Eric Bruce arrived in New York City last week from his home in Bermuda to run his 39th marathon. He was checking into his hotel, which was without power, when he learned of the cancellation. He had just chatted with the porter after learning how his family had fared during the storm.
“I was disappointed I would miss what I originally came here for but as another runner said, ‘None of us knew what challenge we personally would face this weekend,’” said Bruce.
Most of us watched the drama of the 2021 New York City Marathon unfold from afar. Many shared their opinions of what they thought runners should do and what the city should have done, but the reality is that most of us weren’t there and we were just playing armchair referee. It’s always easy to problem solve from a distance and to tell people how they should feel when we’re not the one directly dealing with the impact of such a tough situation.
Bruce is one of three runners we spoke to who were actually there and traveled to the city because Mayor Michael Bloomberg told them the race was still on. These runners gave up months of their lives to train for this race, they spent money to travel to New York City, and they wrestled with the emotions of being told it was all for nothing.
However, Bruce encountered more good spirit than bad during his unique stay in New York. He recounted the grace and humanity he experienced from New Yorkers. “My hotel was downtown and I was without power for part of my stay,” he said. “Strangers offered to let me stay in their homes, extended well wishes, and hoped that they would see me in next year’s race.”
Matt Brunett also traveled to New York City to run what he hoped would be his best marathon yet. He had arrived from Valley Center, Kansas and was boarding a sunset sightseeing boat tour when he heard the news. At that moment he says he became an emotional wreck.
“I proceeded to have several drinks, which I had given up as a training sacrifice!” he said. “I was frustrated at the timing of the decision, not at the decision itself.”
Brunett struggled to cope during his time in New York as things like transportation got a little hairy. “Friday night after the news [broke], we were out in the cold and tried to flag cabs. We told them it was only a two-mile fare. They said ‘no’ and drove off because of the fuel shortage caused by Sandy.”
Dale Bing left his hometown of Wichita, Kansas to race in New York. His feet had barely hit the ground before the news was broken to him. “I learned of the cancellation as I was getting off the plane in New York. A disabled wheelchair racer looked up at me as I was almost to the door of the plane and said ‘the marathon has been canceled.’ He saw it on his phone. At first I did not believe him but when we got off the plane my phone went crazy with text messages and we saw it on the news. I was in shock, mad, upset, could not even talk,” admitted Bing.
Just like many, Bing was more upset at the timing of the cancellation rather than the cancellation itself. “I was watching a live local talk show. The host was taking calls, most New Yorkers were glad it was cancelled,” he recalled. “But what was upsetting was when he said the Mayor cancelled it late so all the runners would come to New York and spend their money. Well, it worked.”
However, Bing was pleased to report that he never received any cruel or hateful words from a single New Yorker. He and his family were able to make arrangements to leave earlier than expected so someone in the city who was still without power could have their room as soon as they were out.
Each of these runners dealt with their situation the best they could and made the decision to celebrate the positive and refuse any more negativity. Brunett and Bing actually shared some miles in Central Park on the sunny day that was supposed to be marathon day.
“On race day I went to Central Park and ran with thousands of runners that were there to run the marathon. We started at what would have been the finish line and we had no set distance,” said Bing. “I ran two loops for 13.1 miles. Many runners from all over the world were there with their flags waving in the wind as they ran. There were people cheering and there was even a homemade finish line.”
Brunett ran a little longer than Bing, completing a 20-mile run along with what he was calling his fellow “marathon non-runners.” Brunett also recounts the spirit in the park as the most positive aspect of his trip. “The positive energy of runners and fans at the park was incredible,” he said. “Runners are awesome.”
Both Bing and Brunett are making plans to push forward with training and attempt to run their “fall race” this December at the Metro PCS Dallas Marathon. Bruce made his way to Central Park on Sunday as well, though he just took a little different route, attempting to give back in the best way he could.
“I considered several unofficial events supporting the recovery from Staten Island, Queens, and Central Park. I chose Central Park since it was the closest and would leave a smaller carbon footprint, which was also important given the fuel crisis,” said Bruce.
In addition to just running with the crowds at Central Park, Bruce utilized the Charity Miles app. This app allows you to choose a charity and a sponsorship pool will donate 25-cents for every mile you run. Bruce chose to run for Feed America on marathon day because they were giving to the Sandy relief effort.
The park was an inspiring scene for so many on marathon day. There was no official 2021 New York City Marathon, but this year’s run and activity will probably be the most memorable of all years. Bruce explained that the best in the human race was displayed in the park as people came out to support and cheer the runners who had come from all over the globe.
Most of the participants had perspective, understanding the tragedy and wanting to assist the city the best they could. Brunett remained in town and did his best to spend money in all of the stores he could. Bing was able to leave early and give up his room to those in need. And Bruce was able to raise funds for those who were and are still hurting so badly. These are just the stories of three individuals and their reactions to an unbelievably tough, yet inspired, weekend in New York City.
images courtesy of Eric Bruce and Matthew Brunett