By the thousands, runners set to take part in the 43rd ING New York City Marathon Sunday ran through Central Park, celebrating the event by coming together in a sign of solidarity following the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. Athletes from all over the world ran loops of the park, some choosing to cover the entire 26.2-mile (42.195 km) marathon distance.
Throughout the morning, runners came and ran, some beginning specifically at 9:40am, when the first wave would have taken off from Staten Island had the marathon not been cancelled. With many wearing their bib numbers and official orange race shirts, runners started from the finish line on the west side of Central Park under the watchful eye of Fred Lebow, the race's founder portrayed in a life-sized statue.
"It's understandable why the city needed to cancel," said Jacob Segal, who is a native New Yorker. "I was torn whether or not I should be out on Staten Island volunteering or out here running. I committed myself for six months to try and run it. I think a lot of people traveled across the world to come here and do this, and it's nice to see people decided to go through with it."
One participant, Tom Goforth of Harlem, was running all 26.2 miles to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. On his shirt was a handmade sign encouraging people to donate at crowdrise.com.
"We'll finish what we started and try to raise money to help people, and once things settle down and there are less volunteers we are going to volunteer," Goforth said, accompanied by his wife Karen. "We are going to make the best we can of the day. It's pretty awesome, certainly not running alone. It's very exciting to see everyone out here."
The picture-perfect day was not to be dampened by the cancellation of the marathon, nor from the cloud of damage and heartache Hurricane Sandy has left behind.
"It's nice to know people will still go out and run anyways," said an athlete named Krissy, who traveled with a group of four from Australia to run. "We'll run anyways, wherever we have to run. We hope we'll be here next year."
Just steps from the large banner marking the 26-mile mark, a makeshift baggage area had been set up by runners, ditching clothes without worry as to what happened to them.
Kyle Valenta of Manhattan, a charity runner for Fred's Team, came out to run because he felt he had to. Working six months to raise money for cancer, Valenta was set to put in a few loops of the park before he would go to the Rockaways and aid in the relief efforts. Joining him were roughly 100 runners and supporters from Fred's Team.
"I'll probably do half," said Valenta, noting he didn't want to do the entire distance, because he'd rather wait until next year's marathon to do that. "It's pretty emotional. I've cried a couple times already, like when I was putting on the uniform this morning. It's not the day I thought I was going to have. I'll do this and then go out to the Rockaways this afternoon to do some heavy lifting.
"I wasn't a hardcore runner before April this year," he continued. "It's helped me a lot these last few months, and I think it will help through the next few months. It's going to be crazy here, so if I can link this up and somehow help the people who are really devastated, I think things will be alright for me. I'll survive the marathon not happening."
Even some professional athletes ran alongside the thousands of marathoners. IAAF World Championships 1500m gold medalist Jenny Simpson and fellow elite Sara Vaughn found themselves caught up in the celebration.
"I think it's really inspiring and really cool that there are so many people out. I felt like I was running in a marathon crowd today," said Simpson.
"It's been fun. I kind of don't know what to think, it's wild," added Vaughn, whose husband Brent was supposed to run the marathon in his debut at the distance.
Fans and spectators lined a section close to the finish, cheering and rattling cowbells for those who passed. Such acts encouraged athletes, only adding to the festive and emotional atmosphere. Goforth believed this marathon would be his most special, simply because of those around him.
"This will definitely be the most memorable marathon that I'll run. I will not forget this one," he said, briefly looking over to the finishing banner. "I think Fred Lebow would be proud."
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission