NEW YORK -- This year’s New York City Marathon is adding a twist to the months of training, injuries and setbacks runners overcome just to reach the starting line.
With much of the area recovering from Hurricane Sandy - which killed at least 37 people in New York, left 4.8 million people in the region without power three days before the race and caused as much as $50 billion of damage - organizers and government officials decided to go ahead with the 26.2-mile (42- kilometer) run through the city’s five boroughs.
The decision, made official by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday after consulting city and race officials, comes as area residents struggle with the storm’s aftermath. Some runners say the event won’t be the usual celebratory event.
"It’s going to be a very, very different race," said Jonathan Vogel, 42, an attorney who will run after traveling from Charlotte, N.C. "I don’t know that we’re going to have much of a roar."
New York Road Runners, which stages the race, said it will donate $26.20 for each participant and encouraged runners to match that donation. About 47,000 people are signed up for the event.
The city of 8 million is reeling after a record storm surge inundated transit tunnels and underground utilities on Monday. Sandy, the largest Atlantic Ocean tropical system in history, left about 719,000 Consolidated Edison customers without power as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, including 552,000 in the city.
Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners, said the group will rely heavily on private transportation to get runners to the starting line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island since much of the city’s subway system remained flooded as of Thursday. With cancellations and delayed air travel, Wittenberg said, there will be far fewer runners than entered.
Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, who set a course record last year with a winning time of two hours, five minutes and six seconds, is not in this year’s field. His absence opens the door for countrymen Wilson Kipsang, the 2012 London Marathon winner who also won bronze at the London Olympics, and Moses Mosop, the 2011 Chicago Marathon winner.
Firehiwot Dado, the 2011 women’s champion, will miss this year’s race because of a foot injury. Dado, an Ethiopian, beat countrywoman Buzunesh Deba by four seconds to win last year’s race in 2:23.15. Along with Deba, this year’s race also features Tiki Gelana, 25, the Olympic champion from Ethiopia.
Vogel ran the race for the first time 15 years ago, following the sudden death of his mother, a three-time New York Marathon participant, and said the decision to go ahead with this year’s race was bittersweet. Vogel grew up in Marlboro, N.J., a city that remained mostly without power Thursday night.
"There’s a lot of hardship going on for family and friends," he said. "I feel for them. The idea of giving out water and food to runners, when other people could use it, made me believe that it would be appropriate to postpone or cancel the race. But if they’re doing it with the support of the mayor and the city leaders and it will help New York get back on its feet, than I’m excited to run."
Because the race typically attracts almost 20,000 international runners, Bloomberg said, the city’s small businesses rely on the economic boost.
"We still have to have an economy," he said in a Wednesday news conference.
Organizers of the event estimated an economic impact of $340 million in 2011. The marathon typically relies on 8,000 volunteers and 1,500 police officers and emergency workers.
Shortly before the mayor made the announcement, Wittenberg said during a media conference call that the marathon is "much more than a race."
"It never seems more true than this year," she said. "Our every effort is to once again tell the world that New York City, as the mayor would say, is open for business."
It’s also losing some.
Kim Schwartz had planned to spend $1,000 on a hotel after traveling to New York from Edmonton, Alberta, to run the race. She canceled her flight and hotel a few hours before the mayor’s decision. In addition to losing the $347 entry fee, she forfeited tickets to the Broadway show "The Book of Mormon."
"It was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Schwartz, 29, an environmental scientist, said in a telephone interview. "This was it. It’s a race that has been on my bucket list for a long time."
Questions about transportation and the overall race experience led her to defer until 2013. She will have to pay the entry fee again.
"I really wanted the world-class New York Marathon experience," Schwartz said. "Over the past few days, I had doubts that experience will be provided. I’m sure it will still be a great experience, but it’s not the experience I wanted."
Other out-of-town runners decided to brave the unknown.
Toni Chaplin-Armer, an executive assistant for University of Cumbria Vice Chancellor Peter Strike in Carlisle, England, made the trip and will be running in New York for the first time. It will be her 12th marathon, eight years after kicking a "very bad smoking habit," she said in an e-mail interview Wednesday.
For Chaplin-Armer, 48, the decision to hold the race was the correct one, saying a marathon’s "feel-good factor is amazing. Even 9/11 didn’t stop the spirit of the American people, so why should Sandy?"
Eleven years ago, New York had almost two months to prepare for the marathon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Sandy struck six days before the race.
USA Today columnist Christine Brennan was among some who criticized the mayor, calling the race "an unnecessary distraction" after Bloomberg announced the event would continue during a news conference in which he reminded residents to avoid downed utility wires.
Bloomberg said Friday that resources needed for hurricane relief won’t be diverted for the marathon. The mayor said he expects power to return to Lower Manhattan by the day of the race, freeing up police. Sanitation workers and firefighters aiding storm victims are not involved in the marathon.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
Wittenberg unveiled the "Race to Recover Fund" on Thursday, saying her organization plans to donate more than $1 million to charities including the American Red Cross.
As runners adjusted travel plans and power slowly returned to areas affected by the storm, Wittenberg said the race wasn’t being staged to the city’s detriment.
"This event will not go if it were in any way to inhibit the restoration and recovery effort," she said. "This is no longer just any old marathon. This is now a marathon that’s about sending this message of support for the recovery of New York."
— With assistance from Mason Levinson and Henry Goldman in New York