I’ve spent the last eight months training for the New York City Marathon, known as the largest marathon in the world. I ran a personal best to qualify and no matter how many things went wrong between then and now, I had one constant: my training. I ran through pain, I ran through adversity, I rehabilitated, I cried and I put my trust and faith in one place: me. I truly believed that running this marathon would symbolically take me to the other side, from pain to renewal.
Now, I face whether it is advisable to travel to a city devastated by natural forces for a personal goal. I’m not good at being selfish. I have a plane ticket to an airport that is still not open and is separated from the city by flooded tunnels and the absence of public transportation. There is no guarantee that despite luck and good fortune that I will make it to the starting line, or for that matter that there will be a starting line. The apartment I rented has no power and as the race organizers waver in giving direction, the public voice is starting to rise suggesting that it is a deviant use of city resources to attempt to stage a marathon when people are homeless, without power, and parts of the city are under water. It also means that the female bonding and cheerleading section that were to join me are stuck between limbo and obligation.
On public forums the criticism is intense. Race Director Mary Wittenberg is taken to task for stringing runners along, announcing one day that the marathon would go on regardless, and then back tracking to say that all options are being explored. Updates are passed via rumor and innuendo as no official announcement has yet to be made. Mayor Bloomberg was the last official statement, saying the marathon was on. What a difference the information flow is for this situation vs. last April’s Boston Marathon that was threatened by dangerously high temperatures. The Boston Athletic Association used twitter, facebook, and all traditional media sources to get updates out every few hours. Clear and concise information was given so runners could make decisions that kept them both safe and aware of the risks. Contrast that to this situation where the media is covering the natural disaster impact in detail, yet the New York Road Runners organization have left athletes in the dark. The dark is not a great place to evaluate and make sense of the information, especially if you are trying to make both a personal and an ethical decision.
Here’s all that runners like me want. Tell us your process for making a decision, especially if you don’t have enough information to make the decision today. Tell us that you will need to check out the course, evaluate contingencies, make sure that the resources needed for the greater good of the city won’t be diminished by running the marathon, and what your priorities are. We assume that safety is a first priority, but if you read the crowd-sourced comments, the current communication has caused some to think that limiting financial loss is first. If you are going to run the marathon, but there are obstacles beyond runners’ control (like closed airports) that prevent participation, come up with a deferral program that allows a choice that isn’t between doing the right thing and bleeding your most devoted constituency. Give us the option to donate our entry fee to the rebuilding and restoration of the city. Let us feel good about the months of training by giving us a way to be a winner, a finisher, and bigger than ourselves; marathon or not. Trust us.
I realize there will be no easy or simple answers. At the end of the day, each runner will make his/her decision just like we do every day when we set out for a training run. We won’t run for selfish reasons, but because we embrace the idea of taking on what may seem like an impossible task and proving that it can be done if you stay focused and don’t give up. But please, don’t string us along leaving us stranded in various airports or welcome us into a city that may not need more disoriented visitors. Treat us as equals with the power to help, trust us to respect the necessity for the greater good, and recognize that we have the ability to help New York City cross the finish line whether that is by running 26.2 miles on Sunday or by promising to come back and run another day. You have 40,000 people stuck between indecision and obfuscation. You have 40,000 people willing to embrace an honest and forthright decision; all you have to do is listen.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012