In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes' first instinct was not to run the New York City Marathon. So he canceled. Then he heard from the organizers who said Mayor Michael Bloomberg was urging runners to compete.
"That's when I changed my plan," Karnazes told Yahoo! Sports.
So he hopped on a redeye from San Francisco, landed in New York early Friday morning ready to run on Sunday.
But now his emotions are at odds.
"I have to be honest, I'm really conflicted," Karnazes said. "I just can't imagine the grief that people are feeling right now. It just seems like it's too close."
He's not alone.
[Photos: NYC Marathon scheduled for Sunday]
Now that he's in the city, Karnazes is talking to fellow runners who are just as concerned if not more so about the race being run. Karnazes said, "Half the people would be relieved if it was canceled."
That's what Bloomberg should do – cancel the marathon – only he's not, saying in a press conference Friday that New York "has to show that we are here and we are going to recover" and "give people something to cheer about in what's been a very dismal week for a lot of people."
His steadfastness is unfortunate.
As the hours count down before the start of the marathon Sunday morning, it's become clear a race that once promised to be a triumphant moment for a city battered by Sandy is looking like a mistake that symbolizes misplaced priorities far more than feats of athleticism.
A lot of minds were surely changed Friday morning when the New York Post showed a photograph on its cover of two massive generators, strong enough to power up to 400 homes in darkened Staten Island, that will instead be used to power the marathon's media center. The machines were purchased with private money, but the message was clear: visitors to Manhattan get resources while city residents in outer boroughs suffer.
The city is not ready. People are still without power and plumbing. Falling temperatures are making their severe problems worse. The forecast is for temperatures in the 20s in New York City on Saturday night – the night before the marathon – with another nor'easter on the way next week. A crane still dangles precariously above the city. And Staten Island, so often forgotten in the glow of Manhattan, remains in a state of crisis.
"They forgot about us," 42-year-old Staten Island resident Theresa Connor told Metro, describing her neighborhood as "annihilated." "And Bloomberg said New York is fine. The marathon is on!"
There is still an emergency in New York City, and the idea of thousands of people running through it, stopping along the way for Gatorade and bananas, then being greeted by fans at the end, is cringeworthy at best. For the sake of everyone involved – and certainly everyone in Staten Island and parts of Queens and Manhattan who is not involved – Mayor Bloomberg should postpone it.
Quite simply, a city that could not accommodate the president of the United States this week surely cannot accommodate thousands of visitors in one day.
This is nothing against the marathon, the terrific people who organize it or the commendable people who run it. Athletes and weekend warriors shouldn't be demonized here; many have deep reservations about participating, and many want to run to honor those in need. The marathon is a jewel – not only for the city but for the country. It stands for the best things about New York: the people, the spirit, the togetherness.
It also brings a lot of money to the city – upwards of $300 million. But it will bring in hundreds of millions if it's run in April. Sure, the city wants to show its resilience, but the symbolism of running a race won't provide real help to anyone. Let's worry about what needs to happen in the next few hours. And that is rescue and recovery.
"I think this is an example of what infuriates people here on Staten Island," Congressman Michael Grimm said at a press conference Thursday. "We have people – people still in water. Families displaced, families wondering where their grandparents are. Are they at a shelter? Are they at a hospital? Or are they gone? That's what we should be focusing on. I think it would be very misguided to have this marathon."
Devoting a single man-hour of an exhausted New York City police force to this race is a disturbing choice. Earlier in the week, it looked like the city could recover more quickly. Clearly it hasn't.
"It's freezing like an ice box," Staten Island resident Lydia Crespo told the Wall Street Journal. "No hot water, no light. All you smell is the gas, the oil, the mold."
Ms. Crespo and all those like her deserve the full resources of a strapped and fatigued city. The full resources – not resources minus what goes to putting on a race.
Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is aware of the possible PR nightmare. He has reached out to New Jersey governor Chris Christie to make sure no emergency resources will be devoted to Sunday's Giants home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whether that game should even be played is worthy of discussion as well, as wide swaths of New Jersey are still in the dark. The Steelers themselves can't stay overnight because their hotel has no power. Why can't that game be postponed as well?
Sports are wonderful – one of the greatest aspects of American society. They bring out the best in us at the worst times. But now is not the time for sports. Now is the time for the kind of healing sports cannot provide.
Stop the race. Start the generators in Staten Island.
Yahoo! Sports social editor Eric Orvieto contributed to this story.
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