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The arguments in favor of keeping the marathon go a little something like this. First, that it is an economic boon to the city. This is true, but the money mainly comes from the amount that runners spend in New York City by coming and staying here prior to the race. Without expecting ALL of them to do this, I wonder if a concerted effort to convince these runners to stay and help by volunteering instead would have worked. They still would be contributing to the city's economy by staying here but they would be contributing in a way that is economically incalculable.
The second argument that I've heard is that many of these runners have trained for an incredibly long time—months, even up to a year!—and would be crestfallen to have this taken away from them. I appreciate that, really. Many people who are anti-marathon right now dismiss this reason, but it is a valid, if solipsistic one. Running a marathon is an incredible physical feat, and one that has a powerful psychological and emotional component to it as well. I've never run a marathon—not even close—but have done a more moderately distanced race, and even with that, the personal accomplishment that I felt was tremendous. But. It was just that. It was a personal accomplishment. And right now is the time to feel grateful to even be in the position to have real personal joy, and to spread that joy by helping others in need.
I also understand that many runners have raised money for charities that they really care about and believe in. Perhaps this is just me, but I find it INCREDIBLY hard to believe that anyone altruistic enough to donate money to a marathon runner would, if told that the runner wouldn't compete out of respect for those devastated in the storm, ask for that money back. In addition, the fees paid by runners to the NYC Road Runners Club, could, instead of being returned to the runners, be donated to the Red Cross. The NYC Road Runners Club has pushed incredibly intensely to make sure that the race would not be canceled because it did not want to lose money. Does this have something to do with the fact that this year's event was going to be televised by ESPN? I wonder.