UPDATED: New York City Marathon Will Not Go Ahead

Thomas R. Stegelmann/CC BY 2.0

Note: Late Friday afternoon, the NY Road Runners Association announced that, in fact, the New York City Marathon would not be held on Sunday, November 4, 2012. It will be the first time the marathon has been canceled or postponed since it was first run in 1970. It is still unclear whether the race will be rescheduled or if it has been completely canceled for 2012.

This Sunday, tens-of-thousands of runners and millions of spectators were scheduled to take over the streets of New York City for the marathon. An annual event since 1970, the race has swelled to include more than 45,000 people and two million spectators, and is responsible for an estimate $340 million injection of economic activity in the city each year. As the city races closer to the big day, however, it is becoming painfully obvious that New York may have other things on its mind.

Still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers—and the police, fire, sanitation, and other workers that support them—are struggling with power outages, flooding, downed trees, storm damage, and transportation deadlocks. Though the New York Road Runners and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have confirmed the race will go on, many have argued it is a misallocation of city resources and in poor taste.

Perhaps most vocal is Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro, who said in a press conference on Thursday "I just assumed it was canceled...My God. What we have here is terrible, a disaster. If they want to race, let them race with themselves. This is no time for a parade. A marathon is a parade." This may be a harsh dismissal of the race but it does echo the sentiments of many.

After all, the New York City Marathon is, in a typical year, a logistical nightmare. The course runs through all five boroughs, meaning roads and bridges must be closed across the city. The racers and spectators generate a massive amount of trash—114.29 tons of litter and debris, 6.34 tons of paper, and 2.98 tons of metal, glass and plastic in 2010—which is usually handled by the city's sanitation department. Police and EMS staff must be on call to manage traffic and provide medical support. It's a demand that has reasonably left many—especially those without food, fuel, or power—whether the cost is worthwhile.

There are several arguments that the race is, indeed, worthwhile. First of all, there is the fact that the New York City Marathon is an important international sporting event. Though Molinaro sees it as a parade, canceling would be, for professional marathoners, the equivalent of canceling an NFL Playoffs game. And likewise, there's a certain amount of pride associated with being able to host such an event, even amidst some chaos. Then there is the argument to hold the race simply because it is like a parade. The Marathon is widely considered to be an inspiring event for spectators and residents, a celebration of athleticism, achievement, and the city itself. Then there is the very real economic boost the race provides which, though likely muted this year, would provide stimulus to local retail and other businesses in desperate need of extra income.

In poor taste or not, the race will go on. The New York Road Runners have announced that the theme will be changed to "Race to Recover" and that part of the revenue generated through entry fees will be donated to recovery services. The organization has also relaxed their cancelation and deferral policies, in part for those unable to travel to the city and also to help reduce the overall size of the field. They have also announced that private organizations will fill the roles typically occupied by city services, but the details have not yet been revealed.

Hopefully, race directors and participants can find a balance to make the event a positive one for the city as it struggles to regain it's footing.

Note: Late Friday afternoon, the NY Road Runners Association announced that, in fact, the New York City Marathon would not be held on Sunday, November 4, 2012. It will be the first time the marathon has been canceled or postponed since it was first run in 1970. It is still unclear whether the race will be rescheduled or if it has been completely canceled for 2012.

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | New York City