no one showed up at the starting line, the street closures and police deployments panned by many would still have occurred, because city government had ordered it.
- According to the New York Times, by the time the race was cancelled on Friday night 40,000 of the 47,000 expected runners were already in the city. Even excepting native New Yorkers, that means thousands of visiting runners made it to the city on the expectation of a race, only to find out it was off. If part of the goal of canceling was to prevent the diversion of resources to visitors, on that count the city leadership certainly failed.
- I would argue that canceling the race doesn’t really create any “winners,” per se. Now, in addition to all of the folks without homes and power, many runners lost non-refundable entry fees into the hundreds of dollars, plus the thousands that some have spent on travel, lodging, and meals. When panning these runners, it’s important to remember that some of them are also losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All of them (one hopes) had spent months training for the event, some waited years to gain an entry. Some will probably not be able to return to New York for the marathon in the future. I definitely see both sides of this story, but I also think the stories of massive amounts of “resources being diverted to runners” were exaggerated.
- What strikes me most about this story, though, is how runners showed up in the end and debunked the selfish image that some people painted of them. Earlier today, it’s estimated that over 1,000 runners showed up in Staten Island to help distribute supplies. (See also this first-hand account from running legend Amby Burfoot. He estimated the crowd at 700, but the larger figure was reported by NBC News.) Others who ran in Central Park raised money for those affected by the storm. Let’s also not forget that many runners entered the race in the first place through charity programs, raising money for different causes or just seeking to improve their lives and inspire others. I hope these many individuals succeeded in reminding the media and ordinary people that runners–especially distance runners–tend to be a socially conscious bunch. You can’t spend hours on the road without thinking of the communities you run in, the causes that your races benefit, and the environment.
City leaders in New York showed some poor leadership in this instance, but it looks like runners did great things in New York today and I hope residents affected by the storm feel like this was ultimately worthwhile. (As we all know, sometimes the best-intentioned plans don’t work out as intended.) If any of you were affected by the storm or participated in the aid efforts today, please let me know! I’ve seen some blogs about this already and I’d like to read more about what people are doing. For my part, I donated to the Red Cross today and would encourage my readers to find a way to help as well.