Thursday, January 10, 2013

NYRR's Wrongheaded Resolution: A Letter to Mary Wittenberg

 "To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice." ~Confucius

These are the stated goals, the professed vision, of the New York Road Runners:
"We are driven by a singular vision. We believe that we can change the world through running. This is the dream and the promise that drives us. Running is our favorite sport but it's more than just that. It's also a route to bettering lives, building community, fueling positive social change—and enabling folks to have a whole lot of fun. Since our earliest days, our vision has allowed us to continuously move forward and to challenge the status quo so that we can grow as individuals, as a team, and as an organization."
Several weeks ago, after more than 7 weeks of deliberation and working through the details and options with their insurers, the New York Road Runners/ New York City Marathon announced their resolution to the issues surrounding the cancellation of the 2012 marathon.

Those who registered for and did not take the deferment option prior to the cancellation of the race, will now have a window of opportunity to choose one of the options below:

2012 Marathoners may choose one of the following options:
  • Option #1 – Refund. While NYRR has always had a no-refund policy for the Marathon, given these extraordinary circumstances, we are offering runners who were entered in the 2012 Marathon, and were unable to run due to the cancellation 1,  the opportunity to obtain a full refund of their 2012 Marathon entry fee (excluding the $11 processing fee);  OR
  • Option #2 – Guaranteed entry to the ING New York City Marathon for 2013, 2014, or 2015. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the Marathon for the year they choose. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application (in the given year), with fees maintained at the same rate as those paid in 2012; OR
  • Option #3 – Guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013, to be run on March 17, 2013. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application. Availability will be limited.
My immediate response was critical - Yes, the refund option is obviously the right thing, but doing something half right does not make the whole deal a good one. Option 2 falls woefully short of what is fair and right. When I express my disappointment and disgust, many people respond: "What did you expect? Did you really expect that they wouldn't charge you again?" Well, as a matter of fact, yes! Many people claim that this is a fair and gracious offer. I beg to differ...

Here's why:

Michael Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg invited us to their city to run. Had the marathon been canceled in a timely fashion, I might be more sympathetic. They got our travel dollars (airport taxes, hotel fees and taxes, rental car fees and taxes, food, etc...). I know...First World Problem...but I refuse to give them $11 + $255 + ANOTHER $255 for 2013.

I know people believe runners are rich, so this whole fiasco amounts to little more than a "first world problem" which when compared to the problems faced by many in this world is absolutely true. But I saved and planned for this race (and I was raising money to support the education of girls in Liberia and Pakistan), and I know and have heard from countless others who planned for years for this trip to run NYC, some coming from much farther away then I came. I haven't taken a vacation in 2+ years. I'm a college instructor and running coach. My husband is a college instructor and climbing coach. I made this investment because (as I've explained in other posts) I've wanted to run NYC since I was 16 years old. NYC is WHY I started racing again 4 years ago.

So there is the cost factor, but that is not what bugs me the most. What bug me the most is that agreements (a type of social contract) have been broken and violated.


So here's what I wish I could say to Mary Wittenberg:

Dear Ms. Wittenberg,

         For some runners promises were made and those promises were broken. I ran a qualifying time to get into NY through the "guaranteed entry" option. This was not easy for me, and I dedicated the fall of 2011 to achieve this goal. But my guaranteed entry has never actually been honored, and for that reason I believe that the NYCM/NYRR has failed to hold up its end of the bargain. What about those who got in via the now discontinued policy, of applying 3 times in a row - if you don't get in during those 3 years you automatically get in on the 4th. Their guaranteed entry has also not been honored. Or those who did the 9+ program, running 9 NYRR races over the year and volunteering for 1. Those have not been honored either. We kept OUR part of the bargain, but the NYRR seems to have no problem ignoring your part in the agreement.

So what will I do? I will take the refund. I will not pay for a guaranteed entry that I already EARNED! I will not pay again for a race that was cancelled too late, under suspicious circumstances..

All those who traveled to NYC came in the spirit of support for NY and NJ. We were invited by the city and by you. In fact, had we deferred we would have been required to pay again for the chance to run. But we didn't defer. I came to run with my friends from NJ. They had no power. They had no gas. They lived in a disaster area, but they were still going to run. How could I not support them?? 

What will I do? Perhaps I will try to qualify again. What does that mean for me, well I'll need to run a 3:35 full marathon or a 1:40 half marathon. It will also mean that, other challenges I might wish to move on to will be postponed a bit. And I'm not sure I'm willing to make that sacrifice. I see no other way for me to do this. The easy way is to just cough up another $255. But that is not the right way. Perhaps there is no longer a 'right way'.

Unfortunately, this whole episode, and how you have chosen to handle this situation, has still left a very sour taste in my mouth about the NYCM. The decisions you made, I believe, are antithetical to the original aim of this race, and the vision of Fred Lebow. But it seems that the NYRR, and you, have lost the vision, and have become just another American capitalist enterprise.

I believe, that for many of us the NYCM will never regain it's stature as the greatest marathon in the world (thanks to this 'resolution'), as the peoples' marathon and the city's marathon. Perhaps you don't care. Perhaps you believe that this will all fade from memory. Perhaps, sadly, you are correct. But for this one runner, this one individual, the girl who stood in Central Park and watched with tears in her eyes and chills in her spine as Grete Waitz flashed by,  you have shattered something that can not be repaired. What a shame. What a terrible, terrible shame.

