Ready Set Go

Make the New York City Marathon a Help-a-Thon

Canceling the New York City marathon doesn't need to be a total loss. Michael Daly on how the runners could be repositioned as rapid-response volunteers.

11.03.12 8:16 PM ET

So why not make what would have been the New York Marathon into the New York Help-a-Thon?

Give those folks who are wandering Manhattan in running togs something to do that would actually help people and exorcise any residual anger lingering from before the marathon was canceled.

Make the finish line in Central Park a starting line.

The hardier souls could reverse the course and make their way from Manhattan to Staten Island, instead of running, trekking with backpacks of needed supplies for the storm victims there. They could bring along those lightweight space blankets that are used to keep runners warm after a race and no doubt could do the same for those without heat.

These helpers could even wear their marathon numbers, so people will know who they are. They are sure to get cheers rather than curses as word spreads that these are now Help-a-Thon numbers.

Less distant places in relatively easy trekking range are Red Hook and Coney Island.

Helpers there could make themselves into human elevators, lugging food and water for people on the upper floors of housing-project towers that are still without power.

The macho guys could lug up buckets of water, which are sorely needed to flush toilets.

Those who can scrounge flashlights and batteries could either leave them or serve as escorts for residents who need assistance getting up and down.

The real champs could set off for the Rockaways, under 20 miles away. That is less than the distance of a marathon, though they would want to be sure they were able to get back before dark.

Those who have hotel rooms could double up with other runners and offer a bed to folks without shelter.

The desire to help is certainly there. A prominent Los Angeles TV executive who came for the marathon despite misgivings about whether it was appropriate texted a friend even before the event was canceled, “Wondering if there is some volunteer work I might do when I am here?”

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What almost every body is wondering in the meanwhile is, why did Bloomberg  not cancel the marathon much earlier, rather than wait until many of the participants already arrived and tempers rose among the New Yorkers who had no heat or power while the marathon's organizers were cranking, using two huge generators for their tent in Central Park?

At least part of the answer is that Bloomberg has a reflexive urge to believe that all will soon be well and that anybody who feels otherwise is simply a naysayer and whiner. This compulsive optimism often serves him well in the midst of a crisis, giving him a reassuringly calm air.

But in the aftermath he can be too calm. Witness the blizzard of 2011, when he acted as if all was well when huge swaths of the city was paralyzed. And witness his initial decision to go ahead with the marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. All of Staten Island, Coney Island and Rockaway had a common response.

"What is he thinking?"

Now that the marathon has been canceled, runners do not have to feel they came however far from home for nothing. They can do much more than they would have done had they just run through the city in shorts.

There is much to do well within marathoner distance for everybody who is willing.

And you don’t have to be fleet of foot. Ben Stiller was manning a food line in Brooklyn.

There are even things to do for yuppies with odd priorities. Hundreds of them ran in Brooklyn on Saturday in a benefit for Prospect Park while human beings in the Rockaways and Staten Island remain in desperate need.

Runners who put people before parks need only turn that finish line into a starting line, take their marks, and GO!