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A friend of mine was supposed to run the 100th marathon of his amateur running career in New York City this weekend, but he opted not to go so as not take the airlines seat of someone else who needed to get back to New York ASAP. He said he'd feel guilty heading to the Big Apple with such selfish intent and taking a hotel room that could be going to someone who lost their home.
It seems like the New York Road Runners could have canceled or postponed this weekend's ING New York City Marathon, given all runners a guaranteed spot in next year's race and held a low-key charity 10K/volunteer drive in Central Park instead. Sure, plenty of runners would have been disappointed, but probably not nearly as devastated as those who have lost their homes, loved ones or most of their worldly possessions in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And this year, the New York City Marathon isn't about the runners.
The marathon might be "a symbol of strength" to the New York metro area or that might just be propagandistic hyperbole. Either way, NYRR CEO and president Mary Wittenberg and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said "the marathon must go on," so here's a hopeful look at ways it can be a success.
This year's ING New York City Marathon could be a success if ...
... the race brings a lot of money into the city. It goes without saying that one of the major reasons the city and the NYRR never really considered canceling it (and if they did, they never said so publicly) is because it brings an estimated $340 million in economic impact to the city every year. Even if it's half that this year, it will definitely help keep the local economic engines churning. The major companies, hotel chains and airlines will survive the downturn from the storm, but small businesses, the independently employed and other members of the working class will be hit hard. If you're heading to New York for the marathon, consider doing some holiday shopping while you're there.
... the marathon adds to the exposure of the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought between North Carolina to Connecticut. And, yes, there are many parts of New York City (and the marathon course) that were mostly unaffected, but there are many places in the city and outlying areas along the Atlantic seaboard that won't recover for months or maybe years. Sadly, as time goes by and it becomes less of a news story in the coming weeks, the attention, money and volunteer help will drop off dramatically. (Just ask the people of New Orleans.) NYRR has created the 2012 ING New York City Marathon Race to Recover Fund and will donate at least $1 million, or $26.20 for each of the more than 40,000 runners expected to participate in the race. Hopefully the national and international TV broadcasts of the marathon will have constant on-screen reminders about how people can donate to various relief causes.
... runners like me and you donate to the cause. I'll put my money where my mouth is with a $100 donation to the American Red Cross via the NYRR's official fundraiser on CrowdRise right now. Boom! Done. That took less than two minutes. I'm not looking for recognition, but if I can donate $100, can you donate at least $10? If you're a runner, tell your friends, post it on Facebook, tweet it out to the world. Donate $50 or $75 if you can afford it, even if it means you'll be able to enter one less race in 2013. Running karma is such that when you share your bread, it often comes back to you as sandwiches. (You can also donate money to the Red Cross directly or to numerous voluntary organizations helping the cause, as well.)
... the NYRR decides to scrap the traditional course and instead has runners run laps around Central Park. Yes, that's no more practical or sensible at this point than actually holding the race on the regular course, unless of course it means it would require fewer volunteers, fewer first-responders, fewer police and fewer portable generators. From an outside-of-NYC point of view, it would seem less ignorant and arrogant than adamantly sticking to tradition and starting runners from Staten Island, which was hit very hard and is still digging out from the storm.
... the race donates all of its leftover food and water to those in need. And then next week when the attention starts to drop, it goes one step further and asks its sponsors for truckloads more specifically to donate to organizations helping displaced people and those in need of basic necessities. (Props to Runner's World for turning its Friday night party into a free meal for anyone displaced by the storm.) It seems strange that many areas will still be without clean water for drinking, cooking and showering while a gazillion half-empty cups of Poland Spring water will be tossed to the ground as runners amble through aid stations at every mile of the course.
... extra running shoes and apparel are donated to those in need. Running shoe and apparel brands selling gear at the marathon expo at the Javits Convention Center should donate leftover gear to those in need instead of shipping it all back to their warehouses. Same goes for the runners -- give the shirt off your back! Donate your 2012 NYC Marathon jacket (or an old one), your training shoes, your official race T-shirt, an old cotton hoody, whatever. Remember, there are thousands of people who have lost everything.
... runners, visitors and local residents will consider giving blood after the race. It's not practical than 30,000 or so visiting runners do the heavy lifting that needs to be done in the disaster zone, but almost everyone can give blood. Dozens of Red Cross blood drives were canceled this week because of the storm, which means blood banks are low on volume. The Red Cross and the New York Blood Center are urging people to donate blood for those in the New York/New Jersey area.
... the spirit of the running community can somehow help those affected by the storm start on the long road to recovery. Certainly the results of the race are largely irrelevant at this point. Does it really matter who wins? Does it really matter if someone runs a PR? Certainly the runners who have trained for months to run the race will be conflicted. I know I would be. Hopefully most are participating with the notion of somehow helping those in need and not just checking something off their bucket list. The act of running through the closed streets of a city in pursuit of individual goals is an act of vanity, but this is one time when it should be much more than that.