- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

To those of you who are complaining because the Washington DC Marathon scheduled for today was canceled, stop your whining.
Probably none of you has any idea what ultimately led to the decision by race organizer H2O Entertainment Group. None of you has any idea what has transpired between H2O and the District government over the past two years. And few of you have any idea what it costs to stage a big-time city marathon or a neighborhood 5K, for that matter.
Yet in the days since Wednesday evening's announcement, many of you seem to have known everything, judging by the comments I have been reading and hearing in the newspapers, on chat lines, over television and radio and over my telephone.
Sorry to deflate you but frankly, the fact that you will not be able to run a sanctioned marathon in Washington today greatly pales in comparison with the war. Most of the world's 6 billion people couldn't care less about the cancellation of your race.
Yes, I agree that it is frustrating to work so hard for that one day and not have the chance to participate. Yes, I agree that it is maddening when a race is canceled and entry fees are not returned. But to accuse H2O Entertainment of fraud, to promote false statements as though they are facts, is an outrage in itself.
Nobody in the Washington media corps has been more critical of H2O than I, starting in 2001 when I first heard that some group of non-runners was planning a marathon within the District's borders. My negative comments since then have been the topic of complaint and discussion at H2O's Arlington office.
John Stanley, president of H2O Entertainment and race director, and his group have made plenty of mistakes along the way. They started by not embracing the local running community. They continued by accidentally setting Palm Sunday as the date of the inaugural race last year, an error in judgment that even got past the District government in the early planning stages.
They messed up big last year with the baggage check and missed a large bunch of runners with the timing system. Rookie errors for one of the nation's 15 largest marathons, yes, but without malice.
The moment of truth for Stanley was four days ago with the daily protests in the streets, on part of his course; the tractor in the Reflecting Pool and the barrage of calls and e-mail against Stanley.
He was not comfortable with the risks. A 26.2-mile race, of which there are dozens within driving distance of Washington each season, is not worth losing even one life.
There are many things a race director can control but many more things he cannot. There is that petrifying moment, seconds before the gun sounds, when you realize that once the runners take off, you have virtually no control. Federal and District agencies warned Stanley that if even one hair on his head was out of place during his event, the race would be shut down for security reasons.
It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback when somebody else's livelihood is on the line. The zealots who are lambasting Stanley right now are the same people who would be calling for his head if there were not enough water stops on the course because volunteers did not show up and somebody died of dehydration.
One of the most insightful postings last week came from a person who said, "The organizers were in a very tough position [potentially] damned either way."
So as you sit here feeling you have been inconvenienced by the cancellation of today's race, you need to ask the families of U.S. servicemen and women who have been inconvenienced and see if they have any sympathy for you.

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