Imagine that you’ve been training all summer into the fall for your first marathon. Maybe you became a runner to run a marathon. This is the hardest physical thing you’ve ever tried to do and you are both exhilarated and terrified that the day is nearly here. And now you have an unforeseen challenge – the conditions the race will be run in are, to say the least, not good. And now you have to decide what to do.
Of course I am talking about the New York City Marathon, which is apparently taking place as scheduled this Sunday. Despite the fact that so many people on Staten Island and in lower Manhattan are suffering and struggling to recover. There is no comparison, but I’m also sympathetic to the runners and the dilemma they face. And so I’ve been thinking also about my first marathon experience in Chicago in 2007. I was not a runner. Before training for a marathon, I would have told you I hated running. But I was interested in the process of training and suddenly, the idea of finishing a marathon and being in the best shape of my life in the year of my 40th birthday was very motivating. So I’d done it, slogging my way through longer and longer training runs.
As race day approached, the weather forecast was not looking good. And the emails from race organizers kept warning everyone about the heat and proper preparation. There was no plan to change anything about the race though. The start time remained 8 am. And the weather forecast kept getting hotter.
On race day, some 40,000+ runners lined up at the start. It was an incredible place to be for a first-timer. Inspiring, exciting, nerve-wracking. We shuffled our way to the start and were finally off. It was so hot and so humid. But everyone’s spirits were high and the crowds were out cheering and everything seemed fine. And then we reached the first water station and hit the first stroke of bad luck of the day. There was no water and no gatorade at the first aid station. The system was breaking down very early it seemed, since I was running in the section of the crowd shooting for under 5 hour finish times. There were thousands of people behind us.
Things went downhill from there. I never saw gatorade on the course, though I did find water along the way at aid stations and from the amazing residents along the route who were out with coolers of ice and bottles of water. As I approached mile 16, the word was spreading that the race was cancelled. Suddenly, there were police barricades blocking off the course and rerouting everyone back to Grant Park. It was chaos.
I went on to finish my first marathon a few months later in Phoenix. And I returned to Chicago last month to finish my second. It was a wonderful experience to complete the full course and to run into Grant Park and cross the finish line for real.
So what does any of this have to do with the NYC marathon on Sunday? I wish for the runners that the organizers would do the right thing and postpone. Of course that would be disappointing for runners who’ve been training so hard. But to put the burden on them to make the decision? If I was running on Sunday, if it was my first marathon? The race experience is the end of a long journey. It’s important and should be honored. Unforeseen events can and do happen. But if you know that you are going to be putting runners under unnecessary duress, and testing the resources of a city that can’t afford it, you owe it to everyone to take responsibility for that and make the right decision. And to all the first-time marathoners struggling with what to do, do what’s best for you, for both your body and your spirit. And if you agree that the marathon needs to be postponed, please sign the petition at Change.org.