Four days before Superstorm Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, N.J., @INGRunnerNation tweeted a quote from Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to enter and run the Boston Marathon.
"If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon."
In the days after Sandy tore through the New York metropolitan area, the notion that devastated neighborhoods on Staten Island would have to watch a marathon begin on their streets seemed to shake the faith of many in both human nature and the leadership of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
After initially insisting that the marathon would go on -- and on and on -- because "this city is a city where we have to go on," Bloomberg reversed course on Friday as outrage spread throughout the five boroughs, even among those set to participate in the race.
Traversing 26.2 miles on foot is an activity that requires mental resolve, a high threshold for physical discomfort and a good pair of sneakers. With the cancelation of the NYC Marathon there are now upwards of 40,000 able-bodied and strong-willed individuals in the New York area who can still put all of these attributes to good use, including me.
We're needed in Hoboken. We're needed on Staten Island. We're needed in Queens. We're needed in Manhattan. We're needed in far more places and across many more miles than the marathon could ever have taken us.
Iconic marathoner Bill Rodgers famously said -- and printed on T-shirts -- that the "marathon can humble you." Those lamenting their lost marathon need to heed this axiom, even if this isn't what Rodgers had in mind. Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, I was thrilled to be participating in my first New York City Marathon. My family was supportive and eager to line the route. It would have been a celebratory day for me, provided I reached the finish line in Central Park. And it would have been wholly inappropriate given the circumstances.
With my parents still in the dark in New Jersey and relatives in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island and Connecticut all affected to varying degrees by Sandy, I didn't see the cancelation as a tough decision. Like many, I saw it as the only one. To be clear, my family fared exceedingly well during the storm relative to those in places like Breezy Point, Staten Island and the Jersey Shore. With so much suffering still ongoing and so much work to be done, the notion that a single spectactor would have cheered for one stride that I would have taken unnerved me. The possibility that any spectator would have passed up on a chance to help out someone in need in order to watch me huff and puff through the five boroughs seemed even more unfortunate. That being said, if Bloomberg and the New York Road Runners had not called off the event then I would have found a way to get from Jersey City to the starting line at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Like many, my run was connected to a charitable donation. I was running as part of a group of HuffPost and AOL employees raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, who provides a temporary "home-away-from-home" for pediatric cancer patients and their families. Along with the months of arduous training and myriad minor personal sacrifices that go into running any marathon, such charitable fundraising is a part of the NYC Marathon for many and it is one of the reasons the event is such a unique fixture of the sporting calendar. That spirit is needed now more than ever.
Before the race was called off, Jacyln Larington was rallying runners to forgo the finish line in order to help those in need along the route. With the race canceled, she has found herself at the center of a relief initiative composed of runners.
"We have trained for a marathon and we intend to put one on. But instead of a foot race, we want a marathon of service," said Larington in a press release.
"We're charging ahead with the volunteering, calling it a Marathon of Relief Efforts (MORE). We have nearly 400 people committed to helping us volunteer in various locations around the city. It's been amazing to see runners and various people from around the city come together to help," Larington told The Huffington Post via email on Saturday. "This all started yesterday, with just me in my PJ's and, just 24 hours later, there's an entire team of people helping me coordinate the efforts - none of who I knew as of yesterday at 8:00 a.m.."
Even without the race, Dr. Jordan Metz and The New York Runners in Support of Staten Island will still be pounding the pavement on Sunday morning. They will be lacing up their running sneakers and traveling to Staten Island to deliver aid -- and log a few miles.
"Now that the NYC marathon is cancelled, let's put these legs and healthy spirit to good use!" reads a message on the group's Facebook page. "We are organizing an impromptu group of NYC marathon runners (and friends) to head over to Staten Island to run and distribute food and helpful items."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker tweeted that a group of 40 marathoners from Amsterdam volunteered to help in his city. With efforts like these, perhaps marathoners will be able to amend Switzer's quote: If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon runner volunteer his or her time to help those in need. If enough of the runners and volunteers who are now free on Sunday can go out and make a difference then perhaps the first canceled New York Marathon will become the most impactful. Regardless of how many runners and compassionate neighbors come out to help on Sunday, we must not forget that the path to recovery for those in the storm-ravaged areas of our region is far longer than any marathon course.
One way in which runners can help whether or not they made it to New York is by visiting Race2Recover.com and donating their hotel room to someone displaced by Sandy.
Looking to capitalize on the attention paid to the belated cancelation of the NYC Marathon, the NYCVolunteerathon is connecting volunteers with local groups already making a difference in communities. Look for the hashtag #NYCVolunteerathon to find volunteer opportunities for Sunday.