It was only 6 months ago I stood on the City Hall lawn in San Francisco in front of 60 plus runners speaking to them how to run the NYC marathon turn by turn and getting them motivated to gear up for November, “Imagine running in Brooklyn, parts of Queens and in Manhattan and feeling like you are on stage at a sold out concert in Madison Square Garden. It is so loud you can’t hear yourself think and all you have are chills because the moments are so intense. This is the New York City marathon. It truly is an experience unlike no other. It will re define your marathon running experience and the runner’s high.”
Today I was in Brooklyn staring at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the start of the NYC Marathon, and it was quiet. No cannon going off to start the race, no runners making the bridge shake. Hurricane Sandy came earlier this week and destroyed lives, homes and marathon hopes. It was a devastating storm and this week for me felt like a month long. Between power going out and flooding and phone towers going down it really put life into perspective. My 25th marathon was to be run today and I was gearing up for a special day, a monumental mark of 25 great races throughout the years. When the storm came and left, the aftermath of the damage was starting to unfold and day by day it was starting to get worse.
I watched stories everyday on the news of people stranded on Staten Island with no power, water and food, sitting in their homes filled with contaminated water. In Brooklyn and Queens along the coast, communities were destroyed overnight and many lost their homes and were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some communities burned up and majority of these people were all stranded with no help, no food, no water and again sitting in contaminated water.
In Manhattan the lower part was powerless and many residents were in the dark including tons of senior citizens who were by themselves and were quickly running out of supplies including water and food.
And then there were the lives lost. Everyday more and more stories were being told of all the bodies they were pulling out of the waters and homes in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and New Jersey. Clearly by Wednesday it was pretty evident we were dealing with an event of historic devastation.
I trained pretty hard for the NYC Marathon. I trained in high altitude in Colorado, the hills of San Francisco, the beaches of San Diego and Los Angeles and here in the concrete jungle of New York City. I trained in all the elements, heat, rain, humidity and cold. And in all the months of training all year round, it took me less than a second to decide it was not possible to run a marathon through the five boroughs where people were suffering, died and needed help. How do you take water along the course several times when people in Staten Island couldn’t even get water? How do you even go to the start line in Staten Island and look at portal potty’s when people just not too far don’t have running water to even use the bathroom? How do see water and bananas given out at the start line to runners when children and adults have no food in Staten Island? And what about the generators at the start line to power the start line festivities? The generators could have been used to power up 400 homes in Staten Island alone. And I definitely would have felt guilty passing by 2000 NYPD officers along the course when they could have been out protecting and helping the situation at hand. There was no question this was not the right time to stage a marathon in NYC when so much was needed.
By Wednesday and Thursday here in New York City, the marathon controversy was pretty much at a peak and I was pretty embarrassed for the first time to belong to the running community. On the side of the running community and non running community in favor of the race being cancelled, nasty remarks were being made to Mayor Bloomberg, the NYRR and to the runners supporting the decision to go forth. The running community was starting to look really selfish and as bad people. I am still unsure where I stand about the runners who still decided to run, I don’t really blame them for deciding to run but I think that runners sometimes can be so narcissistic and I think many of them become obsessive over this sport, even to the point of running is EVERYTHING and life is second. Even Elite athletes and Olympic Runners will tell you that you need balance in your running life. I think this week many of them weren’t taking a step back and recognizing the bigger picture. I believe the majority of fault lies in the hands of the NYRR and the Mayor for giving them a platform to believe running was the best option. Sometimes people just need to be told what to do and they will do it and throw all rational out the window, even in the middle of a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy.
By Friday it was cancelled and it appeared to everyone it was the right decision. The running community was restored as a caring bunch as they started volunteer efforts here in NYC to collect supplies and take them out to the Burroughs in need. Today runners gathered in Central Park for an unofficial NYC Marathon run in the park but not before donating supplies to be taken to those in need. Over at the Staten Island Ferry, a thousand runners crossed over and ran into the damaged communities with supplies needed. Once again runners were showing their positive attributes and their incredible resilience that help us do 26.2.
Running is an amazing thing and running will change your life but running isn’t there to take over our lives, it’s there to compliment our life. It’s there to teach you how to push yourself and to continue to push through and conquer all that you didn’t think were possible. When you learn to do this in running, it is then that you take those valuable lessons and apply them to your life so you can have a much richer and fulfilling life filled with taking risks and going even when you are afraid.
In San Francisco when I spoke to those runners I explained every runner will come to a fork in the road during a race and you have to decide between two roads. Take the easy way and ease back or take the hard way and take a risk. It is only when you take the hard road and take that risk that you see you really are capable of anything and in the process of this realization not only do you reinvent your running and take it to higher levels and goals, you most importantly reinvent your life and take it to higher levels and goals. During this week here in New York City many runners including myself were forced to take a road most of us had never been down before. I would like to think as the runners leave to go back home to their countries or other states they travelled from or the New Yorkers still here, that we all were reinvented during this experience. No matter how bad things seem to be, like a NYC Marathon cancellation, there really is a gift there, only if you are willing to see it.
And just in case you are reading this and you were not accepted into this year’s race and you want to run next year, I would say don’t bother attempting the lottery as all of us are automatically deferred into next year’s race. I am sure there will be some who won’t make it but think about it, they will ALL pretty much be back. Heck, if they were willing to travel here after a hurricane and no official announcement, what makes you think they won’t come back next year to run what may be POTENTIALLY the greatest NYC Marathon in the history of the race.
Please keep NYC in your thoughts and prayers; we have a long road to recovery.
Keep running, keep dreaming and whatever you do, always follow your dreams.