Thursday, November 08, 2012

NYC Marathon: The Race That Wasn't

Wherein I recap not running a marathon. In other words, a weekend like almost every other…almost.

You may have heard of the New York City Marathon. It’s a pretty big race. You may also have heard of Hurricane Sandy. It was a pretty big storm. I know you heard that they crossed paths last week.

I was all set to run this race. I’m not going to kid you….my whole year was aimed at this event almost to the exclusion of running any other races. I wasn’t in hyper-Rocky training mode or anything. I just spent time planning this race out and, frankly, barely looked at the race schedule of anything else going on. You know my kids’ soccer schedule. Who has the time? This was to be THE event of this year. And as Events go, it’s a big one with a capital E.

Then Sandy ripped through Staten Island and New Jersey. Then Sandy stopped being the name of America’s sweetheart from the 1970’s, in Grease, and became a life altering Bitch from Hell. San-dee!! (/surprisedTravoltavoice)

I’m not going to demonize, moralize or generalize about the events that transpired next. I’ll leave that to the arm-chair bloggers, couch-side psychoanalysts and knee-bending moralists. I’ll tell you what I saw and what I felt, however.

Mrs. Nitmos and I, filled with uncertainty and with mixed emotions, traveled to New York last Friday morning. We expected long lines for a cab and stand still traffic. Instead, we boarded a cab quicker than ever before and raced into midtown in record time. We expected tattered store front signs, broken windows, garbage –strewn streets, and store closings. We found none of that. Midtown was bustling with activity just as it was 2 ½ years ago when we last visited. Outside of the dangling crane, as seen on TV, two blocks from our hotel, you wouldn’t have known that a hurricane had just ripped through there. In many places there was a large amount of garbage bags piled on the curb waiting for the delayed garbage trucks.

The most painful damage was primarily in Staten Island it would seem.

Visually, in midtown, everything was basically normal. Times Square was gaudy and bright as usual. Business folks were racing about; tourists carrying arms full of bags around. However, the impression from Sandy was visible on the faces of the people. The cabbie expressed concern on a couple of occasions that he had enough gas for one more day of work and that would be it. The front desk clerk did not have power back at home. Lower Manhattan was still in the dark when we arrived. The folks that live and work there had greater concerns on their mind than greeting and serving guests and tourists (and runners). But the cabbie needed the money and was going to drive until his last drop of gas ran out. The restaurant staff wanted the tips because, on top of a hurricane, a reduction in pay was not what was needed.

And here’s where the strong emotions come in from runners, non-runners, media, Staten Island residents and everyone else that watched this play out on TV.

What to do about the New York Marathon?

I like how some members of the media (and fellow bloggers) think the answer is so very easy. For them, I’m envious. I always see complexity where others see simplicity. My decision-making thought processes take many twists, turns, lefts, rights, loops, and triple salchows before arriving at a final destination. Oh, to be a speed skater instead! Despite how I play on this blog, I often see a path to lemonade where others stop at the lemons. What to do about the New York Marathon??? Cancel it, the cry started early and persistently. Bloomberg and the NYRR resisted. CANCEL IT! The media outrage grew. Bloomberg and the NYRR resisted. For sure, canceling it was the easiest and simplest short-term solution.

I know that I felt extremely awkward about the whole thing. Mrs. Nitmos and I determined that we would donate in any way called upon: financially, physically, or otherwise. (And we did as many other runners did as well.) We knew, as we’ve known about the running community for a very long time, that runners tend to be an abnormally giving and generous group. Runners would loathe to think that they weren’t contributing to a greater good. Runners would not selfishly TAKE from a battered city without GIVING more back. I know I just generalized when I said I wouldn’t but, screw it, this is my blog.

