Crossing Party Lines: Repairing Runner Relations after the 2012 NYC Marathon was Canceled

Clove

Star has written 79 posts on Salty Running.

Trail and adventure enthusiast who started on the roads and won't give up my 5:30 am road runs with my neighborhood posse, including my husband. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Eight 100 mile race finishes with five top 3 placements.

New Dorp Beach - #aftersandy - Staten Island

New Dorp, incredibly close to the starting line of the NYC Marathon. (Photo credit: kate.gardiner)

The results of the 2012 election are in.  It was a highly contentious race, ugly even.  Close enough for the entire voting country to go to sleep with hope, but also close enough that 50% of the population is unhappy today.  Really unhappy.  Angry, even.

And that’s the beauty of America.

The parties will continue to attack each other, and half of the country will shout from the rooftops with joy and relief while the other half hunkers down in fear of what lies ahead.  Two very different parties; two very different opinions.  Neither technically right, neither technically wrong.  The challenge, as ever, is living together as one.

It’s a challenge too familiar to many runners in the wake of the 2012 ING New York City Marathon.

Relief, yes, but boy was this handled all wrong. Image via ingnycmarathon.org

The cancellation of the 2012 marathon has already been dissected ad nauseam on Salty Running; as one who was there and relieved by the cancellation, I will have a series of reports over the next several weeks.  But this particular piece isn’t meant to discuss the ethical dilemma of traveling at all (I had a professional commitment to uphold, but my personal morals found the continuation of the marathon abhorrent.)  It isn’t meant to discuss the PR nightmare that the cancellation became (we found out about it via social media, long before the announcement was made, and still have yet to receive official communication from the NYRR.)  It isn’t meant to discuss the repercussions of the cancellation, which will reverberate through the running community for years to come.  I promise, all that’s coming.

It’s not even meant to discuss whether the whole damn thing was “right” or “wrong” in spite of how it was handled (which was all wrong.)

It’s meant to discuss where we, as a running community, go from here.

You saw it on our very own website, the hate, vitriol and runner-on-runner verbal violence.  That’s nothing compared to what we saw on the marathon’s official Facebook page, or even in explaining why we were there at all.  There were threats first that food would be thrown at the runners; those threats escalated to rocks and riots.  And through it all, the chaos and the confusion, the anger and excitement, the gratitude and recriminations – we destroyed the most important thing we’ve ever had.

Our own community.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04:  Large groups of j...

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 04: Large groups of joggers run through Centeral Park on November 4 (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Two warring Facebook pages popped up in the wake of the event.  “Run Anyway” was the group of athletes who decided they had come to New York to run a marathon, and run a marathon they would.  Thousands would gather in Central Park on Sunday morning, with plans to run the original NYC Marathon course that consisted of laps around the park.  “NYC More 2012” answered back, urging runners to gather Sunday morning at the Staten Island ferry for a day of service in the decimated neighborhoods adjacent to the starting line.

I had my opinion, and it was strong.  Salty and Cinnamon will both testify that I didn’t want to go from the start, and that the only reason I chose to go was to take advantage of the opportunity to be of service when I wasn’t running.  Actually, I had spent the better part of Friday emailing Cinnamon and service organizations across NYC trying to wind through the red tape of finding places to volunteer on Saturday and Sunday.  Seeing local news coverage, I was getting angrier and angrier about the entire situation, my soul at war with the athletes who would come to the booth, loaded down with bags of merchandise, acting as if people weren’t living on top of landfills just miles away.

Yet there I was.  One of “them,” the evil runners that didn’t care.

To me, the worst part of this entire debacle is that runners took the fall.  Whether kind or cold, foreign or American, opinionated or conflicted, it’s runners that became the bad guys.  Caught in a morality play of epic proportions, we became the rope in a match of tug-of-war; yanked between the NYRR and Mayor Bloomberg; the city of Manhattan and the community of Staten Island; our own hearts and morals.  We were told to go, but vilified for doing so.  And worst of all, we were vilified and judged by each other.

Those who ran thought those who volunteered were bleeding hearts; that they didn’t understand the runners “deserved” a race.  Many of us, even those who had intentions of volunteering before ever stepping on a plane, were accused of being “forced” into it, or doing a “token” day of service to assuage our conscience.  I assure you that my conscience is far from being assuaged.

And those of us that volunteered were just as bad, publicly or privately decrying those who felt the only manner in which to heal was run.  To go to Central Park and find some kind of community in which to share their own grief, sorrow and disappointment.  I admit it; as hard as I tried not to judge, I felt the feelings.  I had to force myself to remember how this would have felt had it been my first marathon, or my first NYC Marathon.  I had to remind myself that not everyone sees losing a year of training to losing your home through the same lens.  I had to remind myself that my 1,300 people had gotten on the ferry, and our voices had been heard.

