Thursday, November 15, 2012

New York Road Runners - Just Do the Right Thing

"I'll never do that again!" ~ Grete Waitz, after winning the first of nine consecutive New York City Marathons

After a week and a half of silence - Zero communication - The NYRR updated their facebook page with the following:
"We want to reassure you that we are continuing to work hard to provide answers to your outstanding questions, and understand how important this information is to all of you. We are doing our very best to address your concerns and sort out all details. We are grateful for your patience and continued support."
This is the only news NYC Marathon runners have received concerning our status for next year's race. No emails (the last one went out when the race was cancelled), no updated information on their website...and they have not been returning calls to reporters.

So what should the NYRR do now? Well, I have a really good suggestion - Do the right thing. Period. While the waiver all runners sign may offer some legal out for the NYRR in terms of honoring our registration, ethically, the solution is clear.

Here's my suggestion:
For those who deferred prior to the cancellation of the marathon, honor the updated cancellation policy, which guarantees all entry into next years race even if they deferred in 2011 as well. This deferment option is nothing new, and those who deferred should be charged for next years race as per the normal policy.
For those who did not defer, who traveled to NYC, picked up their packets, and planned to run...They should receive guaranteed entry into next year's race, or better yet, one of the next 5 years - to spread out the impact and to allow those who can't afford to return next year to plan for a year a bit further out - at no additional cost.
Given how poorly this situation was managed, I believe the NYRR has some major damage control to attend to. The bad feelings engendered through all of this will only grow more bitter if this is not handled delicately. If the NYC Marathon has any hope of regaining it's former reputation, as the greatest marathon in the world, it must act like the greatest marathon in the world. 

Clearly the marathon should have been canceled days earlier, Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. Those of us who came in from far away had no idea, until we arrived, what devastation awaited us. News reports go only so far in capturing the reality of the situation. Even those in the midst of it couldn't quite grasp the enormity of it all. My mother just kept say, with regard to power outages and gas shortages "We just don't allow this to go on. This doesn't happen here". But there it was...going on, and it's still going on more than 2 weeks later.

Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that the decision to cancel was delayed for as long as possible in order to get as many runners (and their money) to the metropolitan area as possible before pulling the rug out from under the whole thing. The truth here matters little - the perception is the problem for this race. Runners report that the blue line marking the course stopped at 14 miles. When did the painters receive the call to stop painting? Reporters, rushing to the start area as the race announced the cancellation, found a virtual ghost town. Not a worker or volunteer in sight. When were those workers and volunteers called off the job?  Now these situations are conspiracy theory magnets, and I usually dismiss them without much thought...but...hmmmm...Maybe. All that's needed is a little doubt and that changes how people feel.

The way both Mary Wittenberg and Mayor Bloomberg handled this whole situation encouraged animosity to grow between New Yorkers and runners...Between the NYRR and runners...between New Yorkers and Bloomberg...Between New Yorkers and Wittenberg. Wounds must be healed. Anger and blame and accusations must be confronted.

Many claim that the NYRR won't or can't do what I'm suggesting for financial reasons. All that money, already spent can not be recouped. I get that. But sometimes we have to do the right thing even though it may temporarily hurt us financially. After signing a lucrative deal this year with ESPN, I suspect that the NYRR has the necessary resources to do the right thing, though it may crimp their style a bit. Perhaps next year they could cut spending in other areas - like appearance fees for elites. Why not make next year's race a "people's" race, where the average runner is first and foremost, and where elites come to show support for the race, the tradition, the city...

And don't races have insurance to cover these things? That's of course the first thing people ask when an individual suffers a tragic event - and if they don't have insurance, we tend to dismiss their complaints and point out their poor choices ( I don't fall into this camp, but many do).

I can say that this whole episode has changed my feelings about this race and, unfortunately, about this city. I wish I could say it didn't, but it did. Perhaps I went into it too idealistically. There's nothing worse than having high ideals shattered before you. A dream, 30+ years in the making, undone in a matter of days. Does this change my experience of watching Grete Waitz run through Central Park on that crisp November day so long ago?? Right now, I have to say yes, it does. I'm sad about that. And so I am hoping against all hope that the NYRR does the right thing now. I can see this being saved or lost, for me and for the race itself, depending on what they do next.

And so we wait...


  1. QUOTE: Reporters...found a virtual ghost town.

    Ever put on a race in the middle of a town, city or public use area? Are local governments and its constituents okay with lengthy disruptions?

    QUOTE: ...Like appearance fees for athletes... If the NYC Marathon has any hope of regaining it's former reputation...

    Are you kidding me? It is a WMM. It is NY.

    1. Danny, I'm not quite following the intent of your comments. Can you explain???

    2. If reporters went to the start of a race that didn't happen, any race, then I would expect them to find nothing.

      Road running races (especially ones that take place in public spaces) are like instant mini-cities; they go up quickly, get used and dismantled quickly. If one is not careful you may never see the effects of such a race. Even smaller races that don't have 100s or 1000s of volunteers and workers will show up and make a race appear out of nowhere and then take it down so fast you won't even know it is there.

      In regard to the second part. The NYCM is a World Marathon Major course. The reputation, the number of elites invited will not change next year or future years. About five or six years ago, just before this second running boom five larger marathons got together to create a championship series. So far they have done really well, and now there is even talk of expanding it by one marathon as well.

      This current running boom will eventually plateau, and maybe even recede in the future, but if I was a betting man (which sometimes I am) I would bet that as long as the world continues to live in an inflationary depression the popularity of running will continue. And the reps of large races like the NYCM will not be affected by small stuff like cancelling a race three days prior (or whatever length of time).

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. My point about the reporters is - WHEN did they actually decide this? If the announcement is BEING made, but things are already cleared out, then it seems someone decided much earlier. And transportation/actually physically getting around Staten Island was/is very difficult. People can't just vanish, disperse, in minutes.

      As far as the WMM (and yes. I'm not a newbie here, I do know what this means!! That wasn't mu question.), I know that what I'm suggested is unlikely - but extreme events may call for extreme measures.

      And as far as the NYCM recovering from this little blip without doing the right thing - fine - historically, sure. Maybe. But I'll be running Chicago next year.

    5. Also, as I note, it doesn't really matter what the 'truth' is about the decision making and timing - perception and belief is enough to alter views even if those perceptions are unfounded.

  2. I travelled all the way from Sweden to run my first marathon. The trip was booked two years ago. We arrived in New York on Thursday night, only for the race to be cancelled on Friday. The issue isn't that the race was cancelled, it was WHEN it was cancelled. I really want to run a marathon, but I'm not sure about New York anymore. The way the whole situation was handled was just bad.

    1. I completely agree with you, and as I said, those of us who were far away when Sandy hit really couldn't understand how bad it was/is until we got there, and Manhattan was pretty normal when I was there on Friday at the expo. I have to say that the majority of people I saw at the expo were from other countries, as the NYCM has a large percentage of international runners. I only flew from Colorado, so I can only imagine the frustration of those who traveled internationally. This race should have been canceled in Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest. Now they need to take responsibility for the mess they've created, whatever that takes.


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