Mary Wittenberg Upbeat That The 2012 ING New York City Marathon Will Be Held

“We went through the (post) 9/11 marathon and there was never a more moving marathon… It wasn’t about the runners – it was about the city. On that day, instead of the fans being there for the runners, the runners were there for the city and this marathon already has that same feeling.”

by Robert Johnson
October 31, 2012

New York Road Runners (NYRR) head Mary Wittenberg was full of optimism early this afternoon that the 2012 ING New York City Marathon will be able to be held on Sunday just six days after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast, but it was clear that the ultimate decision rests with the city.

“I’ve always said the marathon is much more than a race – and once again it has never seemed more true than this year as was the case after 9/11. Our focus is to deliver an event that can aid in New York’s recovery. To us the marathon really epitomizes the spirit of New York City, the vitality, the tenacity, the determination of New Yorkers, and now our every effort is to once again tell the world that New York City, as the Mayor would say, is open for business, and we welcome the support of the world at this trying time,” said Wittenberg when she began her remarks which took place at the end of a regularly scheduled media teleconference with some elite athletes (more on that later in a separate story).

“We are in assessment mode with the city. We will wait for an official decision from the city,” added Wittenberg who then referred to Mayor Bloomberg‘s statement from Tuesday night when he said he thought the marathon should be run as scheduled. “We hope the marathon goes forward and are awaiting confirmation. Once we receive it, either we or the Mayor will share it.”

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Mary Wittenberg in 2009 Mary Wittenberg with 2008 Olympic champ Sammy Wanjiru in 2009

Near the end of her call, Wittenberg was very upbeat in her belief that the NYRR would definitely be able to pull off the event if the city gives them the go-ahead.

“We’ve always known that if it’s possible to run the marathon – the marathon will be run. I remain as confident as ever that the Mayor will make the right decision for the city,” said Wittenberg. “From a NYRR perspective, we remain very confident that the most important basics of the marathon can be delivered.”

Wittenberg did admit that if the race is held, there will significant “modifications” but refused to get into details as to the many contingencies her organization had been contemplating for the race. One thing she did say that had already been changed was that the bib pick-up hours would be extended as many international runners were now not going to get into New York until Saturday. As a result, the NYRR would be extending pickup times well into Saturday evening.

Press Gets Negative
After Wittenberg’s positive opening remarks, it was quite depressing for me personally to hear the press try to tear her down with a stream of negative toned questions. One reporter even apologized mid question as he said something along the lines of “Sorry if it sounds like I’m skeptical but that’s my job.”

The reporter in question then asked a question along the lines of “Do you fear a negative reaction if the race goes on as people will say, ‘For goodness sake, people are suffering and there are people out running in their underwear?'”

Wittenberg did a great job of not falling into the trap.

“Obviously the event will not go on if it hinders the recovery efforts in any way,” said Wittenberg who added the NYRR has been inundated with requests from people wanting to volunteer at the event and that soon the NYRR would have a “standby volunteer list” up on its website where people could sign up. She also added that the marathon was adding a “relief effort” to its normal charity work which she hoped would raise more than a million dollars per mile run.

“Again I don’t think anyone should underestimate the level of resources, the level of expertise, the capacity that this city has,” Wittenberg said at another point during the press conference.

Wittenberg: The Race Isn’t Needed For The Runners – It’s Needed For The City
In Wittenberg’s mind, holding the race isn’t a good thing for the runners – it’s a good thing for the city.

“We went through the (post) 9/11 marathon and there was never a more moving marathon. What that marathon did was it unified this city and brought people back to the streets for the first time in six weeks, and what was most striking about that marathon to me was, once again, it was not about running. It wasn’t about the runners.  It wasn’t about the runners – it was about the city. On that day, instead of the fans being there for the runners, the runners were there for the city, and this marathon already has that same feeling.”

“What is constant is the marathon has a huge positive impact on the city. Its economic impact has been estimated to be $350 million dollars. We just had a bunch of businesses closed,” said Wittenberg who then said “it would be great” to have all of the foreign runners and their families come to the city and help re-start the economy. But it’s not just about dollars and cents for Wittenberg, it’s also about showing the world the “resiliency” of the city.

“Also, this is no longer just any old marathon.  I do not expect 47,000 people to stand on that starting line, and they certainly won’t be getting there like they had planned.  So this is now, again, a marathon that’s about supporting the city and it’s about putting together the most important parts of it.  It will not be the year for everybody to run the marathon that had planned to run, and we’ll be really sorry to miss those who can’t be here.  But there will be plenty to make it ‑‑ in terms of sending this message of support for the recovery of New York.”

5k Not Cancelled At This Time
There have been rumors floating around that the 5k race that is schedule for Saturday had been cancelled. Wittenberg said that isn’t true at this time although she admitted that for the NYRR that the “the focus is on marathon Sunday.”

Editor’s Note: A few quotes in this story were updated when the official transcript was received.

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