Before the arrival of Marathon Week, the city begins to change slightly. The air gets a little bit colder. Billboards advertising the marathon go up in almost every train station. City buses have marathon advertisements along their sides. Banners are hung from street lights in close proximity to the course. Then the official orange Marathon Route banners are hung along actual marathon course. As a runner, these things are noticed as they appear…and each time a marathon reference is noticed, a smile crosses my face. I’m going to be running that Sunday. Goosebumps.
Marathon Week began with two big events: The Poland Spring 5 miler Marathon Kick Off in Central Park…and continued, growing concerns regarding the pending hurricane Sandy. The hurricane was due to hit the tri-state area sometime late Sunday / early Monday morning, and all of the cards were aligned against us: high tides, a full moon, strong, cold winds coming down from the north at the same time as the Sandy ravaged her way up our coastline.
The 5 miler was run under very cloudy skies and a firm wind. Sandy was already, at this point in the day, RSVPing her arrival. It was unmistakable. Less than one full loop of Central Park, I felt inclined to push myself in order to find out what pace I could handle for this distance. I hammered out the first 3 miles at a 9 minute pace, and was stunned when I passed the 3 miler marker and noticed the elapsed time. For once, my Marathon Math actually HELPED my situation. Realizing that I only had 2 miles to go, I kept repeating the same mantra over and over again as I maintained my steady, hard pace: “the mind wants to quit before the body”. I crossed the finish line with a Personal Record for the 5 mile distance, and renewed enthusiasm based on the fact that I was able to push myself hard and not give in to my desire to ease up. I felt like the week began with the best possible omen.
Monday and Tuesday of Marathon Week were – quite literally – a disaster. Record flooding and high winds gave our city a down-home, grade A, no-holds barred schoolyard ass kicking. Millions were without power. Thousands of people lost their homes and all of their worldly possessions. The drama unfolded on the local news stations like a 24 hour car-wreck that you cannot help but rubberneck. Our government officials worked their butts off to keep us as safe as possible – but let’s face it: a natural disaster is something that no politician can fully defend against. When the dust settled and the damage was made clear, I think the amount of devastation shocked most of us. Hard to believe this type of destruction could occur way up here from a hurricane. Mother Nature punched us right in the jaw. Hard.
Now let me clear something up right now: New Yorkers (and also people from New Jersey – cannot leave them out of this conversation by any means) have an attitude. We like to think of ourselves as pretty darn tough. We live in a fairly fast-talking, fast-paced location, where something is constantly going on and everyone just seems to be perpetually busy. No one ever hits the breaks. Ever. And because of the highly-competitive environment, we all seem to do our own things and look out for our individual families. We may come across to people not from our neck of the woods to be rather gruff at times. However – when something like 9/11 or another horrible incident like this hurricane occurs, that’s when you see who we New Yorkers really are. That’s when we hit the breaks, take a step back and rally around each other. It’s also when our attitude really becomes a positive quality. Mother Nature wants to punch US in the jaw? Well come on – take your best shot because you won’t knock us out.
Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg made the decision that the ING New York City Marathon would still be held on Sunday, November 4th. At first, this announcement brought me renewed hope. The marathon is the single best day of the year in the city. It brings us all together. It sends a message of unity and hope. And after this storm and the tragedy that it caused, New York City could really use a good day. As Wednesday rolled into Thursday, and Thursday slid into Friday, the public outpouring of frustration, anger and grief caused by the sheer amount of loss incurred by the tri-state area resulted in the Mayor’s reversal of his decision: the marathon would be cancelled.
My initial response was relief. The hostility that was building for this race being held on Sunday was disheartening. But I believe that the decision to cancel the race was a good one. It made sense. I also want to believe that there were good reasons for delaying the reversal’s announcement until late Friday afternoon – but that seems to be a rather political debate, and I for one have a rather sensitive stomach for politics. I think that the race should have been cancelled early in the week, and from all I’ve read and heard that seems to be the general consensus. This race is a day of hope in the city – and I hope that next year’s marathon will be one that is supported by the city on an unprecedented level. Time will tell.
While I am not a politician and I respect everyone else’s opinion, I want to share one point: I feel that the New York Road Runners CEO, Mary Wittenberg, tried her best to simply do the right thing. I have met her a number of times – I have seen the care and concern she has for every race put on by NYRR. The level of planning and organization as well as the sheer amount of workers’ and volunteers’ efforts are incredible. A year’s worth of countless hours goes in to Marathon Week. To see it canceled after all of that effort has been poured into it has to be TOUGH. But the right decision was made. And sometimes doing the right thing hurts. I don’t know how I would have handled all of the pressure that Mary had to deal with – I probably would have snapped. She’s a strong leader, and deserves a ton of credit. Now some of you may disagree with me, and I respect any opinion out there – but I just know that if I were placed in the same position as she was, I would not have handled things nearly as well.
Saturday morning arrived, and I went for a lite run over the 59th Street Bridge – the edifice that I refer to as Mount Sonofabitch – and I realized how lucky I was. I had power. My home was undamaged. My family was safe and sound. I am not a real bible-pounding, religious dude – but I can say that I felt blessed to be in the position I was in. As the sun cascaded over the east river and the cold breeze slapped me in the face, I felt like I needed to do something positive. This was a rough week – I needed to end it on a positive note. So I decided to attempt to run 26.2 miles the following morning anyway. Four full loops of Central Park, plus a little bit more. That would do it. But first I headed home, grabbed a ton of stuff to donate to those New Yorkers that now needed the basics, and bagged them up to ship them out. Marathon Sunday would be a personal endeavor this year for me. I didn’t know how much of my heart would be into the next morning’s efforts – but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway.
(I know I am usually a tad more funny when I post blog entries – but this was a very rough week for us here in NY / NJ / CT. I wasn’t in a chipper mood. I wanted to reflect the gravity of the situation – and this disaster is not for me to make lite of in any way. I’ll be back to my normal wise-ass self soon, I’m sure. And to my friends that dealt with much rougher circumstances than I did this week – I’m just glad you are all safe.)
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