Will Hurricane Sandy Sink the NYC Marathon?

Staff Writer
In the wake of widespread flooding and power outages, many questions loom

With much of Greater New York City in a state of emergency following "Superstorm" Sandy, the future of next Sunday's ING New York City Marathon—the world's biggest marathon—is in doubt. While New York Road Runners president and CEO Mary Wittenberg declared Monday that “time is on our side” for the marathon, race officials are taking proactive measures to reschedule pre-race events and to accommodate participants affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Wittenberg, in a media teleconference on Monday afternoon, emphasized that registered runners would be given every opportunity possible to pick up their bib numbers or, if they are thwarted in their attempts to travel to New York City because of canceled flights and transportation backups, to defer their entry until next year.

“We are going to give everyone the time to get here and if they have to cancel, we will give them the chance to cancel up to Saturday,” Wittenberg said. Runners who can’t get to New York in time for the race will be given automatic entry into the 2013 race, but the entry fee for 2012 will not be refunded.

As of this writing, there are many transportation challenges facing the marathon. All three major airports in the New York area are closed for a second straight day, and upwards of 5,700 flights have been canceled. Service has been canceled across the New York Subway system until flood damage from Sandy's 13-foot storm surge can be adequately assessed. All that's known at this point is that several subway lines were flooded, including seven tunnels that pass beneath the East River, linking Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan. The MTA plans to restore service to the system piecemeal over the coming days. Commuter rail service has also been disrupted, with power outages closing down portions of the Metro North and New Haven lines.

Marathon officials are especially monitoring ferry terminals, which are a transportation resource in getting many runners to the start line, and the flooded Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which buses would use to transport runners to Staten Island. It's unclear at this point how long it will take before the tunnel—which was flooded end-to-end—is restored. The Queens-Midtown Tunnel also took on water. Marathon organizers are also working closely with the city, Parks Department, and the Central Park Conservancy regarding Central Park, which hosts the last six miles or so of the race. The park was closed for a third consecutive day Tuesday. 

The storm surge also flooded parts of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the site of the ING New York City Marathon Health & Fitness Expo, where registered runners are supposed to pick up their bib numbers. A note on the Javits Center website, posted at 10am Tuesday, read:

Due to the storm surge from the Hudson River, the Javits Center has experienced some flooding in Level 1 of the building. We are currently testing building systems and will have an update on our expectations later today. We are working closely with the New York Road Runner’s Club on their plans for runner registration for this weekend’s Marathon.

Expo hours, Wittenberg said Monday, will be extended as necessary to accommodate late-arriving runners who need to pick up their race numbers.

Several Race Week events have been moved or rescheduled. The NYRR Run with Champions event for invited Young Runners on Thursday will be moved from Central Park to the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory, and the ceremonial Blue Line Painting and accompanying Abebe Bikila Award presentation scheduled for 9am Wednesday has been tentatively shifted to 2pm on Thursday.

Wittenberg said that the main focus at the moment is on runners trying to reach New York, both domestically and from around the world, after Sandy has left its mark on the Eastern Seaboard. Nearly 20,000 international runners may be affected by flight cancellations or delays in response to the storm.

“There is no better city to handle this,” Wittenberg told reporters. “We have a number of options to get them into any of our surrounding airports. Our partner, United, is aware of our priority needs and stands ready to help us.”

Race officials are working with the international field of professional runners to help them rework their travel plans. “What we’re doing now is starting with looking at those locations that have once-a-day flights.”

The NYRR office is closed today, so we can expect limited updates. Still, stay tuned here and to nyrr.org for more information.

Kristine Smith of NYRR News Service contributed reporting for this story.