Understanding the Why, Runners Upset Over When Race Was Called Off

The drive in Central Park was packed Saturday morning with the usual: people walking their dogs, kids playing, bikers and runners — lots and lots of runners.

Many of the 40,000 runners who traveled to the Big Apple from across the globe to participated in this year’s ING New York City Marathon could be found running around the park, seeing the banners and signs already set up for the race, or taking a picture at the finish. After the race was canceled just after 5 p.m. on Friday, this would be as close as they would come to the finish of the 2012 NYC marathon.

Almost all runners expressed their disappointment that the city pulled the plug on the race, but understood the reasoning, as thousands of New Yorkers struggle in the aftermath of Sandy.

But what had many runners riled up was the timing of the announcement, which came after participants were told the race was on and made the effort and spent the money to come to the city.

Jamie Pollack from Phoenix, Arizona was on the way to the race expo to pick up her race packet when she heard the race was called off. By the time she got there, the atmosphere at the expo, she said, was “borderline hostile.”

“But you know what, people got themselves together pretty well. I thought it could have gone way worse than it did,” she said. It’s possible she would have come to the city regardless, but if she could have gotten a refund for her travel expenses, she most likely would have stayed home.

She is one of the many runners who got a slot in the marathon by raising funds for a charity.  “It’s a lot of money [traveling here]. We came here to run this and not do much else.” Still, she said she planned to make the most of her weekend in the city.

After getting a picture at the finish, Kristy Hill said she understood and respected the decision, but was also upset by the manner in which it was done.  “Everyone understands, they want what’s best for the people, you know, struck by the tragedy, and want to support that, but I mean personally I feel like it was disrespectful the way it was done.”

All runners entered in this year’s race will get guaranteed entry next year, but they will have to pay the race fee again. This year fees were over $200 and for foreigners over $300.

Alex Diaz, who traveled from Texas to run, believes if the race was going to be called off it should have been done right away. But, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg said the race was on, he thinks they should have stuck by their decision. It was their initial announcement that led him to spend over $3,000 to travel and stay in the city. He says he won’t be back next year.

“I’m disappointed with Road Runners and with the mayor and all the New Yorkers that went out so aggressively against the runners.” Diaz said. ““I think the marathon is a testament to human spirit, and we’re here to show and share the pain and show humans can push ahead. And the fact that people went against that and called the running community callous, I’m very disappointed with New Yorkers.”

The fact that the marathon had grown to be a point of contention across the city was the main reason the race was canceled. Wittenberg and others said that’s not what the NYC marathon is about. She had also expressed concern about the growing “animosity” towards the runners that came to race.

Some runners said they'd volunteer their time in hard hit Coney Island, as were some of the charity groups sponsoring runners. Other said they'd still try to get in 26.2 miles, but without using any city or NYRR resources. They'd go old-school, and run the original marathon course, more than four full loops of Central Park, on Sunday.

Jen Johnson from Denver, Colorado got a feel for a NYC marathon finish Saturday morning. She and her friends woke up early to run 26.2 miles in Central Park, ending at the finish line, which is still set up in Central Park. Her family members were even there to cheer her on, holding up signs and ringing a race cowbell.

Johnson said they went for it Saturday because “our buddies decided to turn around and leave, they were that disappointed [the race was canceled], they decided to leave this afternoon which is why we decided to do it today.”