NYC Marathon Runners Find Their Own Way to Run — and Give Back

Mayor Bloomberg may have cancelled the ING NYC Marathon, but that didn't keep thousands of runners from hitting the pavement on Sunday.

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Adrees Latif / Reuters

New York City Marathon runners carry relief supplies through a damaged neighborhood in Staten Island, N.Y., Nov. 4, 2012.

On Friday evening, with slightly more than 36 hours to go before the 2012 ING New York City Marathon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the annual event, amid criticisms the runners would be siphoning off valuable resources needed in the city’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy. But the decision hardly discouraged a group of nearly 1,300 runners from boarding the Staten Island Ferry toward the starting line. Far from anticipating a grueling 26.2-mile run, however, these would-be racers ran their own marathon, carrying garbage bags and backpacks full of donated supplies ranging from blankets to Home Depot gift cards that they delivered to the destroyed homes of Staten Island residents.

“I’ve run the marathon three times, and there was an odd familiarity getting on the Staten Island Ferry this morning with a group of runners for a completely different reason,” says runner and New Yorker Jon Bennion. “It was fascinating, the anxiety and jitters were replaced by an overwhelming sense of community.”

(MORE: Under Fire, Bloomberg Cancels NYC Marathon)

The group, organized over Facebook by Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery, met early Sunday morning and divided into groups to run the supplies to the most severely damaged neighborhoods on the island. Metzl, who carried a backpack filled with batteries, says he had expected about 300 runners, but was surprised by the overwhelming number of volunteers who showed up.

“It is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Metzl says. “Part of the myth of this whole thing was that runners were callous to the suffering and just wanted to run their marathon. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

On a bright, sunny day with cool temperatures perfect for racing, the runners disembarked from the ferry with a kickoff cheer, but it didn’t take long before the route transformed into a somber reminder of why city councilmen and New Yorkers suffering power outages and flood damage vehemently argued the marathon should not continue.

(PHOTOSThe Toil After the Storm: Life in Sandy’s Wake)

“All of a sudden, we turned a corner and everyone was cleaning out their basements. Sidewalks were gone, replaced by sinkholes,” says Emily Snyder, an avid runner who discovered the New York Runners in Support of Staten Island group online. “People were cleaning out all their stuff by the handful. The gas lines are astronomically long. It’s shocking.”

Metzl and a group of runners completed a 15-mile route, distributing supplies along the way and then stopped to clear out the home of Alexandre Bersenev and his wife near Midland Beach. “We walked into his house, and there was a disgusting, rotting smell from all their furniture and books. It looks like someone exploded a bomb inside the house,” says Metzl. “We have a runner from England and a runner from Scotland who came to New York to run their first marathon and found out about this over Twitter. They’ve never even heard of Staten Island, and for them to come out here and spend the day cleaning this man’s home is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

This year’s race would have marked Metzl’s 30th marathon, but he says the cancellation was unsurprising given the wreckage. “It wasn’t even a question to come here,” he says. “This is the right thing to do. It’s more gratifying than any run I have ever done.”

Homeowner Alexandre Bersenev, who moved to Staten Island from Russia in 1992, says Staten Island residents were aware of the controversy surrounding the marathon, and he’s thankful for the aid. “It’s awful, my home is an absolute disaster. The runners removed so much debris, and they did it smiling. I am really touched.”

(MORE: Viewpoint: Why They Should Cancel the NYC Marathon)

For those who didn’t join the impromptu relief run, thousands who had planned to complete the marathon for their respective charities lapped Central Park for an equally spontaneous way to creatively complete the 26.2 miles they would have run through the city’s five boroughs.

The finish line arch was still standing, and although gates and security guards prohibited runners from crossing under the signage, thousands veered around the blockades, leaning as close to the arch as the barriers would allow to take celebratory photos under the “Finish” sign.

“It would’ve been nice if they had opened the finish up for us,” says New Zealand runner Neil Anderson, who raised $200,000 for Catwalk, a charity supporting spinal-chord-injury research with 28 other runners. “I think the organizers were in a very difficult situation; it’s very understandable, but it’s hard on such a nice day like this.”

(VIDEO: After Sandy: No Water, Power or Law in Low-Income Neighborhood)

“Someone forgot to tell all these runners the marathon was cancelled,” says Toni Rooney as her daughter Jessica ran by on the first lap of her customized version of the marathon. Jessica’s parents traveled from Orlando to watch Jessica run her first marathon.

“She trained all year and was hysterical it was cancelled, but this is a really happy and special day,” says Jessica’s father, Tim Rooney. “Bloomberg should be here.”

