The big day! (Sort of) - November 4th, New York City

I was supposed to be on a bus at 7:30am this morning, on my way to Staten Island to begin a 26.2mi journey through the five burroughs of a hurricane-ravaged New York City. All week, I was alternatively excited and terrified, the latter not least because I had been sick. But my fitness was up, my doc cleared me, and I spent much of the flight on Friday teary eyed while reading the ING NYC Marathon official race guide and the packet that Team Chances' Coach Loken had prepared for each runner. (Wanda, wisely, slept.)

But as soon as we set foot in New York, it just didn't feel right. For one thing, the news coverage hadn't adequately prepared us for the realities of the City. Or maybe we hadn't been looking hard enough, relying instead on the mayor's office and the race organizers for hopeful thoughts about marathon Sunday. Our taxi driver had to weave through a number of neighborhoods in which hundreds if not thousands of cars were lined up for 3-5 hours in order to buy gas from gas stations with a heavy police present to keep the peace. He told us that he couldn't go home, as he was to be another 9-10 days (!) without any power at his house; his entire family had moved in with various friends, and he hadn't been to the house in days. His cheerfulness was stunning. We tipped him $30 for his troubles, as he dropped us off at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan. We waited for about 30 minutes for my teammates, and then checked in as a group with a lot of positivity and a let's-make-the-best-of-this attitude. Even though this was *THE* NEW YORK CITY MARATHON, and we were all excited, we were also experiencing a little trepidation about what to expect as the course wove through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Our plan was to get some rest, see Phantom of the Opera, and then enjoy a group run at 9am on Saturday. And so off we went to our hotel room at around 4:30pm Friday.

But it didn't take long for the news to spread: the marathon had been cancelled. Our last communication from the New York Road Racers, who organize the marathon, had been less than 24 hours earlier, and it was, basically, "all systems go - we're running the race to help NYC recover!" Now, in the form of news reports spread on Twitter and Facebook, we learned that, in fact, there would be no marathon. 

I know I felt hugely depressed. Not because the race had been cancelled, but because the race had to have been cancelled. Yes, of course, we'd all been training and fundraising since the summer, and so we all wanted to run. But the real tragedy is that there had been so much damage, so much displacement, so much disarray caused by Sandy and her aftermath, that running the race would have proven detrimental or even destructive to the City and its inhabitants. There were reported threats of violence against the runners (I had trouble believing those reports, and rightfully so, after what I saw today). There were complaints that the race would draw key resources away from those in need. There were real concerns that cleanup was slow and that the City needed a break. And so - whether for these or for other reasons - the race was cancelled. So be it. 

The reaction of most of the Team Chances group was: we're here, so what can we do to help? Coach Loken and some of my teammates were on the phone immediately looking to see where and how we might volunteer our time, donate some clothes, direct our funds. Wanda and I enjoyed a triple sippy-cup of red wine at Phantom, and spent some time wandering in and around Times Square, imagining how we might make the most of this weekend for those who needed it most.

The lobby of the hotel on Saturday morning had a distinctly despondent mood, but the team was all together, and we were able to commiserate and then provide each other with updates on what we would do to help NYC. We even got to have a group picture with the famed Bart Yasso, CRO (Chief Running Officer) of Runner's World:

And then we headed out for a lovely short run in the gorgeous Central Park which was, as you might expect on marathon weekend, jam-packed with runners. The mood in the Park was much lighter and cheerier than in the hotel lobby, leading at least on my teammates to observe that running is an awesome tonic. True dat. Look how happy we all are:

After the run, I caught up with Wanda and we headed to the lower upper West side to visit with one of my oldest friends in the world, Adam, and his wife Ping (who is 38 weeks pregnant!). Lunch together was amazing, and it was so nice to catch up with Adam, to share stories about just how blessed we are in this world.

Wanda and I then hailed a cab over the the Convention Center for the Marathon Expo, so I could pick up my bib and my t-shirt. We also made a few small purchases from the vendors who had discounted their merchandise and were donating all proceeds to disaster relief. And then we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for the planned group carb-loading dinner. 

Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing the huge poster of our very accomplished and famous coach, Susan Loken, as part of a marathon display in the subway at Columbus Circle. But the image is preserved for posterity:

Since the idea for Sunday was to run and then to volunteer, we all dug right in to our hearty dishes of pasta and salad at Trattoria Dopo Teatro near Times Square just off Broadway. And then Wanda and I sampled our first tastes of NY-style cheesecake before settling in for a restful night (with an extra hour of sleep, to boot!).

Again, the group assembled at 9am, and now the mood was considerably more energetic, frenzied, excited. It was a GORGEOUS day for a run - perfect, indeed, for a marathon, though we were planning a half-marathon or a little less. We are one happy group of runners (h/t to Steve Bailey for the excellent photo):

While we thought Central Park had been jam-packed on Saturday, we were blown away at the enormous crowds this morning. The Park was literally filled with runners, some of whom were doing a full 26.2 miles within and around the park, but many of whom were just out for a run. And there were thousands of onlookers and well-wishers, cheering us on with cowbells and makeshift water stations. It was the best marathon that never happened (h/t to Brad and Tracie Rogers for the photo):

And, once again, we look bloody happy though we're simultaneously cold and dripping with sweat:

We ran through the park, and then out on the upper West side to the Hudson River before returning to the Park and savoring the atmosphere. New York is awesome.

Time for a quick shower and then off again as a group, this time to a Hurricane Evacuation Center where we were planning to donate our warm clothes and pitch in however we could. The evacuation center was set up in a high school in midtown Manhattan, and we were tasked with taking a census of those seeking shelter. Most of the people we met were homeless people displaced by the storm; many were affiliated with shelters that had been damaged and temporarily shuttered, though some had no such roots. Our subgroup was assigned to a floor in which single men (or men on their own) were resting on some 60 cots in the hallway of this school; others were assigned to floors with women, families, or couples. The main goal was, effectively, to find more permanent places for these folks to stay, inasmuch as the district hoped to reopen the school as a school as soon as Tuesday. We did our best to speak with representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and other agencies to learn more about which shelters had reopened, which ones were accepting clients, and how best to link people with places. I spent most of my time with one gentleman, CF, who I think found it hard to believe we were there to help, but seemed genuinely grateful when I left him with a list of reopened shelters I had copied from the front desk downstairs. 

I prepared a short video to give you a tiny glimpse of the excitement I experienced, and to thank all those of you who donated to Chances for Children on my behalf. Your donations have made a difference both locally and much more broadly - Arizona children will benefit from the awesome programs of Chances for Children (our group, collectively, raised $130,000) and the people of New York and New Jersey are being served, too. They deserve it. We all do.

It's hard to make a difference in an afternoon. Especially since there was such widespread disdain for marathoners wanting to run in the midst of tragedy. But let me tell you: there were thousands of would-be marathoners from all over the world working their butts off throughout NYC and NJ today, in all five boroughs and along the shore, many going door-to-door with supplies for those in need, doing what we could to help. (At precisely the same time, there were 80,000 Giants fans from this area packed into MetLife Stadium to watch a football game.)

Who knows whether we made much of a difference today in NYC? Not me, but I honestly believe we did some good.




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Reader Comments (1)

Great job, Jason! I was sad to hear it had been canceled so late in the game but I was so glad that you were able to make a small difference in NYC - and a big one for AZ kids - and have a memorable time. Well done.

November 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStacyB

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