The New York City Marathon is the largest in the world. This year, 47,000 people registered for the race. But, snag: Hurricane Sandy rolled into town, wreaking havoc, killing dozens, knocking out power, and pushing entire neighborhoods out of their homes. And rather than cancel the race and divert resources to hurricane recovery and rescue efforts (fun fact: we’re still finding bodies here), organizers have decided to press on ahead as planned, further disenfranchising hurricane victims.
Look: I understand the need for the city to come together and recover quickly and not let anything keep us down because we’re NEW YAWKERS or whatever, but holy shit is holding the race this weekend inappropriate.
I say this as a person who has run a marathon and has nothing but good things to say about long distance running. A marathon is an incredible experience, a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit and a huge moneymaker for charities of all stripes — the race’s organizers estimate that this year’s event will raise $200 million for charity and bring in $300 million to the city’s economy. Plus, it’s a pain in the ass to reschedule an event this big. People have already booked flights, booked hotel rooms. Thousands of people will pack into the city this weekend to run, or support runners.
But holding it a week after a natural disaster that still has the city pretty crippled is, frankly, tacky. With all due respect to the people running the race: cleaning up, rebuilding, and pumping the subways clear of water is more important than another mid-race photo to put on your desk at work. And I’m far from the only one who thinks that holding a 47,000 person race on Sunday would be a bad idea.
First, there’s the issue of city capacity. With many hotels closed, neighborhoods underwater, and what hotels remain open full of people displaced by the storm as marathoners with reservations begin to show up with their peanut butter and bagel snack packs and water belts, there’s no fucking room for them. I’ve heard reports that people who have no where else to go are now being kicked out of hotels to make room for runners. Just, no.
Second, there’s an issue of resources. While the mayor has assured the public that absolutely no first responders or other storm recovery resources will be diverted in order to support the marathon, that seems dubious. So… what you’re saying is that these resources that we’re planning on using for the marathon are resources we haven’t been using for the storm’s recovery? Why the hell not? There was a near riot in Queens last night when FEMA officials didn’t show up for a meeting with residents, Breezy Point has been completely destroyed, and today, authorities found the bodies of two little boys who were swept from their mother’s arms as the flood waters rose on Staten Island, not far from the race’s starting corrals. Why we not using every last resource we have to get people back in their homes, turn the electricity back on, clean up the rubble? Pick up the fucking bodies?
The event, which relies on the support of public officials such as the New York City Police and Fire departments, along with the strength of thousands of volunteers, is facing myriad logistical challenges, which include but are not limited to accessing the starting area on Staten Island, a flooded finish line, storm damage in Central Park, a largely inoperable public transit system, as well as travel cancellations and delays for more than half of the field’s anticipated 47,000 entrants, many of those coming from international locations. Even under perfect conditions, staging the event is a logistical headache. Given the current circumstances, it’s a nightmare.
Additionally, Fraiolli points out that city official’s rosy estimates that the race will bring much-needed money to NYC’s economy are probably way, way off. Many runners will have difficulty getting to the race in the first place, and when people come here, they likely won’t stay as long as they planned. Can you blame them? Others are canceling their plans out of respect for the storm’s victims, like residents on the Jersey shore who are still without water and power. But I’m sure other people won’t know or care that their kinda selfish pursuit of personal athletic achievement might displace homeless hurricane victims holed up in hotels, or that the EMT’s in the 17 mile drop out are sitting there instead of cleaning up downed trees in Queens. Still other runners likely feel obligated to run, since they’ve collected donations from charity. Why are city officials putting runners, emergency workers, and New Yorkers in this position? Sandy was once in a lifetime storm warranting a once in a lifetime response. Now isn’t the time for a marathon.
- Erin Ryan