Thousands of runners registered for this year's ING NYC Marathon were faced with conflicting emotions when, after Superstorm Sandy ravaged much of the City, the announcement was made early in the week that the Marathon would still go on. For personal reasons, some decided not to run the race while others decided to move ahead with their plans after months of training. Most agreed that they felt a sense of relief when the race was cancelled late on Friday.
Run Farther & Faster friend and two-time Boston marathoner, Amanda Kunstmann, of Columbus, Ohio was one of those runners. Below is her story of the true spirit of the marathon.
My NYC 2012 Marathon experience began in January 2011 when I crossed the finish line of my favorite half marathon, the ING Miami Half, in just enough time to qualify for guaranteed entry to New York. I was beyond proud and excited and spent the next year and nine months in eager anticipation of the “race like no other.” There was something magical about the prospect of
New York. Each race I’ve run has a special place in my
heart, its own character, challenges, and friends with whom I’ve shared those
unique experiences. New York was going to be special because my
husband and I were running it together, and it was my first time doing it.
Seeds of doubt began to sow themselves the weekend of the Marine Corps Marathon 2012 in Washington DC. Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast and created daunting weather conditions for runners of that marathon which took place the week before the NYC Marathon. I had been following that race closely because I had several friends running it and /or pacing it. Fortunately, the conditions for that marathon ended up being fine, although many people experienced travel difficulties after the race. My attention turned towards the ominous predictions of the wrath of Sandy on NYC, which was expected to ravage that coast next.
We all have the benefit of hindsight now. We know that the marathon should have been cancelled immediately following the devastating hurricane. The fact that so much deliberation took place in spite of the dire circumstances leads me to believe that the mayor and the NYRR really wanted to continue the race, to send a message about resiliency and fortitude. Of course canceling created its own set of logistical and financial complications that they also wanted to avoid if possible, but I keep in mind that to their credit, these individuals got into their positions of power because of their tenacity. They don’t give up easily. It’s harder for some people to let go of their aspirations. Thankfully, in the end, concern for public safety prevailed, and the right call was made to cancel and divert resources to those in need.
I spent the entire week before the marathon unable to sleep. So much was happening; it made my head spin. Mike and I were planning to go along with whatever the City decided to do, but I was completely conflicted about continuing and unable to enjoy the idea of running the marathon anymore. It wasn’t going to be the experience I expected. We received an email from our hotel that essentially read “Dear Guest, We regret to inform you that your reservation is cancelled due to there being a dangerous dangling crane on our block, the result of high winds during hurricane
The hotel was indefinitely evacuated. Sorry.” I will print that and put it with my bib and
other race memorabilia. We rebooked at
the race headquarters hotel, and I started to get very concerned about all the
hate mail directed toward race organizers and runners. What started as conflicted emotion about
participating turned into outright fear as I read FB messages on my flight to
LGA. By the time we checked into our
hotel on Friday night, it was a bit of a relief that the race had been
My first reaction to the news was to send a message to my run club back home: marathon cancelled, this marathoner is still running 26.2 at some point this week, join me for all or part and please donate to the relief effort. Then my husband and I donned our party clothes, as planned, and headed to the New York Athletic Club for a dinner with friends and keynote speaker, Joan Benoit Samuelson. It was an inspirational evening. By the end of it, Joanie managed to turn what could have been a very disappointing night into an uplifting and hopeful one. Her spirit of determination and genuine love for the sport left us all excited about running and racing again in NYC 2013. A better way to ease the tension there could not have been.
The next morning, I woke up to an email message from my friend Aaron, asking “who’s in for a marathon today?” I had planned to meet with the group in front of the NYAC to do the scheduled run with Joanie, but I had gone to bed on Friday night at midnight, after several glasses of wine, not planning to get up and run 26.2. However, it was the opportunity of a lifetime: it was a beautiful, perfect day, I was trained to run a marathon, and Aaron would be an excellent guide, as this would have been his 15th consecutive NYC marathon. He knew the course. I decided to go for it. It would be an adventure! We ran the course backwards, starting with Joanie in
That night Mike and I ventured out to a small drug store in midtown to purchase the recommended relief supplies for our morning mission on Staten Island. We were checking out when in walked 2012 Olympian, Kara Goucher. At the risk of seeming like a stalker, I politely introduced myself and told her I was a big fan. She was as friendly as can be, talked to me for several minutes about the marathon, and agreed to pose for a picture.
I will never forget that events of that marathon day. It began with a leisurely run with Joanie in Central Park, continued with a makeshift NYC marathon accompanied by my talented and knowledgeable friend Aaron (two weeks prior to this run of ours Aaron ran a 2:48 in Columbus), and ended with the most amazing chance encounter with Kara Goucher. I have a lot of great race memories…I’ve run five marathons, two of which were Boston, but I can honestly say that THAT marathon day was one of the most unexpected and memorable days of my life.
The next morning, my husband, two of our friends and I took a cab to the Staten Island Ferry where we joined hundreds of eager runners with backpacks full of rescue supplies. It was a sight to behold. There would be no marathon, yet this many enthusiastic runners showed up anyway, to make the voyage on behalf of runners for relief.
It was a loosely organized effort, but that didn’t stop us from taking to the streets and running and walking with our heavy loads, in search of people and places that needed assistance. We ended up walking about ten miles that day. My group dropped our supplies at a high school that had been converted into a shelter by the National Guard. Victims and their families were living there. Preschool children were being led through a series of games and activities while their parents searched for food, clothing, and supplies. It was heartbreaking. As runners, we choose to challenge ourselves and push through pain to achieve our goals…we experience heartbreak and sadness when we get hurt or fall short of our expectations. There is a lot of emotion and passion involved with running, but I think we know the difference between sport and life. The unasked for battles facing these poor victims needed to be fought and won before the city could turn its attention to a marathon. That will happen, and the NYC marathon will be back and better than ever next year.
Even though we all saw it coming, hearing the official news of the cancellation caused feelings of disappointment, then relief, then activism. Ultimately it created an intense desire among many runners to preserve the legacy of the NYC marathon as an event that unites people, rather than divides them. That amazing power of united NYC marathoners was tangible on what would have been marathon day, among thousands of athletes running their own marathons in Central Park, flags proudly displayed on their shirts and smiles defying the circumstances on their faces, and it was tangible among runners for relief aboard the Staten Island ferry that morning, gathered not for the race but to distribute needed supplies to one of the hardest hit areas of the hurricane. I was never more proud to be a runner than I was on that morning. The NYC Marathon 2012 was not at all the experience I expected, but it ended up being one of the most memorable weekends of my life. I can’t wait to go back next year. In the meantime, PLEASE consider making a donation to the relief effort at www.racetorecover.nyrr.org.