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Steve Wagner, Published November 04 2012

Wagner: Correct call to cancel NYC Marathon

Bemidji, Minn.

After Superstorm Sandy steamrolled through the East Coast, leaving a swath of destruction and death last week, New York City Marathon race officials said the race would go on.

It wasn’t so much a surprise.

If there was a race that could make it happen, certainly it’s the world’s largest marathon. It’s a city known for its resiliency. And knowing how running can heal, bring people together and inspire, I certainly understood why the city and race officials planned to run as scheduled.

Add to all the good reasons to run it, there’s the financial reality: hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent on the race. And thousands of runners – from across the country and overseas – would pump money – an estimated $340 million – into an economy brought to a halt.

As airlines resumed service, and with the race still scheduled, those runners started showing up.

By Friday, after New Yorkers objected to the city diverting resources to the marathon instead of the recovery effort, the mayor canceled the race.

“It was totally the right decision,” said Marilyn Laliberte, a Fargo runner who boarded a plane last Wednesday to compete in the race after months of training. “The mayor and race director were optimistic when they said the race was still on.”

Disappointed? Certainly. Upset? Marilyn, a native New Yorker, understands what the city is going through.

“The damage and destruction is worse than the city could handle. I don’t blame anyone,” she said. “It’s part of the power of this natural phenomenon, part of Sandy. I know the runners will forgive and get over this, because runners are that good. They’re good people.”

I always appreciate Marilyn’s perspective and wisdom. She’s right, canceling the race was the right decision.

The misfortune is that thousands of runners trusted the decisions being made in New York were the right ones. They boarded planes and planned to finish the race that started in training many months ago. Most of them had arrived in the city before the marathon was canceled.

Undoubtedly, there will be lessons learned from what happened this year, when Mother Nature proved too much for one of the great cities and marathons.

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Bemidji Pioneer Editor Steve Wagner writes a running blog, which can be found online at runningspud.areavoices.com. He can be reached via email at swagner@bemidjipioneer.com.