On Sunday morning, my little sister pulled on her "Team Boomer" singlet and headed to Central Park. She ran a leg of the marathon course along with about 5,000 other runners. Spectators lined the impromptu course, cheering the spirit of the runners. The marathon may have been officially canceled, but in true New York fashion, the runners persevered.
Spectators handed out bananas and Gatorade. Many of the runners sported t-shirts for charities. One runner I spoke with hadn't initially planned to run for charity, but after Sandy hit, he started a website to collect donations for the victims. These were the selfish people that were the target of so many irate Facebook posts and tweets.
About six months ago, my sister decided to run the New York City marathon and to raise money for Team Boomer, an organization dedicated to funding research for cystic fibrosis. Like so many other New Yorkers, she watched in horror on Monday as Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city. She struggled to get to work without functioning subways and lived out of a suitcase because her apartment building lost power and running water. She felt lucky and looked forward to running the marathon on Sunday to show her love for her adopted city. And then, the media began whipping up righteous anger against the marathoners.
The New York Post blasted the New York Road Runners for using generators on Friday, noting that the generators produced "enough to power 400 homes in ravaged areas like Staten Island." While it's entirely appropriate to prioritize the recovery efforts, I can't think of any other private organization that was criticized for using its own generators to continue its business. Others said the runners were selfish and urged them to volunteer instead of running. According to the New York Times, City Council member Deborah Rose singled out marathoners for a lecture, "She called on all the marathoners to go to Staten Island to help with the cleanup effort and to bring the clothes they would have shed at the start to shelters or other places where displaced people were in need."
Many runners are doing so and others are not, but so are many New Yorkers. As Rose scored political points, she contributed to a dialogue of divisiveness.
People can reasonably debate whether the marathon would have detracted from the recovery efforts. Personally, I don't think cancelling the marathon will restore power to Staten Island more quickly. It won't help emergency rescue personnel carry out their duties. And it won't drain the subway system of sea water.
On Sunday, in the park, the marathon retained the spirit of camraderie that characterizes the event. Runners from dozens of countries took to the course. And they did what marathons do best: they inspire. People ran the course without water, without official volunteers, and without a phalanx of police personnel. In doing so, they set an example for the city.