In every way today was a sad day in NY. The drama that’s been unfolding there finally came to a dramatic conclusion with the announcement by Mayor Bloomberg that tomorrow’s scheduled marathon there was being canceled.
The sadness begins with the victims of the hurricane – sadness for the people who have suffered and will continue to suffer for says and weeks to come. It was sad for the thousands of runners who had trained diligently for months to prepare for this event, and who came to NYC with personal stories of sacrifices made and challenges overcome. It was sad for the economy of New York, which will now lose some 200-300 million dollars of business that the marathon had generated. And it was also a sad day for the spirit of the marathon. It should never have come to this.
The marathon has always seemed to me to be a healing event. When a people are challenged by tragedy – like the residents of Beirut who sufferd a political assassination of a popular civil servant days before their scheduled race, to the devastated residents of Washington DC, who were reeling from the events of September 11, 2001 – a marathon pulls people together and infuses them with hope. A marathon represents not just the individual stories of those who participate, but also the culture of the community that supports it. It is a communal coming together for the purpose of declaring that we are stronger than we thought we were; that together we can create something that celebrates life and the fortitude of our species.
Nowhere was this more true over the years than in New York. Despite ethnic, political, and economic diversity that oftern seems to leave the city on the brink of chaos, the NYC Marathon always seemed to pull everyone together. It was a public expression of joy that everyone could support. Until now. Over the past few days I’ve witnessed something I never thought I’d see: a public outpouring of anger at both the organization that would continue to plan for a marathon in the midst of a natural disaster, as well as anger directed at the individual runners who planned to race in NY. Instead of symbolizing fortitude and determinaton, runners now came to represent epic selfishness and thoughtlessness.
The 2012 NYC Marathon has now been canceled. But more than a race has been lost this season; we have lost a bit of the innocence that once graced our sport. I fear marathoning might never be quite the same.