Sunday, November 4, 2012

Much Controversy and No Winners

There has been much argument and hurt feelings this past week all focused on the New York City Marathon.  Much of it has been warranted and some of it has just been mis-placed.  Here's my very naive take on the debackle.

1.  If you are a non-runner, you can't even begin to understand the hurt feelings and mixed emotions the runners were feeling all week and will feel this morning (Sunday Morning, Nov 4).

Runners run because of so many different reasons: weight loss, stress management, joy, sadness, charity....the list is long.  For many runners it is sometimes the only thing they know to do in a time of chaos - which is what has enveloped NY and it's surrounding burrows.

For many runners, the NYCM is a once in a lifetime run and they have spent several hundred dollars preparing for the event, and the event itself.  The NYCM charges an entry fee (up to $347), then a runner pays for new shoes (usually spending between $80 to $150 and breaking them in 3 months leading up to the event), airline tickets, hotel room and food.  I'm sure there are more expenses involved but these are just the ones I can think of.  Many runners pinch and save for the event because of the expenses involved.  The NYCM brings in a lot of tourist dollars to the local economy because of all the runners (an estimated 60,000) and many of them from far away (think international - Chili, for example).

Just getting into the NYCM is a feat within itself.  You can get in by qualifying with a particular run time in other approved marathons or you can get in by raising a certain amount for an approved charity that NYCM supports, or you can apply for the remaining spots.  This year, approximately 140,000 runners applied this year for roughly 60,000 spots in the race. 

The typical runner has spent months training, focusing on nutrition, speed & hill drills, protecting oneself from injury, sacrificing weekends for long runs, etc.  One does not simply get up and run the Half or the Full - it is a determination and physical challenge that not just anyone can endure.  It is 90% mental and they have trained their minds to ignore pain, to overcome obstacles and to focus on the end goal.

According to the New York Times,  on average, each participant spends $1,778 on hotels, transportation, food and beverage, entertainment and shopping, according to an independent survey, produced by Aecom last year.

2.  The decision to cancel the event wasn't made until friday afternoon, after the expo had been set up and opened, after vendors had brought thousands of dollars of merchandise and samples to the city, spent thousands of dollars themselves to get there, and AFTER runners had already begun to flood the town.

I recently read that  The marathon generates an estimated $340 million in spending, thanks in part to more than 20,000 runners from overseas who spend money at hotels, restaurants, theaters and shops.

3.  The locals (as well as non-runners throughout our country) began to throw disparaging words and evil glances at the runners, as if the runners were the evil villains in this controversy.  Had the locals forgotten that it wasn't the runners that brought on Superstorm Sandy?  Had the locals thought that runners were so heartless that running through the damaged burrows not impact them ?  Why was everyone made at the runners - after all, runners were doing only what they were told.  To come run and that it would be the best recovery effort for the city.

4.  When the mayor and officials decided to finally cancel the event, there were runners already in the city and some were displaced because they had made a hotel reservation a year in advance but because of Superstorm Sandy, lost their room to displaced residences.  Most runners that I've read about, have gladly relinquished their rooms for the displaced residents and opted to sleep on cots and floors in ballrooms of the hotels.  That's runner spirit - that's human nature in the pure form it should be.

As I put text to paper this morning, a morning in which I had planned to be glued to the TV with my coffee, jealousy watching the NYCM runners on the boob tube or live internet  feed, I instead read stories of how the runners, still decked out in the orange tech shirts they received at packet pickup, now running through the burroughs, handing out backpacks full of extra clothing (runners always have "throw downs" during such a race), water, simple medical supplies (bandaids, etc), wet wipes, and more to the residents living in the aftermath of Sandy.  Again, the runner spirit and human desire to help others shines through the ugliness of late, bad decision making.

Runners prepare to run into Staten Island with their giveaways - picture taken off NYCM FB page. 

Basically, because of political figureheads, the runners look like whiny, self focused babies only after a little bling and the bragging rights to completing the NYCM, when in reality, they would gladly give up their rooms, their clothing and their months of training in order to give to their fellow humans in their time of need.  The event should've been canceled earlier in the week, allowing runners to make a decision - whether to continue their journey to NY or to redirect their airlines expenses, etc somewhere else.  The politicians took all the control out of the participants hands - this would make anyone grumpy.

The question remains, what will the directors of NYCM do for their runners?  They are out of hundreds of dollars for entry fee, hotels, travel and to have it completely cancelled after arrival deserves some sort of compensation.  A compromise may be to reschedule the event for Spring - but then of course, there are a few dozen calendars that have to line up with it - the city calendar for one!  Or should they just simply refund a percentage of the entry fee?  What about comping the fee into another marathon?

There are still a lot of questions that NYCM needs to address and fix but in the end, with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy,but for the residents, the politicians, the race officials and the runners,  there are no winners.

As for me, the NYCM will remain on my bucket list.
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