Running The NYC Marathon: Bad Idea Or Worst Idea?

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UPDATE, 5:26 PM: The NYC Marathon has been canceled.

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire this week for refusing to postpone or outright cancel the ING NYC Marathon—since renamed The Race To Recover—in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. During the race, some 47,000 runners will cross through the city's five boroughs, some of which are still without power and devastated from the storm. Bloomberg says the race must go on because it brings much-needed business to an economy walloped by Sandy and, what's more, will help the city’s morale. "It'll give people something to cheer about," he said in a press conference today. Race organizers New York Road Runners (NYRR) are asking each participant to donate $1 for every mile run to help the relief effort. But it’s hard to see how a marathon through devastated areas is appropriate when many have lost their homes or loved ones or both, and lack the basic necessities, like clean water and food, that will be provided to marathon runners. Here's what people are saying around the web.

1. The generators powering marathon tents in Central Park would be better used helping those in need. So would all those bottles of water.

Bloomberg has said that hooking up a generator is not as simple as plugging it in. (And it should be noted that the generators in Central Park are being paid for by the marathon, not the city.) But according to The New York Post, "The three diesel-powered generators crank out 800 kilowatts—enough to power 400 homes in ravaged areas like Staten Island, the Rockaways and downtown Manhattan. Generators should give power to people—not [the] marathon." Trucks are also dropping off thousands of bottles of water for the marathoners. "[Seeing the generators and water] makes me feel so bad," flood victim Yelena Gomelsky told the Post. People have no food, no water, nothing. They should make all of these runners bring food and water to people's houses who need it. They should bring all of these generators to buildings where old people live and give them power."

2. The race starts on Staten Island, one of the areas hit hardest by the storm.

During Hurricane Sandy, a 20-foot storm surge hit Staten Island, and residents feel that "the City has prioritized getting Manhattan up and running over getting relief to people who have lost everything," writes Megan McArdle on The Daily Beast. In this NBC news segment, the awful situation becomes clear. "They're still looking for dead bodies," one distraught resident tells Ann Curry. "You need to come here and help us. We need assistance, please." Meanwhile, Staten Island Councilman James Oddo tweeted, "If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon, I will scream."

3. Even some runners don't think it's a good idea.

Tom Kellner, who has run every NYC Marathon since 1999, tells Forbes that he won't be running the race this year because "I listened to my common sense and it was telling me that putting on the marathon five days after a huge hurricane trashed large parts of the city and the region was not right. There are homes washed into a coastal marsh near the start in Staten Island. There are thousands of people in the city and outside without heat, power, and clean water. As I write, there are long lines of cars for waiting for gas below my balcony. Large parts of the subway system remain crippled. Many of the dead from the storm have not been buried. I consider myself as one of the good guys. I don’t feel that running this race would be the best way to honor those suffering through so much." Some runners have even pledged to start the race but break off to find volunteer opportunities.

4. Police and volunteers are already stretched thin.

If power is restored to downtown Manhattan tonight, as Con-Edison is hoping, that will free up many police, Bloomberg said today; he has also promised that no resources will be diverted from the relief effort. But according to the New York Times, the NYPD has reached out to retirees to help with both the marathon and storm recovery. “We would begin deployments starting with the NYC Marathon and other assignments to assist the Department thereafter,” the email to retirees read.

Furthermore, one paramedic writes on the Cancel The 2012 NYC Marathon Facebook page, "Your EMS/Fire/Police personnel are beyond exhausted, mentally and physically. To have this marathon this weekend is beyond any energy that myself or that of my coworkers have."

5. The Marathon could displace storm victims.

Many of the city's hotels are currently housing people whose homes were destroyed by the storm. Runners and visitors coming for the marathon could displace them, though some hotel owners have said they won't kick out storm victims to accommodate runners.

6. And also, holding the Marathon is just plain irresponsible.

"Bloomberg’s decision not to cancel the race is, ultimately, a profound and irresponsible error in judgment," writes The New York Times. "Inviting tens of thousands of people, many from out of town, to run through the streets of New York less than a week after the biggest Atlantic storm in history raked the city and leveled entire neighborhoods means that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of cops, emergency and hospital personnel, sanitation workers and others who are needed right now to continue the recovery effort — and, in all probability, to save lives that are still in the balance — all of these men and women will have to spend precious hours concentrating on a road race instead of the critical needs of their fellow citizens." And in the Wall Street Journal, two-time marathon runner Jason Gay asks, "Hosting this marathon just days from now feels like an unnecessarily stressful move, beset by very legitimate questions. Is this race really in the best interest of a damaged city? "

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November 2, 2012 - 12:43pm
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