Delaying The New York City Marathon Is A Mess For Elite Runners

Two running experts and marathoners explain how a delay of even a week could have affected those trying to win the marathon. posted on

Pictured above is Geoffrey Mutal, who won the New York Marathon in 2011 with a course record time of two hours, five minutes, and six seconds. For runners like Mutal — the elite, the competitors who are trying to win the race — everything from training to nutrition to physiological needs like sleeping are, for months, tailored precisely to the specific day when they expect to run the marathon. And had this year’s New York Marathon been delayed because of Sandy, it could have had a huge impact on the top competitors’ chances at winning the race and its $853,000 purse.

Had the race — which will raise $340 million for a city that will have to deal with billions in damages because of Sandy — been postponed more than a week, it wouldn’t have been worth the while of the world’s best runners to still compete, said Dan Pinter, a marathoner and the assistant manager at New York’s the Running Company. “For most of these runners, training is very meticulous, sometimes down to the hour,” Pinter told me. “One week maybe wouldn’t be a huge deal, but it’s hard to say. It would definitely hurt [the runners].” For more casual runners, he said the effect would have been mostly mental.

Although it does heavily involve coordination with the city, most of the New York Marathon’s managing and strategy is done by the New York Road Runners. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that the drain on the city’s resources — and its 35,000 police officers — would be minimal. Also, the logistics of postponing a citywide marathon likely would be a nightmare: rescheduling would involve new permits, working around other scheduled events, and the fact that the weather will only get colder from here on out. (For more on the debate over whether the marathon should happen, read Allison McCann’s story for BuzzFeed earlier today.)

Adam Jolley, a marathoner and a manager at Super Runners Shop’s 7th Avenue flagship, was even more equivocal about the effect a postponement would have on the elite runners.

“In my opinion, it would affect them tremendously,” Jolley told me. He said that even a week delay would throw off to a significant degree the training regimen of these runners. In addition, competitors training at elevation would lose the lung capacity that they’d been building after coming down to regular altitude; the longer the delay, the greater the effect would be.

As far as the rest of the 47,000 expect runners in the race’s rank-and-file, Jolley is less worried: “As we’ve shown during Sandy, New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. I don’t think they’d have a problem adjusting.”

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