An Open Letter to the NYRR Objecting to This Year’s Marathon

[UPDATE: About 45 minutes after I posted this, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYRR announced they were rescheduling the marathon.  While I which they would have done so earlier, as this late cancelation will create unnecessary inconvenience for the runners who had thought they were running the race, I am glad they finally listened the the overwhelmingly negative feedback their decision to continue the race had garnered.   While I think the best leaders make decisions rather than react to popular opinion, I am still thankful that they listened to that popular opinion and responded accordingly.  I know they will face criticism for this decision as well, and wish them luck in the monumental task of rescheduling such a major event.]

Dear Mary Wittenberg and the New York Road Runners:

As a former (and potentially future) member of the New York Road Runners, I am writing to express my objection to the running of the New York City Marathon this weekend.

I was a very active member of the NYRR from 2005-2010, running as many as 14 races a year with your organization, and completing the New York City Marathon twice (2008, 2010).  My two finishes of the marathon rank among the greatest experiences of my life, so it is not without experience or reflection that I believe holding the marathon this weekend is a huge mistake.  More than a mistake, I think it is misguided, self-centered, and offensive to all those who are still struggling with the devastation left by hurricane Sandy.

Mayor Bloomberg has said the marathon will not divert any necessary resources from the city’s relief effort, and although I find that claim dubious, I will take him at his word.   Apart from official city employes, however, the marathon requires an army of volunteers and resources — volunteers and resources who could be better directed to the thousands of people who are without food, water, or shelter even as we speak, people who will be suffering even as the first runners cross the Verrazano bridge Sunday morning.  Generators will supply power to tents and computers while millions are without electricity in our region.  Tables will be laden with bananas, bagels, coffee, and Power Bars, while Super Markets remain boarded up and thousands run out of food, some scouring dumpsters in an attempt to eat.  Scores of volunteers will hand out water along the route, while across the river in New Jersey they are boiling water to survive, and high-rises in the Lower East Side have no running water.  The hundreds, if not thousands, of people who help put on or run the marathon could all turn their efforts to aiding those who are truly in need.

The New York Road Runners have declared they are running the marathon “for the city,” but for those who were truly devastated by this disaster, a marathon is NOT what they need — they need emergency resources.  Mayor Bloomberg has said that the marathon is a sign of our city’s strength, of our resilience.  In eight weeks or so when this disaster has passed, that might be true, but the disaster has not passed; for millions in our region, it is still unfolding even as we speak.  We are not just in the shadow of the disaster, we are still in the midst of the disaster, and holding the marathon will not be a sign of strength but a sign of callous indifference to those in need.  As the temperature drops and the days without water, power, and food drag on, we run the danger of repeating the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina, where the most horrific stories were told as people died from exposure, starvation, and dehydration.  If even one elderly person starves to death in a high-rise on the Lower East side as a real estate agent from San Diego is handed a banana on First Avenue, it would be criminal.

The fact that the New York Road Runners cannot see this, and seems tone-deaf to even the negative PR that this will generate, seems to show a narrow-sightedness that I had not thought the organization possessed.  Turn Marathon Sunday into a day of service for the Tri-State Area — ask runners and volunteers to go to Hoboken, Long Island, the Far Rockaways, to organize the human and material resources they represent in a way that the city can truly use.  Instead of shuttling people to “Marathon Village,” sent those thousands of busses full of thousands of people into the neighborhoods and communities that are in dire need of food, water, batteries, and manual labor.  Reschedule the marathon and declare that New York is “up and running!” in a month, two months, next spring, whenever we are truly up and running again.

I was a long-term and devoted member of your organization.  I only let my membership lapse when I had two kids and no longer could participate in enough races to make it worth while.  Unfortunately, I am not currently a member, because I would revoke my membership in protest over the decision to run this year’s marathon.  As it is, I highly doubt I will join the road runners in the future, and certainly will not do so under the current leadership.


Chris Van Dyke


About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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1 Response to An Open Letter to the NYRR Objecting to This Year’s Marathon

  1. rvandyke says:

    Good letter….I see that they canceled the Marathon as of today….



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