All along on Friday we had side conversations with other marathoners. We overheard conversations on the plane, hotel, and restaurants and at the expo. Obviously, Sandy, the marathon and the future was on everyone’s mind. I did not hear one selfish comment. Like us, most runners understood right off that this was an extremely strange situation and would roll with whatever decisions had to be made. However, I heard countless stories of runners getting involved to help with the relief effort. For some, a plan was in place to take the bus or ferry to Staten Island race morning and, instead of running, peel off to do relief work for the Staten Island residents. Extra large tips, on top of general relief donations, were being handed out to workers who needed it to support their families. In short, lemonade was being made all over the city in various small ways.

There’s always a straw that breaks the back, a tipping point, a lasting indelible image that becomes irreversible to the course of events. For the marathon, it was the sight of the pasta dinner tent in Central Park and the three LARGE generators to power it (while lower Manhattan was still in the dark and Staten Island was still digging out). Like everyone, I was pretty outraged by that. How on earth did anyone think the pasta dinner should go on? I realize I’m drawing a moral line when I said I wouldn’t but, screw it, it’s my blog. A marathon is a pretty extraneous event to begin with. But it does bring money and, with it, aid and relief long-term. It does bring a volunteer group of gaunt-looking aid workers if the city had only set something organized up. Believe me, there were hundreds – thousands – of runners ready to donate time and money. EVERYONE understood that the marathon might be a bare bones operation to conserve anything that could be conserved. It would/could STILL work out to a net positive for the city.

But a pasta dinner? Even extraneous as far as extraneous things go.

Boom. CANCEL IT!!!! Everyone screamed – nay – demanded. The tipping point had occurred and cancel it Bloomberg and the NYRR did. It was hard to blame them.

I wasn’t even that upset about it because (a) I knew there were more important things going on and (b) it was obvious at that point that it was the only – and simplest – solution.

So, the race was not run. On Sunday, what would have been race day, I joined thousands of runners in Central Park as the marathoners ran “unofficial” marathons that day on the old NY marathon course (self-contained within Central Park) hoping to still collect money for charities that were counting on them (an unconsidered side effect of cancelling the race.) Would this have been an option to shrink the number of needed resources? Were other options considered (i.e. NOT starting on Staten Island) before turning away an estimated $340 million dollars that the race brings in and that, especially now, residents (wage earners) desperately need?

I don’t know the answer to it. I don’t know what was “right” in general versus what is best for the city in the short and long term. I don’t know what is right in “reality” versus “what looks good or bad on TV”. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I do know that New Yorkers, metaphorically, can take a punch. They've proven it many times in the recent past. The city bends like rubber but bounces back.  Myself - and the other marathoners - had shown up determined to reinforce the rubber to allow the city to snap back quicker not be the enemy jabbing them in the belly./endmixedmetaphors

Mrs. Nitmos and I were invited over to sit and chat with another marathoning couple at a restaurant Sunday night (we were both wearing our race shirts and were easily identifiable to each other). They were an older couple from Washington state and, as it turns out, were marathon race directors back home. They didn’t know what the right thing to do was either. The husband felt it should’ve gone on; his wife felt it should have been cancelled. Like me, they were constantly evaluating the positives versus the negatives and, by the way, NONE were “because I just want to have fun and run a race”. To continue the analogy, our minds were busy finding ingredients for the lemonade.*  

Or were we merely assuaging our feelings of guilt?

I’m home now and I still don’t know what the right answer is. For those of you who do, congratulations. Mrs. Nitmos and I certainly “used some resources” while there. We also left some resources behind on our way out. Lots of “resources”. From talking to hotel, restaurant, retail, and transportation staff, their weary, worried faces explained to us that, though they were still recovering from Sandy, they were more worried about the rough weeks ahead facing a reduction of cash needed to support their families. Sandy is gone; bills need to be paid tomorrow.

Is the New York Marathon so unnecessary that it could be summarily dismissed as a lemon in a time of need? Perhaps. Could it have been a net benefit to the city and region as many runners were determined that it could? Perhaps.

