New York Marathon: 5 Things We Can Learn From the Sandy Saga

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It’s inevitable that when you hold a city-based running race (or a triathlon for that matter) people are going to be inconvenienced. But it’s one thing to be inconvenienced and a whole other thing to hurl hate at those who just want to race (and for racers to hurl hate back). So what can we, as runners, learn from the New York Marathon post-Sandy saga?

The Back Story | Before I get down to the top five, a little background to frame the discussion. The confirmation-then-cancellation of the New York Marathon was one of the biggest stories amidst the Sandy Super Storm media frenzy.

Over 40,000 runners, with their support crews, arrived in the city from all over the world, following earlier confirmation from the mayor that the famous race was going ahead. Runners were then told, less than 48 hours before the starting gun was to be fired, that it was cancelled. Months (and years) of training, several hundred dollars in entrance fees each, several thousand dollars in transport costs each, and, for the elites, hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost appearance fees and prize money (which is massive in a relatively money-starved professional sport like running) all lost in one last minute decision.

On top of this, locals were genuinely angry at racers and race organisers. Race volunteers were approached on the streets to stop setting up the race and to instead help the recovery effort and online media ran wild with angered comments.

One respondent to an article said: Citizens are being kicked out of hotels for these idiots, powerful generators are running their greeting tent instead of homes, the dead and dying have not all been reached, first responders are exhausted and being ordered to attend to this exercise in empty boosterism and 1% narcissism. Bloomberg is a disgrace unworthy of the title of mayor of that city. Stay away, you are not wanted there.”

Another simply said: “Of course it should be F*%@ing cancelled.”

Yet another got a little creative: “Put them all on a giant treadmill to generate some power.”

I totally hear where these emotive responses are coming from. And ultimately the runners are just another group among the many affected by this storm and their loss is far less than those who have lost either their livelihood, their home or their life (or all three). It’s these people who deserved to be prioritised in the recovery effort.

In my opinion, New York seemed in no state to contemplate holding an event like this and the decision should have been made much earlier to cancel (I have the benefit of hindsight of course), but it does highlight the fact that these big city races do demand a lot from the locals … and they can hit a raw nerve (as we’ve just seen). For example, and on a much smaller scale, in a cycle race just near my place this weekend, an angry local left graffiti hate massages on road signs and threw tacks on the course. So I can appreciate the reaction of New Yorkers to the prospect of a marathon clogging up streets for an entire day when the transport systems are already out of action.

So here are my thoughts on what we can learn from the whole New York Marathon Sandy Saga.

5. Appreciate the Privilege | I’ve run around New York streets at rush hour. The roads are packed, the pavements are even more packed, there are traffic lights every few hundred metres. Sandy has reminded us of what a privilege it is to turn up to a city, have the roads cleared for you, and to run uninhibited through otherwise manic, but scenically stunning, streets. Let’s cherish that privilege.

4. Rock the Party | At any race with spectators you (the runner) are the rock star and the spectators have come to see you put on a show. So use your big city race as an opportunity to go all out: if you’re running for charity don’t hold back on your costume, high-five spectators, do cartwheels across the finish line, and ultimately get out there and run the race of your life.

3. Thank the Locals | Typically locals will turn out en masse to support runners at big city marathons. I ran Chicago Marathon last year where just under 2 million people lined the streets. I was overwhelmed by the support and I thought it only fair that I showed my appreciation by staying in a local hotel, buying local food (of which I had a lot after the race … Chicago pizza!) and spending some time shopping, sightseeing and experiencing the culture of the city.

2. Run Small Town Races | Many who have trained up for New York will no doubt do this over the next few weeks to take advantage of their peak fitness. But it’s also good to incorporate these small races into your racing schedule on a regular basis. Sure, you’ll most likely be doing more solo running (with fewer entries), but these events cause far less disruption in people’s lives (and are more stress free for competitors too), they support small communities, they are often held in beautiful natural environments, and, hey, you may even win the thing with the lower numbers.

1. Give Back | I was blown away to hear that many of the New York Marathon participants chose to run out to Staten Island with backpacks loaded with supplies for storm victims. With transport systems down and queues for petrol, this was a really nice touch. It got me thinking that because the majority of major marathon entrants run on behalf of a charity, why not run for a cause based in the city you are running in? Triathlete Chris Lieto has started a charity that does just this, check it out here.

Happy running.

– Hayden

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