Thor Gudjonsson, who finished four 6-mile laps around the park followed by an additional 2.2-mile loop with five other teammates from Iceland, says they wished the race was canceled earlier, before they made the trip. “However, we completely understand why it was cancelled,” says Gudjonsson. “We didn’t realize how severe the damage was until we got here.”

There won’t be any official winner of the 2012 New York City Marathon, and no official times recorded for the thousands who trained for the event as a personal challenge. But thousands of runners proved you don’t need official timekeepers to make a marathon worth running.

37 comments
ChloeGlover
ChloeGlover

Ho w amzing and wonderful for the runners to this. I would have done the same had I been in New York to run the marathon.

lbpaulina
lbpaulina

Thanks to Dr. Metzel and to all the runners. Mayor Bloomberg has to be proud of his decision.

stonejwsm
stonejwsm

1,300 out of what 47,000 runners. Good for the 1,300, God bless but what about the other selfish losers? It's a good thing they didn't run because they probably would have been stoned and or pelted with flood debris (rightfully so).Hysterical because they couldn't run? How about hysterical because your house got swept away? Geez, some people are so self absorbed.

DrGJackBrown
DrGJackBrown

Love this display of "others" rather than "self". Thank you for helping those in need.

isaacsarah
isaacsarah

I have to agree with Elisa somewhat.  She is absolutely right that the race should have been canceled the day after the hurracane.  And since it wasn't then surely everyone should understand the critisiam thrown the way of runners that they are selfish (and many other name) because thinking it was all about the runners. Well, if the NYRR stepped up to the plate and just because of common sense, should have made the decision themselves to cancel the race instead of passing the buck to the Mayor. I don't believe Elisa was trying to make the point that her lose of time and money was more important then what has happened to thousands, but merely stating that the NYRR and Mayor screwed up big time in not announcing much sooner of the cancellation, thereby giving thousands the opportunity to cancel flights/hotel room etc. to try and save themselves some lost money.  I don't have a problem with this.  Kudos to the runners who  helped as best they could.

KentR
KentR

a volunteer run is better  than a commercial one any day  you do it for teh right reasons  and  dont bother the commercial parts of it outside of  the room rent of hotel   and that side  the coffers don't loose as much wuth less forces to b e paid for  like they need police nurse maids avery quarter mile..

ChristinaRubino
ChristinaRubino

So check this out - i walk out of my house this morning to head over to Midland Beach for cleanup and to bring supplies to friends - and I see all the Marathon runners jogging by! Tons of them!  It literally brought tears to my eyes - So instead of running the race, they ran to help. It's going to be years before this widespread disaster is cleaned up - but what those runners did today embodied the true spirit of humanity, it inspired us - rather than the false pride of "strong NY" that our Mayor was trying to project to the outside world. It was better than having no runners, and it was better than having the marathon. I hope the out of towners will now give their rooms over to the displaced families in need of them - today they raised the morale of a bruised community - kudos to the Dr. who got this together!

forrestmillettech1030
forrestmillettech1030

Good for you, the people you helped and yourselves are all winners now.

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ValerieGerstein
ValerieGerstein

I'm sure Kansas City is proud of Jordan Metzl!  I know we in NYC are!

GaryMcCray
GaryMcCray

Hey runners, thank you.

You turned a disappointment into a victory.

The true spirit of this Marathon was always to help those in need, what better opportunity and what better response.

Good for you, the people you helped and yourselves are all winners now.

The competition was a hurricane and winning was cooperation and assistance, isn't that what it should really be about anyway.

We spend to much time thinking that the path to success is over the top of someone else's loss and we make winning all important.

Civilization isn't based on winning, it is based on mutual assistance and support.

I just hope our governments and corporations can embrace that concept before it is too late.

ElisaNistri
ElisaNistri

Point one: the marathon should have been cancelled.Point two: the marathon should have been cancelled right after hurricane Sandy hit NYC area.Point three: it was a true scandal that so many people were let fly in from oversees just to be told 36 HOURS BEFORE THE START that the mayor had changed his mind and the marathon was cancelled.My boyfriend and I flew in from Italy right for the marathon – no, let me rephrase it – just because Mr Bloomberg and Mrs Wittenberg kept on repeating that the marathon would be run no matter what – to demonstrate the incredible dynamism and perseverance of New Yorkers. And finally they cancelled. And we even have to hear that runners are selfish creatures diverting attention from the catastrophe which just took place. What a joke! We – as many others – spent thousands of dollars to fly in and (not) run the most expensive marathon on earth, bringing NYC plenty of money.Shame on who took advantage of our passion and simply STOLE our money rather than acting professionally and cancelling everything (or simply postponing by a month or two) in due time.Elisa

AndreaWinnes
AndreaWinnes

On the flip side, look at how many non-local runners flew here as a result of Bloomberg waiting until the last minute to cancel. How many are staying in New York area hotels? How many local families that desperately needed a place to sleep were displaced?