Or perhaps not. I don’t know. My thoughts are currently doing an axel jump. I’ll let you know when I land it and complete the routine if there’s any lemonade to be had.

Happy trails.

* It’s more than just water and lemons right? Right???

For those of you who followed me on Twitter, you’re welcome. (And those that didn’t, WTF?) I hope you enjoyed your tour of 1970’s celebrity. Just bummed that I couldn’t get Sandy Duncan's picture (assuming she’s still alive). Sandy….ugh!!!! (fist shaking)

Also, though I didn’t get to use my svelte cut and rippling abs across five Burroughs, I do start my own indoor soccer season on Friday! Think I got some pent up aggression to blast out? Yup. Beware Over-30 co-ed opponents, Nitmos is coming with sharpened spikes.

To recap my race goals for you scoring at home: I accomplished goals A, 7, and X!


David said...

Dude - who knew you were so deep and caring?

Anyway - best Nitmos post ever. Well done.

Yo Momma Runs said...

My friend here in Alabama opted to not travel up for the race. She was heartbroken because she was running for Autism Speaks and dedicating her race to a handful of kids she advocates for. So she definitely felt she was letting a lot of people down when she decided not to race. I think the cancellation actually helped her to feel better about the situation.

See, lemonade!

Viper said...

OK, so maybe I was wrong, except for when I gave kudos to the runners for their generosity. Never did I expect to include you in that group, but well done. It is a complex issue. I'm happy that the canceled marathon was able to have a positive effect on NYC. Cheers!

Sun Runner said...

"We expected tattered store front signs, broken windows, garbage –strewn streets, and store closings."

If you want to see that, just drive around Detroit.

Anyway. I enjoyed the Twitter updates, especially the ones that included beer. It looked like you made the beery best of a bad situation.

Trent (Scott) Lorcher said...

That was a disappointing and surprising mature response. I came here looking for inappropriate comments and callousness. Very disappointing.

Matt said...

Tell you what dude, from over here in the UK, watching all this unfold. I had what I thought was safe money (metaphorically only) that there was no way NYC Marathon was gonna be called off. My main reasoning being that theres no way the US people will let this thing get to them, they'll carry on and not let it get the better of them. So to hear it was off, I was properly shocked. The reason in my eyes? Two fold. Firstly, the media gives a voice to too few and likes to look on the downside of everything given a chance. Secondly running, although growing like made is still in the minority. Would they have called off the super bowl? I doubt it. So just a numbers game of people who understand runners and running.
Good post Nitmos. All the best.
ps. I love you amercian dudes, my comments are not meant to cast any bad light on your charaters :)

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TCHusker - Nate said...

Thanks for this post. It was very thoughtful and well-written.

Beth said...

Did you defer until next year? I agree that the generators were what did it. I thought doing the race would be good for the city because it would show the world that NYC was open for business. It's too bad that it was cancelled so late, but everyone was just trying to do their best so it's hard to find fault. Hope that you get to do it next year- I'm sure it will be a blow out party.

Drea @ said...

Who are you? I'm sorry, I was looking for Nitmos? If you're holding him for ransom all the while writing posts for him- please remember he likes to eat cheetos in his onesie.

Laura said...

Clearly I am very, very behind in blog reading, but wanted to note that if you can find an online video of the press conference where the race was canceled, I found it extremely enlightening. It was very apparent that the NYRR wanted to move the race to start elsewhere, but the city wouldn't allow it to do anything except run through all five boroughs. Meanwhile, the city wanted to move the race to the following weekend, but NYRR was adamant that they would only do something that weekend. It made me really sad to see various solutions (okay, not perfect solutions, but at least options) thrown away just because of the infighting between the decisionmakers.

Elizabeth said...

This was a very nice essay. Thank you for an insightful perspective on what otherwise only runners and those involved in planning/putting on/hosting this marathon would understand. Too bad only runners likely will read it because I know a lot of judgemental people out there who might be enlightened a bit by your perspective.