In New York: A tough decision on whether to run a race

The decision to proceed with Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy has brought stinging criticism to race organizers, boosters and participants.

In the New York Times, Barbara Cowman, 48, from Austin, Tex, said: “As an emergency room nurse, I’ve witnessed devastation. I think it’s wrong to ask police officers and the fire department to make sure that the race course is supported for those runners.”

She added, “I get the resilience piece, but it just seems like you should be catering to the needs of those in the area rather than all of these out-of-town people descending to run the race.”

Cowman and four friends decided to drop out of the race.

Jim Molinaro, Staten Island Borough President, was even more blunt in a story in the Staten Island Advance (, calling the decision: “crazy, asinine.”

Like Cowman, Molinaro decried the use of police and firefighters to support the marathon while the city was still in the process of cleaning up after the storm.  “My God,” he said. “What we have here is terrible, a disaster. If they want to race, let them race with themselves. This is no time for a parade. A marathon is a parade.”

On Facebook, a group calling itself Cancel 2012 NYC Marathon argued that the race shouldn’t move ahead, according to Runner’s World editor, Scott Douglas ( The group maintains that the civic infrastructure is too battered to support the event and reiterates that emergency workers are needed elsewhere.

Despite the criticism, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been steadfast that the  race will and should go ahead. “It’s a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, you’ve got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind,” he told the New York Times (

Marathon organizers are dedicating this year’s race to the City of New York, victims of the hurricane and their families. They’ve also said on the race’s website that they’re committed to ensure the event doesn’t impact any recovery events. Already, the opening ceremony and five km race have been cancelled.

It seems to me that New York has never been a city to back down in the face of adversity, that no matter the challenge the citizens have picked themselves up and soldiered on. In that tradition, I would argue that the New York City Marathon should go ahead. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is tragic, but life in the city does not stop, nor should it; indeed, it is the very nature of a metropolis that even as celebrations take place at one time and place, tragedy may simultaenously occur elsewhere. That does not preclude compassion, however.

The marathon brings a lot of money into the civic coffers, somewhere around $340 million. It would be a mistake to turn that money away. Perhaps a portion could be allocated to hurricane relief. Finally, some have argued that the people volunteering for the race should be placing their efforts in the city’s clean-up and relief efforts. Those who wish to do so will undoubtedly pass over working with the marathon in favour of the former.

In the same way, the city is doing everything it can to mitigate the impact of taking emergency workers away from providing aid to the city. Bloomberg said. It is expected the restoration of electricity to Manhattan will free up large numbers of police to assist with Sunday’s event.

More than 6,000 volunteers assist with the marathon. It’s unclear how many of those are emergency workers. At this time, the race was still calling on its website for medical personnel to staff the  marathon.

Moving ahead with the race is not an easy or light decision. Hurricane Sandy has dealt the city a tough blow, but in the city of a million stories the narrative remains unbroken: life continues on.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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6 Responses to In New York: A tough decision on whether to run a race

  1. Zahida says:

    Really tough call here. But I disagree with the comment made that a marathon is a “parade”. It’s really an expressive of community, solidarity, endurance, and overcoming hardship.

  2. says:

    Tough call for sure. I know some runners from Fredericton who are leaving for NYC tomorrow.
    They are going down to run this thing, they have trained hard all summer and want to see it through.

  3. Leslie H. says:

    As you said, New York City is so large and diverse that there are multiple cities with distinct experiences of the storm and its aftermath. In my neighborhood Sandy did minimal damage. The primary subway line is back up and running. I’m proud of how quickly my city is recovering and services are coming back online!

    I will be a spectator at the marathon this year, watching the runners enter Central Park. What I’d like to see from everyone, locals and tourists, runners and spectators, is more respect for our city and more personal responsibility: starting with not making a big mess and expecting someone else (sanitation workers or race volunteers) to clean up. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would tidy up after ourselves and free up resources (at least sooner) to tackle storm relief efforts.

    • subthree says:

      Good points, Thanks for the added perspective and for reading. Running Times had a similar bit of commentary in which they said, why not just run the marathon. Forget the bibs, chip timing, all the extras. Just do it as a celebration of running.

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