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Sandy rained on my parade

Cancelled ... the New York City marathon.

Cancelled ... the New York City marathon. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Am I angry at having spent thousands of dollars to get to New York to run in the world's greatest marathon and done a year's worth of training to find out it's all off? Not really - just a bit numb. Disappointed? Obviously, yes.

I've just ordered a 5 Napkin Burger and fries and a Bud on room service at our midtown hotel and vowed to have a big night commiserating with my intended running mates, Jeff Winfield and Calvin Rowley, and our entourage.

We're devastated, too, for the more than 100 dead. Most of the more than 200 Australians booked into the hotel for the event are now vowing to help on Sunday with the relief effort at Staten Island, where the marathon was to start.

Last weekend I thought my biggest worry going into my very first marathon was a niggly knee: will I cross the finish line? By midweek, it was: will I make it to the starting line?

After counting our lucky stars on getting here on Thursday on the first Qantas flight into the city for three days, we woke up to a media onslaught that apparently captured the national mood with headlines such as: ''Marathon pressure on as backlash builds.''

As three of 47,000 runners - half of them from out of town - we couldn't help wonder whether we were welcome here. ''I hope they don't throw rotten eggs at us,'' Calvin grumbled over breakfast. Late in the afternoon came the answer. The city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, bowed to public pressure and cancelled the race.

It was during a boozy New Year's Day lunch in the beer garden at a Surry Hills hotel, that I'd announced to a group of friends that my resolution for 2012 was to run in the event. One for the bucket list.

I convinced Jeff the butcher and Crowley, apparently mad enough to give anything a go, to do it with me and we embarked on an ambitious 10-month training program. Laps of Centennial Park. Mrs Macquarie's Chair and back. Across the Harbour Bridge. The Bay Run and back.

It soon became clear that running 42 kilometres was in fact nothing much like the endurance tests we'd set ourselves in the past. The 14-kilometre City2Surfs and even the 22-kilometre half marathons suddenly seemed a breeze.

I did wonder, more than once, particularly about the 28-kilometre mark during some of those 6am winter runs: whatever possessed me to even suggest such a crazy plan as this? It hurt, a lot. Maybe the red sports car would have been a better mid-life crisis option.

I sought inspiration from a mid-life crisis guy, Tristan Miller, who, after being dumped by his wife and being made redundant, set off on a world tour - running 52 marathons in 42 countries over a year. He even wrote a book about it, Run Like Crazy … How Running Changed My Life. Of New York, he wrote: ''People were going off their dials at us, screaming in support, and the noise was both deafening and exhilarating … this is why you run the New York City Marathon.''

Running this race had become an obsession. I went to a mate's 50th birthday last Saturday night and drank sparkling mineral water.

Nothing was going to stop us setting off for this once-in-a-lifetime event. But then came along Sandy, a ''once-in-a-generation'' storm.

Even as waves lashed the coastline; the subways were flooding, substations were exploding; I was encouraged by the Times of India story with the organiser, New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg saying on Monday: ''We remain extremely confident we will have an amazing weekend.''

It was through just good luck rather than good management that we'd even made it on to that Thursday flight. Miraculously, that was the one I'd actually originally booked way back in January.

Calvin had ended up on this flight too after having had his Tuesday and Wednesday flights cancelled, along with the 6000 others who'd had their flights disrupted earlier in the week. At least half those on board were marathon participants. The young dad in front of us, nursing a wailing baby Mabel most of the way, had nabbed the last three seats after his earlier flights were cancelled. Both he and Sarah Baskerville, sitting beside me, were in compression tights to keep their legs warm, and were doing stretching exercises intermittently in the exit aisle in front of me.

None of us could believe our good fortune after a roller-coaster ride, even though some, such as Calvin, had their accommodation cancelled. In his case, his hotel had been right next to the Lend Lease apartment project with the dangerous crane that had been left dangling precariously. Others had booked hotels in lower Manhattan with no power. Until the early hours of Friday morning, he'd been on our hotel floor in midtown, before our agent, Travelling Fit, found him somewhere else.

But a backlash was building over the marathon. Helping fuel the negative reports and social media barrage was the discovery that - after five days of no power in lower Manhattan - private generators were being used to stage the marathon that could have been used to power 400 homes. It didn't help, too, that about half the deaths in New York occurred on Staten Island.

In the end, the huge social media campaign against the race proceeding even had the race organisers falling into line with the city's mayor: ''We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event - even one as meaningful as this - to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm.''

However, the statement continued, the expo for the event, which helps to generate $340 million in revenue for the city, was still open. ''New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead and we thank you for your dedication to the spirit of this race.''

But, sadly, I'm not sure that these three runners can afford to come back for it.

Stephen Nicholls is the property editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald.

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