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Destry Johnson’s DNS

Destry & SRC at Emerald City
Destry (2nd from right) and the SRC squadron at the Emerald City Open
Photo: Win Van Pelt

I had dedicated the second half of 2012 to the preparation for and the successful execution of…the 2012 New York City Marathon. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Having run the Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon every year since the inaugural 2009 race, I was excited to put down a solid half time in June of 2012. Unfortunately, the course had been changed from a one-way course to a loop course with much more difficult terrain. It wasn’t exactly a fast race before and the changes certainly didn’t make it any faster. I knew the course had been altered going into the race, of course, but I hadn’t scouted it out in detail. I knew the race…sorta, kinda…it was to head down from Seattle, cross Beacon Hill and then head back up around the stadium area to finish at Seattle Center. I took off and cruised through about the first half of the race on pace, but I slowed in the second half as the hills caught up with me. Boy, make sure you scout your course: Lesson Learned…again. I’m supposed to be older and wiser now, aren’t I? There was much carnage on the course and I didn’t fare too bad over all, finishing in 8th place with a time of 73:29.

August came before I knew it and that means the Seafair Torchlight 8k. Torchlight is one of my favorite races, hands down, even though I think the older course(s) were much, much better than the current version. It’s summer time, the race is in the evening, the course rolls through the parade route…it’s just all good. Well, until that last climb at the finish. They should change that…REALLY should change that. Anyway, I had been ramping the mileage up in August and I came into the race tired and ran my slowest time ever. At least it was still fun and I didn’t get lost like many of the 5k leaders did. Many of them ran 10k or more as they were still heading South when the 8k racers looped back toward Seattle Center! To top it all off I ended up with the flu the next day – honestly, who gets the flu in August?!

In September I decided to run the Joint Base Lewis McChord Half Marathon. I figured it would be a good way to gauge my fitness and probably run a decent time. The day was beautiful, with Mt. Rainier majestically rising in the east as the sun came up. The course is excellent, with just a few rolling hills. It’s definitely a PR course. With all the training and 100+ mile weeks I was unable to hang on for a real fast time, however, and finished 2nd in 71:50.

Destry @ Emerald City
Emerald City Open
Photo: Win Van Pelt

Having missed some of my favorite cross country races due to training or preparation for the JBLM Half, I was anxious to at least run in one cross race before New York. Seattle University’s Emerald City Open provided the opportunity and the shock and awe of the differences in training for 8 or 10k versus the marathon became evident quickly. Slow and steady didn’t win the race for me, but I did finish in 12th place with a 26:44. My ankles were sore for days due to my marathon training on mostly roads and paved trail.

In late October I recall watching the news coverage of a tropical storm-then-hurricane named Sandy as it decimated various areas in the Caribbean. “Glad I’m not headed that far South when I go East in a few weeks,” I remember thinking. Well as fate would have it, Sandy crashed into New York one week before the 43rd running of the New York City Marathon. “This is NYC,” I thought,” no way a storm will keep them down for a week. If there is one city on earth ready for anything, it’s NYC. Right?”

Monday and Tuesday more details became available: it had been a real whopper. No power, no gas, flooding, all three local airports closed until further notice, beaches gone, houses gone, a crane dangling in shambles from a Manhattan skyscraper. I had prepaid for some of my hotel stay, no refunds. I had paid for our airfare with points, no refunds. I had logged 1,251 miles from July 1st to the Tuesday before the race. Do I check in for my flight at 6:30AM Thursday if Newark is open?

I had been fortunate enough to qualify for the sub-elite group and thus had some good contacts with the NYRR association. Tuesday I called the elite/sub-elite coordinator to find out more information. I learned that the race coordination center was up and running, trying to rebook elite athletes from all over the world on flights later in the week. They had been told by the mayor’s office that the race would go on: the city needed the 370 million dollars the race brings in. Perhaps I would go after all. Wednesday I called again to make sure I wouldn’t be displacing any recently made homeless locals if I was to travel to NYC. I was assured that there was plenty of room and they wanted my business. Newark had just reopened. “OK,” I thought, “it’s on!”

As our plane turned in on final approach to Newark runway 22L, we had a view of Manhattan. Everything looked normal from the air. Once we landed and got inside the airport we found it sparsely populated. The van ride to midtown took us by lowland marsh areas where you could see storage containers and supply sheds near radio/TV towers that were in shambles, 3 mile gas lines, a traffic jam at the entrance of the Lincoln tunnel like I’ve never seen before and as many dead signal lights as one can imagine. You think traffic is crazy in Jersey? Try it without any traffic lights! Finally we arrived in Manhattan and everything seemed…fine. People were out, Times Square was bright and everything seemed normal. After dinner that night we walked down past Times Square toward 34th where the power was still out at the south end of the island. It was a very odd site indeed to see half of New York City bright and bustling behind us and then an imaginary line marked where power stopped and we looked down into a forest of cold, dark skyscrapers. Apocalyptic movies came to mind.

