the logistics of the post-Sandy New York Marathon

I’m pleased to hear that NYC marathon will be held on Sunday as planned.

The logistics will be challenging. The race organizers were expecting 50,000 runners before Hurricane Sandy hit. While many runners may sit out, I expect that most will try to run. After all, the hurricane hit well into the tapering phase of training, meaning that runners should be ready to run,even if they’ve been dealing with hurricane-related challenges. And most of the out of town runners will be relatively unaffected by the hurricane and should similarly be ready to run.

The main challenges as I see it will be to:

  1. Get runners into the city and have a hotel room
  2. Get runners and volunteers to the race.
  3. Distribute race supplies such as water and Powerade and to locate portable bathrooms.

#1 Get runners into the city

In huge marathons like this one, many of the runners will not be nearby. Last year, 20,000 of the runners came from overseas. The main ways to get to NYC are by plane and train. As of now, Amtrak still has not resumed NYC travel. They plan to partially restore travel on Friday. There have been a large number of flight cancellations, but flights are being restored and it appears that runners are making it to New York.

Runners from out of town also need hotels. Surprisingly, the lack of hotel rooms seems to be a larger problem for runners than transportation to NYC. The hotels are packed:

The city’s hotels are coping with a list of issues. Among them: Unprecedented cancellations and requests to extend stays; a high number of walk-in room requests from powerless local residents; unpredictable staffing levels; non-working land lines, and in some cases no steam heat.

The Pittsburgh Steelers likewise had problems finding a hotel to accomodate the team on Saturday night before their road game against the New York Giants. The Steelers are flying to Newark for their game Sunday morning.

#2 Get runners and volunteers to the race

Once in/near the city, all 50,000 runners and a few thousand volunteers need to get to the beginning of the race more or less at the same time. Driving to the beginning of a big race like this is generally not the best way to get there. The NYC marathon normally starts on Staten Island, which harder to get to than most races. In the past, half of the runners take the subway in combination the Staten Island ferry to the beginning of the race. Not so this year. The Staten Island ferry has been cancelled and buses will instead transport the runners from a meeting point to the race in four waves at 4:30am, 5:30am, 6:30am, and 7:30am. There shouldn’t be a lot of traffic at 4:30am on Sunday morning, so I would anticipate that the runners should be OK as long as they can take other forms of public transportation to get to the meeting point for the race buses.

Distribute race supplies such as water, Powerade, and portable bathrooms

Normally, setting up portable bathrooms and water/Powerade stations is not a complicated matter. With the number of road closures, etc., it will be more difficult to obtain the necessary marathon resources and get them where they need to be. Races need a huge number of bathrooms because all runners need to go to the bathroom at the same time (right before the race). I wasn’t sure that many portable bathrooms would be available, and it sounds like 1750 bathrooms are at the start of the race. I wrote about bathrooms before [Link]. That sounds like a lot of bathrooms per runner, but I can assure you, there will still be long lines.

In sum, I am amazed that the marathon will continue more or less as planned. I am surprised, however, that hotels may be the biggest challenge. I am also concerned about snafus with public transportation, since runners will rely on public transportation in new ways this time. I hope everything goes smoothly.

What are other issues, bottlenecks, and shortages do you foresee?

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5 responses to “the logistics of the post-Sandy New York Marathon

  • Shawn Thompson

    Considering how much the natives are getting restless with the lack of gas, let alone heat/electricity/running water, I think there’s a huge risk of protests/riots especially considering the state of Staten Island.

  • Adam Kaplan

    Don’t forget about getting city resources in place to clear the race route. I can think of two right now – police officers and traffic cones/barriers – that are being used to divert traffic around flooded/damaged areas (a significantly higher-priority task).
    Rumor has it that some hotels are kicking out refugees/displaced residents to make room for race runners…despicable IMO.

  • Laura McLay

    @Adam, that’s a great point. I did think about clearing the roads, etc., but I failed to mention the large police presence at marathons to keep the runners safe. No doubt there are more important things to do than to keep an eye on a race. If it’s any consolation, police calls usually plummet during/after a hurricane.

  • Jeffrey W. Herrmann

    The marathon was cancelled, but now there is a uproar the late timing of the decision. When is the optimal time to cancel a marathon?

  • Laura McLay

    @Jeffrey: Ideally, never! I was hit by a hurricane last year (95% lost power in the area). The police were needed to clear the roads and to help everyone recover. Crime initially goes down after a natural disaster, but crime (or at least calls to the police) can go up as people get restless during the recovery. The police are needed elsewhere. It was not a good time for a race. I couldn’t imagine volunteers showing up to hand out Powerade. The amount of work to clear the 26.2 race of debris would not have been trivial.

    I also trained for a small race that cancelled minutes before the race was to start. The race was cancelled because the organizers let too many people sign up for the race (it was held in a park that limited the number of participants per activity). It was crushing. Luckily, the volunteers stuck around to hand out water so that we could run the marathon “on our own.” Canceling the race after runners took flights to NYC or rearranged their travel/hotel is not fair to the runners.

    I do hope that some of the running clubs are able to set up 26.2 mile runs in areas that are not hit so hard by the hurricane. This way, some of the runners can run the race they’ve trained so hard for, even if it’s not official.

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