Should the New York City Marathon Be Cancelled?

Sunday is the New York City Marathon. This is a huge event, with 40,000 runners, several thousand volunteers, and countless spectators. Unfortunately, New York was hit extremely hard by Hurricane Sandy, and many runners are unable to make it to the city, or facing difficulties with hotel rooms, transportation, and logistics. Despite the devastation, the mayor of New York and New York Road Runners want the race to continue…but many are wondering if it’s worthwhile!’s editor Mario Fraoli had a great editorial on why the marathon shouldn’t be run at the tail end of such a disastrous week:

New York is a city that has a proven history of encountering tragedy only to unite and overcome it, even under the gravest of situations. I have no doubt that they’ll do so again during these trying times, but staging a marathon this weekend — even the biggest and most recognizable one in the world — while the city it runs through is in the direst of straits, shouldn’t be a priority, and does very little to improve the current situation for many of the 8 million plus people who call the Big Apple home. I’m ready to be ripped apart for what I’m about to write, but the New York City Marathon does not need to happen this Sunday. There are more pressing issues that rightfully deserve the city’s attention, energy and limited resources.

Electing to cancel an event of this magnitude is not an easy decision by any stretch, and some would even argue advisable or conscionable, but given the current situation in the city it’s a difficult one that must be made for the greater good of New York City and its residents. Period. While there’s a lot at stake here for marathon organizers, athletes, sponsors, vendors, and various others involved with the event, there’s even more at stake for the thousands of people who are still without power, forced out of their homes, can’t get out of their homes or otherwise waiting for assistance to get their lives back in order. As it stands, there are a limited number of public resources such as policeman, firemen and paramedics available to aid the recovery effort, and every single one of them absolutely needs to go toward helping the folks who pay tax dollars to take advantage of them, not to a race that will pay those very same resources to shut down roads and ensure that an event goes off without a hitch.

There have been arguments that hosting the event this weekend will be a much-needed boost to the economy and help increase morale in the city, but given that far less than the anticipated 47,000 runners will actually make it to the event, and those that do will be spending less time (and money) in the city because of travel delays, that dollar amount won’t be nearly what it would be under ordinary circumstances. Runners will always unite and foster an encouraging spirit for one another, especially during trying times, but this showing of support will do little for the millions of folks who will still be dealing with this tragedy well after the masses leave on Sunday night or Monday morning.

I encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of my friend John Volpe, a resident of Hoboken, New Jersey currently stranded in San Diego due to travel cancellations, who is trying to get back to the east coast before the weekend. He told me earlier today that his wife, who is stuck in their house, “has not showered since Monday. We have no power or food to prepare and I have not slept well since then.”

Mario’s whole editorial is worth reading, as I think he does a great job of addressing the pros and cons of pulling off such a difficult cancellation at the last minute.

Personally, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the event moving forwards. The president of Staten Island has said he doesn’t think they are ready to accommodate the race start, and there is a perception that the race will be pulling resources away from rebuilding efforts in the city. The truth is, even if the race isn’t pulling resources, if it feels that way, it will impact NYRR events in the future. It just feels a bit wrong to say, “it’s business as usual”, while homes are still evacuated, flooded, and/or without power.

On the other hand, I’m not running the race, and if NYRR, the city’s office, and the police and paramedics believe they can handle the race, no one else’s opinion really matters. And it’s the NEW YORK CITY MARATHON, so I doubt any decisions made this year will hurt their future enrolments either way!

What’s your take? Is it a bad idea to try to pull the marathon together, or should it continue, hurricanes be damned?

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10 replies

  1. BusinessWeek has a similar take ( … and personally I am torn.
    There is always a desire to cancel things, and at the same time a push to ‘keep things going to help push back to normality. But with temperatures in the 40s and no power to millions, normality seems less important than keeping resources where they can do the most good.

  2. If NYC believes that they have the resources to both manage the race and manage the storm cleanup effort, I believe that they are competent enough to make that decision. It’s an interesting point to argue, but people do travel from around the world to run, train for months to make it to the starting line, and I believe that the emergency responders and political leaders will be able to make the right assessment based on their own professional analysis (to the leaders of the NYPD, for example) and pushback from constituents (to the political leaders.) I don’t think that they need help from (Or me…)

  3. Let me give a different take….as a volunteer worker in past marathons.

    As a ham, I have participated in providing radio communications during races such as these in the past. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the hams in New York are probably extremely busy getting their own infrastructure up as well as providing emergency communications support for health and welfare traffic as well as keeping communications systems going at the local Red Cross EOC’s. These are usually the very same hams that would be staffing the sag wagons and water stations during the race and they are needed MORE by the Red Cross at this time.

    I say: cancel the 2012 running. Even if they just cancel it they will have the same amount if not MORE come to run next year.

    • Oh they will have plenty of people any year.

      NYC Marathon is so popular it’s a difficult lottery system (or qualifying with a time faster than what’s needed to qualify for Boston)
      That’s the big logistical wrench I think; if they tell people to defer for free, they can’t add very many new runners next year.

  4. The local news is all over this story…there’s a lot of people angry with the perception that this is a drain on resources, even if it isn’t.

    Lots of people are angry about the start in Staten Island-it’s so destroyed that its almost in bad taste to stage a marathon, with all the clothes and trash left behind, when the Boro is already so trashed.

    The news just did a ten minute segment, and they basically summed it up as “there’s a fine line between resilience and insensitivity”. They also said there’s people pushing for the race to just loop Central Park, which probably would make a lot of people less angry. It’s fascinating to watch this, because people who normally barely register the marathon have all sorts of opinions.

    • That’s the political pushback I mentioned in my comment. Maybe the NYRRC should announce a rescheduled event in 6 months? Things should be much better by then, and it gives plenty of time for runners to plan travel and new training plans for a May marathon – and then maybe run again next November.

      BTW, I do know that discarded clothing is collected and distributed for charity by the race organizers. They’ve always done that.

      • I know it is too-but the newscasters either don’t, or don’t care.

        You were dead on about political blowback.

        A rescheduled race (and open invite for people to come volunteer) would have gone a long way.

        • On Facebook our local news opened up the question and the response was pretty extreme in terms of how upset people were. And if anyone did NOT think the race should be postponed they weren’t talking …

  5. … and it’s cancelled/postponed…