Friday came and I needed to go for a little run and pick up my packet at the runner’s expo. With breakfast came the worst effect of the storm we personally experienced: the hotel restaurant was out of wheat bread. As I ran up to Central Park I saw the now infamous crane dangling from a skyscraper. Our hotel was located two blocks away. Central Park was closed due to trees and branches being down, but it was a fraction of the devastation the Puget Sound saw last winter when an inch or so of ice covered everything. That afternoon we took the bus down to the runner’s expo, picked up my race packet and headed back to the hotel. My number for the 43rd running of the New York City Marathon was active! “It looks like I’ll be running this thing, after all,” I thought. At 5PM when we returned to the hotel I stopped by the elite runners suite to make sure everything seemed to be coming together. It looked like everyone who planned to run was going to make it in and the race really was a go! Thirty minutes later as my wife and I got ready for dinner we heard an announcement on the news: “There is a rumor that the New York Marathon has been canceled; press conference to come momentarily.” I couldn’t believe it, the mayor had gone on world news just a few days ago essentially begging runners from around the world to still come, and spend our money, in New York. The NYRR association had told me 30 minutes earlier that everything was coming together…and now it’s canceled?! I rushed up stairs and found the NYRR folks and many runners watching the news amongst murmurs. Nobody could believe it, including the NYRR employees there with the elite athletes. There had been no advance notice to any of them.

Destry & Amy Hastings
Destry & Amy Hastings

I think there were decent arguments to be made either way for both going ahead with the race or canceling it. What is unbelievable to me is the indecisiveness of the mayor’s office and it’s inability to communicate in an effective manner and timeline. I’m only speculating, but I do not think Rudy Giuliani would have handled the situation as Bloomberg did. He would have made a decision early and sold people on it with facts and data. That’s what clear leadership does. We were heading out to dinner Friday just after the news as two large groups of runners were arriving…they hadn’t heard the race was canceled until they got into the lobby of the hotel. One included about 15 folks from Japan and another was larger than 30 from Australia. I’m sure they would have preferred even more than me for a firm decision to be made earlier in the week. It’s certainly the truth that any of us traveling to NY for the marathon and were put out both financially and with our time have it much better than those who lost everything due to hurricane Sandy. But the mayor didn’t have to cause more problems with his indecisiveness.

With the race now canceled my wife and I had some time on our hands. We had heard of people volunteering in various areas, but reports were that there were too many people trying to help and the vast majority just stood around for hours as there wasn’t anything to do. As we walked through the city we realized the best thing we could do was to support local business, as many were not being patronized as they normally would. We went to a couple Broadway shows, ate good food and enjoyed ourselves. We also decided to leave Sunday afternoon instead of Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday morning I thought I’d go for a run. I mean, I had planned on it anyway! When I got to the lobby of the hotel Sunday morning I was greeted by droves of runners. Some wearing their number, some wearing their number upside down. Apparently all the runners in attendance for the NY marathon were going on a Sunday run too. The experience was quite surreal, as ran around the island I would see two runners here, fifty there, a few thousand running here and there in Central Park. Even down in Battery Park there were hundreds of runners. Nearly everywhere I turned I saw runners. It was awesome – every day should be like that America! Interestingly enough, one of the runners out and about in Central Park was Edgar Martinez’s wife Holly, who had organized an impromptu marathon around the park. I had the opportunity to meander over and chat with Edgar for a few minutes after the crowds died down. He not only is one of my favorite baseball players of all time, but one heck of a nice guy!

Destry & Edgar Martinez
Destry & Edgar Martinez

In all, I’m not sorry my wife and I took the trek out to New York for the non-marathon. I feel as though I supported various businesses, both large and small, including Rupert’s Deli, in the process. My heart goes out to those victims of the storm and I hope my donations go to good use as they rebuild and get back on their feet. And like Arnold Schwarzenegger always says, “I’ll be back.”

Second half of 2012 race summary

Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon: 73:29, 8th place
Seattle Torchlight 8k: 26:49, 9th place
Joint Base Lewis McChord Half Marathon: 71:50, 2nd place
Emerald City Seattle U 8k XC Open: 26:44, 12th place
New York Marathon: DNS…well, nobody did

Written by

Destry is a long-time member of the Seattle Running Club. He runs for SRC's Cross Country team and is a member of the SRC/Brooks Team.

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