"Look, this was the right decision, but this was the right decision two days ago," Phillips said Friday night.
Phillips, 51, flew in from Chicago to run Sunday in New York, which would have been is 13th marathon. He said he would have been less upset had the race been called earlier in the week.
The decision was announced late Friday afternoon after many runners had already picked up their bibs. This year's race drew 47,500 entrants, but about 8,000 had withdrawn by Thursday, organizers said.
"I had very mixed feelings coming here, knowing everything that happened in New York," Phillips said. "I was in living in Texas when Hurricane Katrina happened so I know how badly people's lives can be affected by a natural disaster like this. I'll be honest, I didn't feel inspired to run at all. Then they decided not to cancel it, and when I got to New York, I realized how much people need this business. There's that aspect, how much money the marathon draws him."
New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg had spoken in recent days of the race's $350 million impact on the city. Last year the race raised $34 million for charity. Phillips, who said his personal-best for a marathon is 3:39, was running to raise money for Jack's Melanoma Research Fund.
"I'm running to help raise money," he said. " I'm not running to set a record. So to hear people saying we don't care, that's upsetting."
Marathoner Tom Spadafora, who ran his first of 18 marathons in Connecticut when he was 18, was able to see the bigger picture despite the frustration and disappointment. Stunned when he found out, he immediately tried to find a Plan B.
"Our server at the restaurant we were at told me the race was canceled. 'Good one' I said to her. Then I started seeing it in New York Times, USA TODAY, everywhere," he said. "One of the first things I did was try to find another marathon. I trained for 18 weeks, I'm ready to go. Was I disappointed? Sure I was. But do I understand the reality of all that's going on in the city? Yes. You're upset for a brief second, before you see the grand scheme of things."
Steve Vida, 42, who lives in Reading, Penn., said he was initially disappointed with the decision to cancel the race.
"Like most of the participants, I've been preparing for this race for the last six months," Vida said. "I've never run New York before, so I was very excited. However, I'm sympathetic to the situation. If holding the race would materially affect the residents, I guess they did the right thing. I'm happy to run this next year under better circumstances."
Wittenberg had said those who canceled would be guaranteed a spot in next year's marathon, but would lose their entry fee from this year and have to pay a new entry fee next year. According to the application instructions, entry fees are non-refundable and non-transferable even if the race is canceled.
With a hotel room in Manhattan that he still has to pay for, Vida said he's getting on a bus today and spending the weekend in the city.
As for racing, he'll get his chance in the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks. "If I didn't have that backup, I would feel a lot more let down at this point. I'm really primed for a race."
The Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 18 is sold out, according to the race web site. Other marathons recognized runners who had been training for New York may want to enter another race this fall. Organizers of the Rock 'n Roll San Antonio Marathon on Nov. 11 and the Rock 'n Roll Marathon in Las Vegas on Dec. 2 offered a discount to New York entrants and pledged a donation to storm relief efforts.
Carrie Heusner, 34, a Paramus, N.J. native, doesn't have the option of running another marathon soon. She voiced disappointment with race officials for not communicating with the runners and with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported holding the race until Friday.
"For me, I've yet to hear a logical explanation from Mayor Bloomberg on how not staging the marathon will help the city recover," said Heusner. "It seems like the decision was pressured because there might have been (riots).
"I understand the impact of the storm, I grew up in this area. I'm just saying there's no rationale."
In an email sent to NYRR staff late Friday afternoon that has been forwarded to New York marathoners and running club members, Wittenberg wrote that the marathon had become a "source of controversy and division."
"We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event -- even one as meaningful as our marathon -- to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm."
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)