Mayor fell on wrong side of runners' good-stubborn, bad-stubborn nature

A crowd of runners stands near the barricaded

A crowd of runners stands near the barricaded Central Park finish line for the now-canceled New York Marathon. (Nov. 3, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Runners admit it -- they are stubborn. They train and race no matter the weather or inconvenience, and that "spirit," American marathon record-holder Deena Kastor said, is one "of progress, being determined to get over setbacks. Sort of a resilience and reckless spirit."

It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's embrace of that good-stubborn runner's mentality -- to remain dogged through difficulty -- that got him and New York City Marathon officials into trouble, and that made Bloomberg's 11th-hour decision to cancel Sunday's race so much worse than if he had pulled the plug earlier in the week.

It was not surprising that sincere proponents of the race's value, parading through the city's five boroughs only six days after Superstorm Sandy delivered its crushing blow, identified with Bloomberg's tenaciousness.

Minnesota native Andrew Carlson, one of the few dozen professional runners among an expected crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 participants, judged that the race "wouldn't take away from anything that happened [with the storm] . . . but it is people moving forward in recovery, taking the first step. You have to be stubborn to do so, and not give in."

Bloomberg didn't reverse field until late Friday, a day after he declared, "This city is a city where we have to go on."

Eventually, he was forced to react to mounting criticism both within and outside the running community, including several marathon entrants who made public their intentions to stage a starting-line boycott and pivot toward volunteer relief work for storm victims.

"Somewhere there's the line between determination and stubbornness," David Monti, who coordinates the marathon's dealings with elite professional runners, said just hours before Friday's cancellation. "And runners, as a group, blur that line.

"Malcolm Gladwell said, 'You feel before you think,' " Monti said. "So the feeling is probably that this is not a great idea. Many people in this region are hurting. Should we be running the race now? But the thinking part says we should.

"I want to say very clearly that I understand and respect people who feel this is not appropriate. I just think, and it might be close, that the greater good is to do it than not do it."

By that, Monti meant the potential economic impact for the city -- estimated at more than $300 million -- and the $1 million that could be raised for charity, as well as what Kastor called "the metaphor to encourage people to carry on."

When Bloomberg publicly declared on Wednesday that the race would be run, and repeated that on Thursday, runners from around the world persisted with travel arrangements that had been mangled by Sandy.

Upon late arrival in New York, they filled the sidewalks around Central Park -- which still was closed because of hurricane cleanup -- and took to the Hudson River bike trail for last-minute workouts. An estimated 20,000 of them had come from foreign countries, thousands more from out of the New York area.

The idea of postponing the race for a week never was considered realistic because of the massive hotel bookings involved and the expense to out-of-town runners to hang around.

Organizers considered the possibility of paring back to a shorter race -- possibly a 10-miler -- all within mid-Manhattan, or staying within Central Park.

The scope of the marathon operation is such -- 40 medical aid stations, 8,000 volunteers, more than 50 trucks needed simply to transport runners' gear from the starting line to the finish line are only a fraction of the details -- that Bloomberg appeared faced with a black-or-white decision: Run or cancel.

By announcing "run," then "cancel," he angered runners on both sides of the show-must-go-on attitude. Runners, after all, "are stubborn but not naïve," Kastor said.

Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 New York champion, was among those who expressed understanding of Bloomberg's final, final decision. Meanwhile, though, there are a lot of runners -- good-stubborn and bad-stubborn -- in New York who will be looking for a place to run Sunday, and some even have threatened to take to the marathon course on their own. Which might be resilient, but plenty reckless.

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