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November 7, 2012 / fionarwbl

The Race Didn’t Go On, A Race Must Go On

It’s taken me four days or more to write this post, and every day, my feelings changed, and it seemed that every day, something new happened to change them again.

On Tuesday, it felt like running was the right thing to do. It might seem strange, but growing up in Belfast, and my husband growing up in Israel, but getting on with things and continuing with normalcy in the face of chaos was a common response. And while the damage was horrific, the real sense of impact was not yet felt. Running a marathon seemed difficult, but not impossible. And Mayor Bloomberg said we would run.

And yet, the power did not come back. The subways did not run. Offices did not open. People had lost homes, cars, and more and more lives were tallied up as lost. The pictures of flooded streets and storm damage was overwhelming.

Like every other runner here, I wanted to run the marathon. But the marathon I wanted to run was the joyous homage to the city. As someone who has come from somewhere far away to make their lives here, I remember during last year’s race being overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude that I felt to the city, the city that had opened its arms and welcomed me home. As much as I would want to run a marathon that spoke of the city’s pride and resilience, could I really run through storm ravaged streets where the pain of loss was so raw?

On Thursday, the city and area started to run out of gas. It was an unexpected challenge for the storm ravaged area. People were waiting in lines for four or five hours, or longer. People were walking miles to get gas to power generators. The lights were still not on. The subway was running, sort of, on a dramatically reduced service. Running seemed less like a statement of resilience and more like an act of misplaced pride.

And then there was the anger. From the moment that Bloomberg announced that the race would continue, there was an outpouring of anger and vitriol aimed at the runners. Twitter and Facebook became forums where runners were pitted against runners, locals pitted against foreigners, and everyone was angry. I watched in shock as runners were portrayed as callous, selfish, and immoral by wanting to run a race that their own mayor had said was good for the city?! It was incomprehensible. Furthermore, runners were expected not to run the marathon, but instead run stuff into Staten Island, like pack mules. Runners were suddenly damned if they ran, and damned if they didn’t.

During all of these attacks on both individuals and groups of runners, the NYRR stayed silent. They made a $1m dollar donation, which was excellent; remember that NYRR is a non-profit, and almost all marathon costs and revenue are sunk. But they made little acknowledgment of their donation, or the fact that running the marathon would bring much-need revenue to parts of the city, or that the runners themselves were not responsible for the decision to run or not.

So then the runners were stuck: run and risk the anger of a city that didn’t want the marathon; or don’t run and waste the city resources mobilized to support the marathon. Rock and a hard place.

By Friday morning my friends and I were texting and g-chatting about whether we would be booed for running; could we go to a start line in a borough that had been hit harder than any other, and then turn our backs and run away for it? How could we get on buses to drive us to a start line, when other people couldn’t even get gas for their cars or generators. How could we drink coffee made using generators when people didn’t have power?

All through Friday I was torn about what to do. I bored everyone at work with my dilemma. I left work early to pick up a bib for a race I wasn’t sure I would run. I went to the expo, which had a surreal bubble feel. I picked up my bib, bought a North Face t-shirt with a large Staten Island on it, and tried some chia snacks. I walked out feeling more determined to run, but continued ambivalence about the experience.

And then it was cancelled. Relief. Like just about every runner out there, I agreed with the decision, but hated the timing. Why wait so long while runners are being pummeled in the media, and let people rearrange travel and waste precious time and resources to come for a race that so clearly should have been cancelled earlier?

So I drank wine. I texted people. I hit up twitter and Facebook for ideas. I knew I wanted to run something. My legs were ready. Earlier in the week I’d hit some crazy speedy mile repeats without even trying too hard. It was time for me to run. I saw growing momentum for Richmond – a race that Dori made sound exceptional last year, and a city that has been on my visit list for a while. I hummed and hawed. Fights were $400 – too expensive for an impulsive trip. But megabus gave me some options, as did twitter friends offering rides. I went for a run in Central Park on Saturday to feel the energy and see the Finish Line. It made me tear up. But my legs felt amazing. 8 miles run in just under a hour without looking at my watch or pushing the pace. I couldn’t let these legs go to waste! Richmond it was.

Of course, there was still plenty of Sandy relief to do. While working around my in-laws bags (taking over our bedroom!), I got together bags for donation and found some local volunteer options. I’ve been continually warmed and inspired by the spirit and generosity in the wake of Sandy. While there might have been anger and animosity over the marathon, the genuine desire of so many to help those hit by Sandy has reminded me how lucky I am to be here, surrounded by so many people happy to open their homes, their wallets, and their hearts to help others less fortunate than themselves.

One of #teamrichmond, Katie, has set up a crowdrise account to raise funds for Sandy relief. Please donate whatever you can! We really appreciate your help. All funds go to the Mayors Fund for New York. We’ll be running with our NYC bibs to continue to raise awareness of the destruction and help still needed there.

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