The recent hurricane devastation in New York has brought forth myriad concerns. Mostly I have worried for the safety and well being of many friends and families of friends who live there. But as a runner I also lamented the unfortunate timing of this natural disaster vis a vis one of the greatest running events in the country: the New York City Marathon. The race is slated to occur a mere six days after Hurricane Sandy’s battering.
Quietly, as not to show disrespect to the residents of New York who have suffered far greater hardships than having a marathon get canceled, runners like me all across the country have been pondering: will the race go on?
There are many obvious reasons to cancel. In short, the city has bigger problems to solve than how to make the five boroughs accessible to 47,000 people who want to cover 26.2 miles on foot this Sunday. So it came as a surprise when Mayor Bloomberg boldly (perhaps even brazenly) announced yesterday that the race will go on.
The mayor said: “It is a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, you’ve got to believe they would want to have an economy and have the city go on for those who were left behind.” He wanted the race to be a symbol of the city’s resilience.
Runners are not newcomers to symbolic acts. We often dedicate our efforts to some greater good beyond ourselves. Think of all the races that funnel their proceeds toward a charitable cause. And all the organizations that hold road races as fundraisers. In running, we push ourselves (to cross the finish line) to inspire others to do the same (overcome a challenge). As a fundamentally solitary endeavor, there is something personal and spiritual about running, and this makes it conducive to expressing values and beliefs.
A good handful of this year’s NYCM entrants are charity runners — those who aspire to cross the finish line in support of a charitable cause. Now comes an opportunity for all NYCM participants to run the race for a cause. That cause is to lift the spirit of folks who call New York their home.
I cannot say whether the mayor’s decision was the right one. (It seems on one level bullheaded and insensitive, as well as needlessly taxing on public resources.) But if the show will go on, let the race participants and their supporters come to New York nobly. Let them rally behind the battered city instead of expecting to be catered to by it. This is a time to check one’s sense of entitlement at the door — to be at peace with travel delays, to accept screwups with bag checks, fuel stops, shuttle rides and what-not, and to not complain about lack of crowd support.
So run strong for the New Yorkers, racers. Do it for them this time. When you put one foot in front of the other at mile 25, do it in honor of those struggling to put their lives back together. Share your strength with them. Make our tribe of long-distance runners proud.