© 2013 Diana

Despite Cancellation Marathon Continues

Author: Anna Callaghan



Thousands of people gathered around the skeleton of the New York City Marathon finish line in the middle of Central Park. The finish, usually a point of excitement, was reduced to a steel structure cloaked in blue and orange, the colors of the marathon. Though the race was cancelled, the runners were elated. They had come to do two things: to run 26.2 miles and to raise money for a cause.

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy proved that organizers can assemble the perfect race, but they can’t control the weather.

“Weather is always something that any event producer struggles with,” Nick Curl, head of the Los Angeles Marathon said about dealing with unexpected conditions.

“You can have an inclement weather plan – all of the races do,” he said, but at some point “there’s just nothing you can do.

The hurricane hit New York six days prior to the marathon, shutting down the subway system and devastating the region with widespread power outages and heavy flooding. According to the Associated Press the storm has claimed at least 125 lives and caused $62 billion in damages. The hardest hit areas like the Rockaways in Queens and Staten Island were just beginning to pick up the pieces, and many other areas were still without power and heat on race morning.

The cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon left more than 47,000 runners at a loss both financially and emotionally. Some of them launched the Run Anyway 2012 New York City Marathon out of a desire to help and also to fulfill an obligation to run the distance.

Lance Svendsen of Summit, N.J. saw the wreckage on Staten Island – normally the starting point of the marathon- while delivering food to support the recovery effort. When he learned the race had been cancelled, he thought he might run the course anyway, an idea reinforced by a text message from a friend suggesting the same.

Svendsen launched the Run Anyway page Friday on Facebook, which has since received 2,770 likes and has brought together runners from around the world. His idea was simple, to run 26.2 miles in Central Park and to support the recovery effort, focusing on Staten Island. Like many others, Svendsen was signed up to run the marathon to raise money for a charity and he felt the need to finish what he started.

“We all raised money for these causes,” Svendsen said. “Let’s do what we know how to do as runners. We know how to raise money, but let’s raise support for people who need it right now.

Svendsen ran in memory of his uncle Roy who died of brain cancer in April. After only 30 days of training, he ran his own rendition of the NYC marathon, 26.6 miles through Central Park in four hours and 21 minutes, just like Roy had done in 1983.

The official marathon course takes runners through all five boroughs of New York City, a point of pride and unity among communities, and the city estimates it draws 2.5 million spectators. It would have led runners through neighborhoods devastated by the storm. The race was controversial for many reasons, including the fact that resources like generators, water, and manpower would be focused on runners when they should be diverted to storm victims. Initially looking to use the marathon as a unifier for New Yorkers, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg withdrew his support to hold the race after public outrage.

The cancellation of the race hinged on the question of whether to run or whether to focus support on the recovery. Run Anyway Marathon participants chose to do both. The group used the official finish line as an unofficial starting line, and sent out eight waves of about 200 runners each. In addition to raising money for their respective charities, participants sent five SUVs full of donations to Staten Island on Sunday and the movement raised $16,000 in partnership with Renaissance Church (N.J.), where Svendsen is a member.

“It’s about making the best of a situation that was given to you,” Svendsen said.

Janine Azriliant, a New York City resident, reached the same conclusion. For Azriliant, the cancellation was bittersweet. The first-time marathoner running in memory of her mother was also struck by the devastation the storm had created.

“I was torn about whether I wanted to run,” she said.

Azriliant raised money for cancer research with a charity called Fred’s Team. It was at a team dinner on Saturday night that they decided to run together, and Azriliant chose to unite with her team Sunday morning, both to run and to support the recovery effort.

While many runners were local, some traveled great distances to run the race. Dick Vreukink of New Zealand spent more than $12,000 to run his dream marathon. He understood why the decision needed to be made, but was upset by the cancellation.

“We’re disappointed, but we decided we’d go to the park anyway,” Vreukink said.

On Sunday, the substitute marathon was stripped to the core. No aid stations, no water bottles and no running through boroughs lined with cheering spectators. The movement to run embodied the same spirit and mission as the marathon: to run the distance and raise money for charity.

Though the New York Road Runners, the race’s governing body, will record no finishers in 2012, the group estimates that the charitable funds raised will exceed $35 million, slightly more that 2011 and tripling the amount raised in 2006. In response to the storm, NYRR made a $1 million donation and partnered with the Rudin Family and the ING Foundation to raise an additional $1.6 million in aid for New Yorkers.

Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the NYRR, announced that they chose to cancel the race “with heavy hearts.”

Many runners realized that the race is bigger than that; it didn’t rely on pomp and structure. With their heavy hearts and subdued excitement they chose to run in memory of others.

Lance Svendsen wrote “Roy,” his uncle’s name, across his chest and was motivated by those who cheered him along, reminding his tired legs why he was doing this in the first place.

“We’re not doing it for ourselves,” he said.

After the marathon, support and donations from Run Anyway continued to grow and the Facebook page had received only four negative comments.

“My smile hasn’t left, even though my back is tight, my legs hurt and my lungs are sore,” Svendsen added.


Anna Callaghan, educated in the Bay Area by way of Washington State. Currently a NYC import and a grad student studying International Relations and Journalism at NYU. Intern @Wander. Spending the summer in Sarajevo @OCCRP.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>