UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cancelled this year's New York City Marathon. Details to follow.
Every year, the New York City Marathon presents a serious logistical challenge, with huge crowds descending upon the city, bridge and street closures along all 26.2 miles of the course and, of course, nearly 50,000 runners struggling like spawning salmon to reach the starting line.
Throw a devastating storm like Hurricane Sandy into the mix, and things can get really tricky. With mass power outages, closed airports, and limited public transportation, runners will find it even harder to get to the starting line than usual—assuming they can make it to New York City in the first place.
Despite the turmoil, race organizers plan to proceed with the event.
"The marathon has always been a special day for New Yorkers as a symbol of the vitality and resiliency of this city," said Mary Wittenberg, New York Road Runners President and CEO in a statement on the NYRR website. Wittenberg also said her organization will continue to work with New York City officials to try to pull off Sunday’s event.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed this mission in a press briefing. The announcement has been met with some backlash from runners and bystanders who think it's wasteful (and tasteless) to commit resources—to the tune of 8,000 volunteers, 1,000 staff, police and clean-up crews—to the organization of a road race while residents of the region are still suffering in the wake of Sandy. Bloomberg, for his part, saw the marathon as an opportunity to rebound from the storm: “The bottom line is, some people said you shouldn’t run the marathon,” he said. “There are an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy.”
Even with the organizers' best efforts, however, some runners will not be able to make it. Almost 20,000 amateur athletes were scheduled to fly in for the competition. Still, the NYRR is giving runners until the 11th hour to back out. Competitors will have until Saturday, rather than the usual Wednesday deadline, to withdraw from the race and reserve a spot in the 2013 marathon, although they will not receive a refund.
For elite runners, the story is different. NYRR will reschedule these athletes’ flights to get them in on time. Notable male runners include Olympic bronze medal marathoner Wilson Kipsang (Kenya), 2011 Chicago Marathon winner Moses Mosop (Kenya) 2010 New York winner Gebre Gebremariam (Ethiopia) and top American athlete Meb Keflezighi. For the women, top competitors include London marathon gold medalist Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia), bronze medalist Tatyana Arkhipova (Russia) and Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), who won the world title earlier this year.
Despite huge setbacks around New York City, participants should plan, one way or another, to toe the starting line come Sunday morning. The 26.2-mile route steers clear, for the most part, of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods. NYRR is already considering scaling back the marathon program, including possible canceling Friday evening's opening ceremony in Central Park and the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday morning. It's still a long road to a successful New York City Marathon—the course has to be secured, transportation to the starting line has to be secured, Central Park needs to be reopened—but NYRR intends, in typical New York fashion, for the show to go on.