Bloomberg did the worst thing possible by waiting until the last minute to cancel. No revenue from the marathon yet you still screw locals with the influx of out of state runners.

KellyHibbard
KellyHibbard

Alexandra!!!! i was supposed to run the marathon today... and cheered on the dedicated runners instead. Great coverage! -kelly hibbard

drbillh41
drbillh41

The organizers of this event (NYRR) should of had the common sense to cancel the race. Now will they ban the 2000 runners from 2013 and future races, who refuse to listen and ran as a MOB through the streets of the dead, homeless and hungry victims of Sandy? Honestly these selfish people are shamelessMany unofficial runners ( the 2000) wore the sponsored uniforms and had slogans I will not repeat here. They do not represent the best the best were part of the relief effort not selfishly running if it was truly for charity then it should of been for the NY  victims not some other charity. I applaud the runners who helped the victims

lbpaulina
lbpaulina

Well, just think they didn't arrive yet at home. I mean...they went back...running...didn't they?

lbpaulina
lbpaulina

@forrestmillettech1030 I do not understand. R u giving us a business card? By the way...we do not use the definition "creative design", because a non-creative design would be really miserable. 

lbpaulina
lbpaulina

@ElisaNistri I do not want to defend the mayor, but it was not an easy decision to be taken. Nobody wanted to take any advantage of anyone. I think the marathon was the least of the problems of Bloomberg. Other people arrived from Europe, but they decided to go to help people who lost everything. Americans are resilient and strong: after a few days Downtown Manhattan, Staten Island and Jersey are almost returning to a kinda normality, although the runners had lo lose the money of the Marathon. It is not like in Italy where people wait for months for being helped by the Government. Perchè gli Italiani si devono sempre lamentare? In qualunque posto io vada nel mondo se c'è qualcosa che non va, gli Italiani sono gli unici che si lamentano sbuffando, dicendo parolacce, ecc. Elisa datti una calmata, compra un giornale di qualche giorno fa e leggilo: in due giorni in NYC e NJ ci sono stati parecchi morti e feriti, la gente non aveva elettricità e non poteva attaccare il riscaldamento, non aveva da mangiare e non aveva la subway o il bus per andare in giro, perchè tutto era allagato e i ponti erano chiusi. I let you know that NY doesn't need to steal anything, and actually I'm sure you can ask for the reimbursement. By the way, when did you go back to Italy? The New York airports ware closed for more than 4 days, that means that you did not lose the money of the hotel and flight, thus you might be a liar. As I am of Italian origin I wrote with two languages. I have two suggestions for Elisa: _why don't you run for the office of Mayor of new York, you might be good.?

_As in the life we have to be ready to a lot of sudden changes, I suggest you to stay at home in a secure room with no windows. Stay also far away from faucets and pipes.

Now I understand why they call us spaghetti, although thousands of years of history, renaissance, and scientists.

DianeKrstulovich
DianeKrstulovich

@ElisaNistri   I  hope you recognize that you, too, are a victim of this terrible disaster, Sandy.  And not of Bloomberg or New York City or anything or anyone else.  I'm sorry for you and the others but a disaster is a disaster.   

yboywonder
yboywonder

@ElisaNistri Unfortunately Elisa you're going to find that the typical New Yorker doesn't care about you or your problem; they only care about the pain and suffering they're in. They are also clueless to the fact that you sympathize with their plight after this disaster and only wished that you would have been informed on Tuesday instead of AFTER you arrived. You'll soon find out that suffering New Yorkers only care about getting a hand out at this point. God bless all of the runners that went out and distributed supplies to those hurting on Staten Island and elsewhere. My prayers still go out to those suffering in NYC and that recovery will be swift.

mbnsn61
mbnsn61

@ElisaNistri New Yorkers could run a marathon around you.  People had their lives destroyed,  living on Staten Island will never be the same.  The dynamic life they lead will never be the same.  You have the audacity to complain about a cancelled marathon? Did you read this article or are you just here to complain about your trivial loss compared to what New Yorkers have been through?  No one STOLE anything from you.  You made the decision to come here knowing that a tragic, devastating weather event just happened.  Why don't you act professional, and just go home?  Do not make this any harder for the people of New York...... 

