New York City Marathon Canceled Too Late for Many

Runners respond to late race marathon cancellation, organize volunteer efforts.

November 3, 2012, 3:06 PM

Nov. 3, 2012— -- Fresh off his flight from San Francisco Friday afternoon, Leland Kim had just picked up his numbered marathon bib and registration packet at the Javits Center and was headed to the ING New York City Marathon Expo.

Then he got a text message from a friend: "We're so sorry the marathon got canceled."

Confused, Kim asked someone working at the expo about it, and was told the marathon was still going on. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been saying so all week. And Kim had already spoken to runners who'd come from New Zealand, Argentina, Russia and Ireland.

But Sharon McNary, a seasoned runner from Pasadena, Calif. , soon saw people at the Javits expo walking with their heads bowed, talking into cell phones and texting as rumors of a cancellation circulated.

Although no official email came from the New York Road Runners, the official organizers of the race, those at the expo soon realized the rumors were true. Presenters folded up their booths and went home, said McNary.

"There were a few people who were expressing their anger pretty loudly, but for the most part, I think people understood that the timing was just not right for it," McNary said.

Earlier this week, Kim and his partner kept their eyes on the news as they watched superstorm Sandy unfold, wondering whether their eight months of training for their first marathon would be for naught.

The 26.2-mile race seemed unfathomable last winter, when a 3-mile run was exhausting. But this week, with the finish line in sight, they listened to Bloomberg say over and over again that the race was on. Even Friday morning, when they left for the airport, they were certain they would be running together through New York's five boroughs.

And then that text message from a friend came.

"I felt like it was kind of taken away from us at the last minute," Kim said. "I would have understood if, shortly after the hurricane, it was canceled. … We definitely saw the devastation, and we definitely were concerned for the people that were affected by this not only in New York but in other parts of the East Coast."

He did not get an official cancellation email from the New York Road Runners until Saturday at 11:51 a.m., more than 12 hours after the mayor and race CEO Mary Wittenberg announced the race was off.

Robert Brink, a marathoner from Manhattan who was still without power, said he still hadn't gotten the official cancellation notice.

"I can't believe they still haven't sent out emails as far as I can tell," Brink said. "Especially for foreigners. I'm sure there's probably going to be some people who are flying out here who still think it's on."

The New York Road Runners did not immediately respond to a request from for comment, but its email's auto reply still begins with "Thank you for your message. We are in full execution mode for the 2012 ING New York City Marathon."

Brink said he feels bad for out-of-state runners who went through the "roller coaster" of canceling and rescheduling flights as the storm moved up the Atlantic coast. Because the race was still on, they had to find a way to New York despite the frozen air traffic, only to find out that the race had been canceled once they arrived.

"I totally understand it should have been canceled because it's not right if there's people hurting," he said. "But my first reaction was, look, you made the call to go through with it. At this point, assuming no one's going to die by holding it, you just kind of have to live with that choice."

Although Bloomberg and Wittenberg said the marathon would not take resources from hard-hit areas such as Staten Island and the Rockaways in Queens, the race would have required police and medical personnel support.

Even before the cancellation, heated battles took place over Facebook and Twitter as to whether the race should go on in the wake of a natural disaster. Some posters called runners selfish and told them to go home.

"The honest truth is when the storm hit, I was amazed that they would even consider attempting to run the race," said Manhattan runner Kevin Browne, who participated in social media debates about the marathon but still planned to run it. "Anybody who's run it before knows the support that's required to get us to Staten Island and to get us to Central Park."

Other than Gatorade, water and food, the race requires barricades and police help, Browne said. Although he trusted that Bloomberg wouldn't hold the marathon if it wasn't a good idea, he said he would feel guilty if someone in a flood zone got hurt because a first responder was supporting his marathon run.

"The thing I found probably the most concerning was the fact that the New York Road Runners was asking for volunteers to help them manage the race," Browne said. "I thought, 'Oh my god, if people were to volunteer, they shouldn't be supporting the race, they should be helping people who are really suffering."

In an effort to use their New York trips for good, many out-of-state runners have set up volunteer efforts for Sunday right where the race is supposed to get started: Staten Island. One group will gather at the Staten Island Ferry terminal in orange to collect and distribute supplies to those in need.

Another volunteer runners' group is organizing smaller runs to benefit Sandy's victims. Even the Run Anyway NYC 2012 campaign on Facebook, which is four laps around Central Park rather than the race course, will collect food, clothing and supplies to distribute to victims.

Though Kim said he's disappointed that not running means he won't be able to raise funds for the American Heart Association, he and his partner won't be leaving early. They plan to volunteer in Staten Island while they're here, and get married on Tuesday, since same-sex marriage is not legal in California.They planned to tie the knot around the same time they decided to commit to their first marathon.