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Runners Race in Central Park Despite Canceled Marathon

By Nia Phillips–Even though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the ING New York City Marathon just two days before it was to start, he couldn’t stop people from running.

Several hundred runners, many of whom had journeyed to New York from around the world, participated in an event called “Run Anyway 2012” that involved running four loops around the roads of Central Park.

Running through Central Park on Sunday, it was almost possible to forget that a Hurricane had struck New York less than a week earlier. The only reminders were the yellow caution tape surrounding fallen trees or the toppled fence around the tennis courts. Regardless, the runners still came to run, even if it meant having to dodge pedestrians, cyclists, and pets. Although runners planned to meet in the park, they could not shut down its trails from the public because it was an unofficial race.

The official race, which was cancelled late Friday, had been scheduled to start on Staten Island, one of the most devastated parts of the city following Hurricane Sandy, and end 26.2 miles later in Central Park.

With 40,000 runners expected to arrive in the city for the race, community leaders and city officials asked those already here to help with the volunteer efforts. While “Run Anyway” collected some donations for Hurricane Sandy victims, it mainly served as a means for runners to run 26.2 miles after training for months or sometimes even years for the race.

The race was organized by means of social media on Facebook and Twitter.  Todd Kelley, who helped manage the social media accounts for the event, said that he created the page at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night just hours after Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the marathon. By Sunday morning at about noon, nearly 2,000 people “liked” the Facebook page. Many of them came to ride on Sunday, although just how many participated is not clear.

“We’re started this because everyone who’s running the New York City marathon is running for some cause. We couldn’t officially run for our cause, so we put something out there for people to run,” said Kelly, who stood after/before the race near a group of runners taking a picture with a Hurricane Sandy sign.

Even the “Run Anyway” slogan of the event represented this idea. Its Facebook page says, “When we run for a cause, we need to run anyway,” paying homage to the meaning why so many marathon runners decide to participate in the endurance event.

Many runners raise money for different causes from sponsors who donate a certain amount for each mile they run. The reason to run does not necessarily have to be to raise money for charity research but to mark an important milestone in one’s life.

Mariel Fresneau, for example, came to New York City from France. She said she decided to train for the marathon for a fun cause— to celebrate her sister’s 50th birthday.

Gana Batjargal is from Mongolia. She said participating in Run Anyway was more about completing 26.2 miles. “We came all this way and I believe that every runner has a cause. We’re not just running for fun. I know it’s not the same as the marathon with al the glory, but we are running for support.”

Most runners said they sympathized with how much the city is hurting. Regardless, they believe that the last minute decision to cancel the race was inappropriate.

Andres Uriate, who came to New York City with 20 runners from Chilé, said:  “It was very worrying because we spent a lot of money to get here. It’s disappointing because they notified us the day after we got here, but now we are happy and enjoying the day.”

Even those that came from other states within the United States were greatly inconvenienced by Mayor Bloomberg’s late decision to cancel the race.

Rebecca Pike drove 13 hours to New York City from South Carolina. Her original flight to the city was canceled and she made the decision to come to the city just to find out that the race could never officially start. Despite her extreme disappointment after training for four years she said, “I understand why they canceled, but they should have pushed it earlier. I spent a lot of money, lost money, and lost my race fee.”

The New York City Marathon made some slight changes to its very strict no-refund policy for the race. Runners who were unable to make it to New York City by November 3rd at 11:59 p.m. were able to gain guaranteed entry into the 2013 race. Those who made the trip to the city like Pike are still unsure if they will receive a refund, up to $347 for some.

The AP reported that the New York Road Runners, the organization that hosts the marathon, is reviewing this policy. A statement on their website says they need a “little time to work out the details and make thoughtful decisions.”

Even though the race was cancelled, pieces of the official marathon were scattered throughout Central Park on Sunday. Bright orange and blue flags lined the posts along the trails. The “finish line” sign was erected but runners could not stand directly under it. The sign was surrounded by silver barricades and monitored by security guards and the occasional NYPD officer. Instead, runners posed in front of the barrier, many wearing the bright colors of their country’s flag.

Supporters and spectators, scattered in groups along the trails, cheered for the runners as they looped around the park to complete 26.2 miles. They passed out cups of water, bananas, and even the occasional piece of Starburst candy. While much smaller, many elements of the marathon were still present in its unofficial, less glamorous manifestation on Sunday morning.

Batarjal summarized the attitude of many participating in Run Anyway the best. “It’s a beautiful day, so why not run?”

 

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