Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New York City Marathon could become obstacle course

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the ING New York City Marathon will be taking place this Sunday. The biggest challenge for participants might not be the actual 26.2-mile run — but the logistical obstacles facing the runners who are lucky enough to even make it to New York — since the storm has passed.

The mayor of battered New York, Michael Bloomberg, and marathon organizers both say the race is on — but with the possibility of a few changes from past races.

"It will go on as normal," said Bloomberg Tuesday. "As of now."

Forget the flooded, garbage strewn and tree-littered streets which runners may sporadically encounter during the five borough course.  Organizers are dealing with the logistical nightmare of flying 20,000 runners from around the world into already backed up New York airports and coming up with a way to transport the 47,000 runners to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge starting line with limited mass transit and  road access.

With the restoration of scheduled flights to local airports starting again and the New York City transit system hoping to have service suitably restored by Saturday — runners will have a fat man's chance of starting and finishing the famed race.

If runners have to dodge giant puddles, tree limbs and garbage,  this year's race could resemble some sort of urban steeplechase more than just a long distance run.

"The marathon has always been a special day for New Yorkers as a symbol of the vitality and resiliency of this city," said New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg in a statement.  "We will keep all options open with regard to making any accommodation and adjustments necessary to race day and race weekend events."

Getting out of town runners into New York, with three full days before the start on Sunday, is doable but getting the runners to Staten Island Sunday morning could take a lot more skillful planning.

Nearly half of the entrants take the Staten Island Ferry and the others mostly take buses through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.  Both have been closed due to the flooding.  Normally city municipal departments lend a hand in clearing roads and help in getting runners to their destinations with police escorts but, under the circumstances, city workers have more pressing needs.

"The city is rightfully focused on assessment, restoration and recovery," said Wittenberg.

Runners who can't make it to New York have until Saturday instead of Wednesday to withdraw from the race.  They won't get a refund and will have to pay to keep their reserved spot in 2013.

Any runner who has hit the wall should be able to deal with a few pre-race nuisances and — even while coping with their own post-storm miseries — New Yorkers will still be out in force to cheer them on — maybe not as many as in the past.

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