Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Show Must Go On?

Last week, I nearly booked myself a plane ticket to New York City to watch the marathon this weekend. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan would be in town. Meb Keflezighi would be running. The Halls would be there (at last check I swear they were coming). The Garmin guys would be running--go Jake and Justin! And of course all the latest and greatest gear would be on tap at the expo. Mizuno offered the chance to win a slot at a special brunch and they were showcasing the Breath Thermo top that looked like just the layer I needed to stay warm this winter--and after not being one of the lucky ones to win shoes or invited the Mezamashii Project, I'd take any opportunity I could to win a second chance. Basically, if I could get myself to the Big Apple without spending an arm and a leg, I wanted to be there.

Then Sandy happened. She tore across the East Coast and flooded some of the most unfathomable spots in the city that never sleeps, making New York look like it was Universal Studio's Earthquake ride (I promise I'm not joking about what happened, I just couldn't believe that so many Atlantic landmarks were destroyed). But what did I start thinking about after the initial OMG moments? The New York City Marathon. Would it go on as scheduled or would it be canceled?

Apparently I wasn't alone. Someone shared a story about an increase in registrations for Saturday's Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Someone else wondered aloud on Facebook how she'd be getting to New York in time to run. Stories about the NYC Marathon were circulating online. And I swear I heard through my half-awake stupor that the race was addressed during The Today Show broadcast multiple times. There were rumblings that the course was being surveyed and damaged assessed. Mayor Bloomberg confirmed speculations about the race Tuesday and then reiterated this morning: It would go on. Yet that was met with a barrage of comments, mostly negative ones. Cancel the race. Postpone it. Don't hold it when resources could be better directed. Why, why, why? Offer a deferment option. And on, and on, and on.

I can't say that I'd want to run through a city that recently had a superstorm rip through it. I completely get the complaints. But I can understand the logic, at least some of it, for letting the marathon proceed as planned.

  • Some runners are never going to be happy. If you were all set to run on Nov. 4 and now you can't, you're going to be pissed. Waiting another week or two to run a race in a different city could mean a slower time, colder weather, tougher terrain--you name it and I could find an excuse for why you could be worse off at that next race. If the race were canceled or postponed or deferrable, runners will still find a reason for why that won't work for them.
  • There are more than 45,000 runners expected to toe the NYC Marathon start line this year. Economic impact aside, that's a lot of runners. And if you don't hold the race, you'd have to assume that nearly all of them would seize the opportunity to run next year, making it near impossible for any others to score a spot until 2014. This isn't Twitter but: #nofair.
  • The Nor'easter nearly ruined the 2007 Boston Marathon. Sure, a Nor'easter isn't a hurricane or its aftermath (in fact, it's pretty weak to compare the two), but those of us registered to run the 2007 Boston Marathon almost saw ourselves in similar shoes. An ugly storm was circulating New England that weekend--it poured all day Sunday and Monday morning while we waiting in Boston Common for the buses to Hopkinton. We had the option to defer, something usually only offered if you're injured or you sent in your registration postcard before race weekend. And how many of us still ran? A lot. 
  • Runners still ran the uber hot Boston 2012 and Chicago 2007. I get that extreme heat, extreme cold and running through a downpour aren't exactly as catastrophic as power outages, fires and explosions, and flooded railway lines. If runner safety is a concern at Sunday's race, it's just as much a concern when the mercury rises so much it's hard to breathe, stay cool and keep the heart in check while running. Runners who didn't, or couldn't, weather the elements never toed the line and the rest of us just dealt with it. And the 30th running of Chicago was canceled because it got too hot out there, but many of us unofficially crossed the finish line, just not with a time we're proud to broadcast.
  • Everyone's quick to criticize Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg, but what if the tables were flipped and Mayor Emanuel and executive race director Carey Pinkowski had to make a similar decision about the Chicago Marathon? Would they say the show must go on? It did in 2001 when the the Chicago Marathon was the first major marathon, maybe even the first major event in a major U.S. city, after 9/11. Chicago may not have been affected like New York was, but Pinkowski and then-Mayor Daley still had to decide what to do with that one. We still ran. I'm curious as to what Pinkowski thinks--and why no one thought to ask him and quote him.
  • Logistics. The logistics of canceling or postponing a race have to be daunting. This isn't the best  example but it works. Think about golf's U.S. Open. No one wants to have a playoff the following day. The two who are tied don't necessarily want to play another 18 holes, the network has to scramble for televising it, the host club has to hold off returning to normal for yet another day, and good luck finding a viewing crowd that's as large Monday as it was on Sunday. How do you stage a 26.2-mile race on an alternative day when it's been prepped--police, security, road closures--for ages? 
In the end, someone must have remembered a phrase that complies with the no refund policy that most races have. Rain or shine, hell or high water, runners are going to run.

Do you think the 2012 New York City Marathon should go on as schedule or should it be canceled?

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