For every runner, there was a story.  There were the runners who were in the air, over the Atlantic, when the announcement was made.  Runners who got on a plane to run a marathon, and got off a plane to news of cancellation.  There were runners who deferred on Monday and Tuesday, before any announcement was made, simply knowing it was wrong for them.  There were runners who ran – yes, ran – but planned to deliver bags of donations or volunteer on Monday.  There were runners who were about to get on the plane, were as far as the gate even, and turned around and went home.  There were runners who arrived at the Expo to pick up their packets, still conflicted, and threw their numbers out as they left.  There were runners who went because they already had tickets, but planned to volunteer instead.  There were runners who had lost their own homes – yes, I met them – and needed this race to help them go on.  There were runners who planned to use their numbers to get on the busses or ferry to Staten Island – but to abandon ship and go into the communities.  Trust me, it was a very short walk.

Jordan Metzl, a prominent NYC sports physician who helped organize one of the days of service on Sunday, was quoted profoundly in a CNN piece about the storm of volunteers that took to Staten Island instead of Central Park, saying “Part of the myth of this whole thing was that runners were callous to the suffering and just wanted to run their marathon. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Image via foxnews.com

As I sat on the 78-S bus on Sunday morning, headed back to my second day of service at the relief center in New Dorp High School, no words could have rung more true.  Cinnamon sat beside me as DB and I munched our convenience store bagels and balanced bags full of flashlights.  We had seen more than 1,300 runners get off the Staten Island ferry that morning, bound not for the starting line, but for those in need.  Miles across the city in Manhattan, another 2,000 runners did their best to run a makeshift marathon.

Every one of us had a story.  I honored mine by buying 52 bottles of bleach that day, and going door-to-door with bleach, mops and hugs.

The only “right” answer would have been an earlier cancellation.  Instead, it was 47,000 runners that got trapped.  Trapped, labeled, scapegoated and judged.  And in the worst of all turns of events, we did it to ourselves as much as outsiders did it to us.

Today, the election is finally over.  It was a highly contentious race, ugly even.  Close enough for the entire voting country to go to sleep with hope, but also close enough that 50% of the population is unhappy today.  Really unhappy.  Angry, even.

And the parties will continue to attack each other, and half of the country will shout from the rooftops with joy and relief while the other half hunkers down in fear of what lies ahead.  Two very different parties; two very different opinions.  Neither technically right, neither technically wrong.  The challenge, as ever, is living together as one.

As runners, we now face the same challenge.    May we rise to the occasion with love, hope and compassion – and a few long runs along the way.

Some felt this was the right thing to do on Sunday. Image via facebook.com/RunAwayNYC2012

Staten Island Hurricane Sandy Relief

I chose otherwise. I am humbled to have spent two days with the people of the community of New Dorp. The saying may be “I love New York,” but my heart belongs to Staten Island.(Photo credit: David Berkowitz)

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2 Responses to “Crossing Party Lines: Repairing Runner Relations after the 2012 NYC Marathon was Canceled”

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  1. Great post.(yes, I found out by social media as well, despite being in line at the expo at 5:25 on Friday)

    I love articles that just raise great questions like yours did, and you’re left with your own debates and decisions swirling around your head. I never really saw running on sunday versus volunterring on Sunday as diametrically opposed. Did runners visiting for the weekend have a greater obligation to volunteer than those who weren’t hammered by the hurricane, live in the city, and shopped at the M&M store, went to museums, and rode the elevator to the top of 30 rock?. (all things I did while visiting as well.) I certainly think those who did participated in a wonderful act.

    I won’t rehash my own blog post on the weekend (read if you’d like), but it’s a subject that has been so beat to the ground it perhaps has become a bore, but as a runner who was much in the same boat with similar decisions as yourself, I have not fully moved on. Nope. Marathon training at its peak becomes such a part of my life that I can’t really distinguish where my running ends and my life begins, because they all get spun into one.

    I can’t help but think that full resolution will happen next year at the 2012 part B NYCM. (although I can’t assume we have guaranteed entry at this point can I).

  2. Jennifer says:

    I don’t necessarily agree that the race had to be cancelled. It wasn’t a moral issue, it was a practical one. Not running didn’t really help the people in need any more than running it would have harmed them.

    That said, I don’t think there needs to be a divide between those that decided to “Run Anyway” against those that stayed and volunteered. Why does it have to be either/or? Morality and philanthropy isn’t about one day. Runners could run and give back on other days.

    I did the NY marathon last year. I thought a lot about what I would have done if I had been scheduled to go this year. Likely I would have flown out on Thursday, having been told on Wednesday that the race was on. It is very difficult from afar to assess the actual devastation from a storm like Sandy, so I would likely have taken the Mayor’s decision on good faith. When told it was cancelled, I would have likely joined the thousands of runners on Sunday morning while committing to help in other ways.

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