Freeze column: New York City Marathon canceled, but what's right?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

All week, I have watched with amazement the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Many of the sights of damage in the New York City area hit close to home. Over the years, I have visited there many times for baseball, business, sightseeing, friends, and the New York City Marathon.
My first trip to the Big Apple came about by accident, or maybe not. Here’s the story. My first wife ( she is eternally proud of that title) and I happened to watch the ABC coverage from start to finish of the 1979 marathon. Back then, I didn’t run much and certainly never considered a distance of 26.2 miles without pressing a gas pedal on the way.
The more we watched, the more it motivated me to try out serious running.
After watching the finish of the male and female leaders, and listening to the personal stories of a few of the more than 25,000 people competing, I simply said, “I would love be able to run a marathon.”
Wife No. 1 thought was hilarious, and said, “There is absolutely no way that you could ever do that!”
I remember her response included big laughter. So that night, I set out to begin the quest. One mile was my total that first night. Next month, that total will hit 70,000 miles. I can blame it all on her.
With a lot of luck and perseverance, I toed the starting line of the 1980 New York City Marathon, just one year after we watched that marathon on TV.
About half of the field came from other countries. There is a big lottery system that allows a certain number of British, French, Americans, and so on. Even in the U.S., there is a limited number of Americans from each region.
It was a great day when I received the coveted acceptance in the mail. Wife No. 1 went along and we learned a lot about our country’s biggest city.
Over the years, I ran the same marathon three more times. Once was with a good friend from Salisbury who died shortly after. The last one was with an exceptionally good running girlfriend.
That last one was probably the most fun because there was a little more time to experience the long path through the city.
My first three marathons there were all run with intense effort chasing a faster time. My fastest half marathon time was actually set during the first one most likely because the excitement causes a huge adrenaline rush. There are lots of great memories.
This year’s marathon was set to go today, with about 47,000 runners.
I was not entered this year but looked forward to watching it on the internet.
After the storm, Mayor Bloomberg immediately issued a controversial statement assuring everyone that the race would go on. New York would still have one of its biggest events to rally around.
Of course, this was alright with the marathon competitors. Serious marathoners train specifically for a certain race, often for as much as four months. Training builds in intensity and length with training runs often nearly as long as the marathon itself.
Many of these runners would run as much as 10-15 hours per week. In fact, many of the 2012 runners were already in New York City or arrived on the first planes allowed in after the initial storm cleanup.
The NYC Marathon is considered one of the five world-class marathons, along with Chicago, Boston, London and Berlin.
The cost for flights, some of them from overseas, and hotels make it one of the most expensive of even that big five. The entry fee alone is $250.
What do I think about cancellation? Was this the right thing to do?
I agreed with Mayor Bloomberg when he announced the race should go on, and still lean that way. He assured everyone that no emergency services would be affected.
As the death toll rose and the realized extent of the damage grew, there became a better argument to cancel.
On one hand, those registered runners will lose all their money already committed to what amounts to a once in a lifetime event for many of them. The course starts on the Verrazano Bridge that only touches decimated Staten Island, then quickly heads for Brooklyn. It appears that the marathon course itself was spared major damage and there was time to clean it up. But if the resources could be used in another area, then maybe this was right decision.
I’ll stick with that statement. Let’s look forward now and use everything available to get the damaged city back up to speed. The big cannon will signal the start of lots more New York City Marathons and just maybe runners and spectators can appreciate those great races even more.