AnnI-am
AnnI-am

@ElisaNistri You're seriously trying to compare your loss of time and money to those who lost their homes, everything in their homes, are cold, hungry and thirsty as well as those who lost their businesses, jobs and LIVES??

drbillh41
drbillh41

Why should this be so important to run? I am not talking about the runners who delivered supplies I'm talking about the Mob of 2000 who ran anyway without permission or permit. I understand people only thought of the one group, but there was two and the whole purpose of canceling the race was to open up hotel rooms and free up all the resources for the victims, running the race anyway is selfish and does not free up the needed resources 100%. True Charity would have been to get on the plane and go back home.

DianeKrstulovich
DianeKrstulovich

@drbillh41 Thank you to all the runners, those who found a way to cope with their own disappointment, those who ran for the disaster survivors and those who ran for other causes.  You're an enthusiastic and creative bunch.  I bet you will think of something and find another way to compensate for the many loses created by the cancellation of this important  event. 

yboywonder
yboywonder

@drbillh41 So if I raised $100K for Cancer research I should just hand this over to the people of NYC? And what do I tell those people that have been suffering from Cancer for years or will be afflicted in the coming year? I wish the people of NYC a speedy recovery but calling people that raised funds for charity selfish is irresponsible. Is this the norm for New Yorkers?

MyTime
MyTime

@yboywonder @ElisaNistri 

YBoyWonder I am with you on this one. I live in the NYC area and my heart goes out to all those affected by Sandy, but to talk it out on someone like Elisa is not right.

MyTime
MyTime

@mbnsn61 @ElisaNistri 

Please keep your emotions in check. She made the decision to come here because she was told that the marathon would be held (to show the the resilience of New Yorkers, if I might add) on Sunday by the mayor. I live in the NYC area and I am glad they canceled the marathon, but unfortunately the decision was made a little too late for many participants. May be if you act "professional" you would understand her post. 

yboywonder
yboywonder

@mbnsn61 @ElisaNistri ...please reread Elisa's post....you'll see she is NOT complaining about a cancelled marathon at all. I'm confident you're intelligent enough to understand that after another reread!

stonejwsm
stonejwsm

@AnnI-am No she isn't trying to compare it to people's losses. She's too self-absorbed to even comprehend that people were suffering. MyTime, it is plenty fair to play the selfish game. Between some cyclists and runners, I don't know who are more self absorbed.Can you imagine if they had run the race anyway? The runners would have been jeered and stoned.

MyTime
MyTime

@AnnI-am No one is comparing here. She is upset that she lost thousands of hard earned $, and she has every reason to be upset. Dont play the "selfish' game, its just nor fair.

yboywonder
yboywonder

@AnnI-am No, she's not making that comparison at all. Reread her post and it's obvious she was upset at being brought into the city under false pretenses. Had NYC been responsible she would not have even been here over the weekend (or however long she'll be here).

drbillh41
drbillh41

One more thing, are you saying in the wake of this, people would not give to the charity all of sudden because Joe Blow did not run? WOW thats Heart Warming! We are doomed if people these days are like this. I pledge myself and money its there no matter what!

Sabby
Sabby

@yboywonder: No, of course you should hand it over to your respected charity.  I ran last year for a charity and was happy to volunteer this year but I was more saddened by the devesation of Hurricane Sandy than the cancellation of a race.  Your continual bashing of New Yorkers who are still in shock from the aftermath of this storm is unacceptable.  Imagine losing everything.  Sure, someone should have called the race sooner and we can all stand around after the fact and point fingers and play the "should have, would have, could have" game...but that is not going to bring back the race or bring back the lost lives and homes of the countless who were ravaged by this storm.  We should applaud the greatness of the people who banded together in a time of crisis...not support the few who are trying to tear people apart.  Some were inconvenienced by the late canceling of this race and that is unfortunate...but at least they can go home.  Many do not have a home to go to anymore.  That to me...feels worse. 

stonejwsm
stonejwsm

@yboywonder  I guess you better reread it because that is exactly what she said "We – as many others – spent thousands of dollars to fly in and(not) run the most expensive marathon on earth, bringing NYC plenty ofmoney.Shame on who took advantage of our passion and simply STOLE ourmoney rather than acting professionally and cancelling everything"That is what she said. She cares about nothing except her money.

lbpaulina
lbpaulina

@MyTime @AnnI-am I think she didn't lose anything, just the race: she couldn't go back, because the airports were closed for 4 days. She might be right, but generally you do not complain, because a lot of people were in the same situation, but only one complained and almost 2,000 people decided to go to help. Every day we have to face sudden events, and we cannot avoid them, so what? I also think that it was a hard decision to be taken. Bloomberg is a very good mayor and he was really thinking that the marathon could have been something positive for the New Yorkers (in terms of revenue.) To Elise: think that 1.5 million people of New Jersey are still without power. No heat.