There was a hurricane. And the New York City Marathon was cancelled less than 48 hours before it was slated to begin.
We arrived in NYC last Friday, went straight to the expo, and as soon as I made it through the line for my shirt, bib, and chip it became very apparent that the marathon was not going to happen. Though hardly a person in the Convention Center actually knew at the time, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC were reporting that Mayor Bloomberg had just announced that the marathon would no longer be held due to becoming a divisive hotbed of a topic in a city that needed nothing more than to be unified for recovery.
I saw some tweets, received a phone call that confirmed the rumor, and seconds later received texts from many west coast friends extending hugs and consolations. Dammit. In a fog, we stayed at the expo for a little while watching all of the innocent knowledge-less runners shop in an amped up state that only a pending marathon can induce. As we left it became apparent that news had truly broken. People were gathered around lobby tv’s with banners – NEW YORK CITY MARATHON CANCELLED – scrolling along the bottom. The scene was dream-like. Everyone was quiet and stood there without words. We all exchanged glances and were instant friends; we were going to go through this together, as runners. One man cried. Another who we talked to was positive but quite disappointed; he was going to propose to his soon-to-be-fiance at the finish line.
We left, went to the hotel, and decided we’d salvage a good vacation out of the weekend.
Was I upset? Yes. Disappointed? Immensely.
But the truth was, in the end, I only felt partially emotional about running that marathon to begin with. I had registered as a product of qualification, but after a long dramatic season full of changed plans and injury, when it came time to ramp up my mileage I was too emotionally spent to pour my heart into training like it deserved. Or like I deserved. I checked every box and made every day count, but I wasn’t waking up or going to sleep excited and I didn’t like myself very much for feeling that way. In the two weeks leading up to the race I had started to get more excited about the raw experience of running the five boroughs of screaming crazy spectators. I was anxious to see the sights. I anticipated feeling the hurt and looked forward to it, and I hoped it would inspire me. But my excitement and anticipation was nothing in comparison to the people who trained all year – or for the last four – for this one single day. So I felt sad, but I felt exponentially more sad for them.
If this had happened to Ironman Canada I would have been inconsolable. I would have been absolutely and completely wrecked. For me a marathon was a fun way to close out a season, but to most other runners it meant so much more than that. My first marathon wasn’t that long ago and I remember the meticulous effort, planning, and emotional investment. Six days later I still feel a loss for those runners much more than I do for myself.
On Marathon morning we walked to Central Park, mostly because I wanted to see it in its beautiful autumn state, but also because we had heard rumors about a newly organized run happening on the outer loop. When we arrived it was quite a sight to see. There were groups cheering lining the entire south end of the loop, makeshift water stations set up by caring individuals, and a few thousand runners were participating in a newly formed marathon. Many of the runners were proudly wearing their NYCM bibs. People were running for their country, their charity, Sandy victims, and because they trained for this damn thing and wanted to finish what they started. It was an overwhelming show of the human spirit.
Standing there watching I didn’t want to leave. I regretted not treating Saturday like Marathon Eve to wake up early and participate in this 8am marathon. Part of me even thought about heading back to the hotel to change so that I could run an afternoon 26.2 with the runners who were still “on course”. A significant part of me still wishes I had done any of those things. But I didn’t for many reasons and starting my offseason then and there on Friday at 5pm in NYC was the right thing to do for my body. For my heart? I’m not sure yet.