Caolan MacMahon

Character is much easier kept than recovered.  ~ Thomas Paine


  1. I don't make many comments, but where is the giant "like" button? You read my mind and many others. Thank you!

  2. Caolan, you were guaranteed entry to the 2012 NY Marathon. You were given an entry to the 2012 NY Marathon.

    Now get out there and run another qualifier!

  3. I wonder when the putting on of races went from doing it for the race to doing it for the bucks. Somewhere along the way races morphed from using 3x5 cards and fishing line to track results, to Chip time versus gun time. Racing went from the pursuit of excellence to the pursuit of goodies and awards at the end of the race.

    This is merely the next step on this path. The New York Marathon is a cash cow designed to make money for the city and the people that put on the race. It so happens they are making money doing something we love. I don't have a problem with them making money, but let's be realistic: these races stopped being about runners a long time ago. They are now about image, money, and in the largest races power.

    Mary Wittenberg is wrong. No way around that. The sad thing is that by participating in these races I have added to the image, the greed and their power. I have put on fairly large races and many smaller ones. I am proud of what I have done in my work there but at the same time I had to step back before the work became more important than why I got into it in the first place.

    When running was fun it was very very fun, but when it became work it was horrid.

    john the xcar

  4. They should at least have given the option for free entry next year to out of town runners. A lot of locals do the 9 + 1 every year so they will take the refund and use it towards next year's race. There are no easy solutions to this problem.

  5. As an out of state runner who applied to the lottery for four years before being accepted, and who spent thousands going to the city for the race after multiple assurances that the race would be run, I agree entirely with your comments, with one large exception. It appears that other than whine and complain about it, you will do everything you can to again be at the starting line in 2013. Do you think that Wittenberg and NYRRs care much about your complaints? If they did, they would be offering guaranteed entry at no charge. What they care about is the money.

    As long as you and so many other people keep saying "I'm really angry but I really want to run the race and I'll be there again", what do they care about how upset you are? They'll still fill the race with you and everyone else and, over time, this entire fiasco will slowly fade from memory and NYRRs will never be held accountable for the way this was handled. They know this, and the reason they aren't offering what you and I would consider to be the fair resolution is that they know they don't have to. There will be thousands of people who will crawl back for another application while licking their wounds simply because they've put this race on their bucket list.

    The answer, of course, is to refuse to support the race in any way, and to speak loudly and regularly to every runner you know to avoid the race. Run someplace else. Give your money or energy to a race that appreciates it. Don't support incompetent money grubbers. I'm guessing after collecting insurance money NYRRs will actually make a nice profit on the cancelled race. If no one showed up to run in 2013, that might cause them to reflect further on the damage they've done to their reputation.

    Sorry, but you being at the starting line won't do anything.


    1. I think that this marathon will never be the same thanks to the way this was handled, and quite honestly I do not know that I will try to run it. But if I do it will not be on these terms. This is a completely personal issue for me - and I've written about the NYCM many, many times over the past couple years, and the fact is that my desire to run NY got me back into racing, because I told myself when I was a 16 year old school girl, that someday I would run it. It is difficult to let go of that, but I may have to. I agree that we need to support the races that support running for runners in a positive way, and I have been doing that for years. 2012 was the first time I ever ran any large races.

      So, I agree with you. I'm just having a hard time letting go.

  6. I'm taking the refund & putting it towards Chicago.

  7. Interesting take on the situation, but I have to strongly disagree with your statement that NYCM is the greatest marathon in the world (that would be Boston) or the people's marathon (that would be MCM).

    1. I agree with you now. Perhaps I've seen the light ;) And I'm running Boston for the second time this April and I've already got my qualifier for 2014. So I think my heart has moved to Boston!!

    2. I live in the UK and I am truly dismayed by the attitude of NYRRC. I was always happy to pay further admin charges, and maybe even an addtional but reduced fee, but if the insurance has paid out, how can NYRRC justify asking people to pay in full again - remember some of us are paying huge sums to visit your wonderful country and this (Great?) city. It does seem that the basic principles and tenets on which this fantastic event was based has been lost. A race for the people by the people to benefit the people? The whole Marathon event (I prefer Event to Race) has somehow been a little cheapened by this Resolution. On a personal level I really don't think I can now take part as the entire process has lost a lot of attraction for me. Good Luck and Best Wishes to All New Yorkers for a speedy recovery from the effects of Hurricane Sandy
      Derek (UK)

  8. I may never be a marathon runner but I have to agree with your anger at the way this event was held...and hope you will see fit to follow through and run every other possible marathon instead of this one. Surely then you can qualify for BOSTON which is the far more honored marathon. Your dream of the marathon is not done because of this event. As a runner at other smaller distance events which have failed at times, I support you and those who made their choice to participate despite the tragic weather events...and continue to be appalled about how it was all handled.

    1. I've qualified and run Boston, and I'll be running it again this year and in 2014...perhaps more, who knows.
      My relationship with the NYCM Has to do with me as a young runner, and the special experiences I had around that race. For me, NY was special. In light of this whole situation, Boston has become more important to me than it was - but my past in rooted more in NYC. Time to create a new A new present moving into the future...


Any comments that could easily fall under the definition of "Cyber-Bullying" are promptly deleted.

Cyber-Bullying is a crime punishable under Federal Law and in some cases Individual State Laws. By posting a comment to this blog, you acknowledge that you understand and accept these laws and are aware that you will be prosecuted for offenses under the full extent of these laws. By posting a comment to this blog you also agree to waive your anonymity, and any rights associated with that anonymity, by having your computers I.P. Address tracked.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...