Marathon Plans Up in the Air After Sandy

With mass transit suspended and airports still closed, it was uncertain how participants would get to New York

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Runners crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge towards Brooklyn at the start of the ING New York City Marathon in 2011. This year, marathon plans are up in the air, with the event set to take place just days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city and forced the temporary closure of the bridge.

    Five days before New York hosts its namesake marathon, its public transportation is shut down, its airports closed, its streets flooded and power out in many neighborhoods.

    On Monday, as superstorm Sandy started to pound the city, NYC Marathon officials insisted they would have enough time before Sunday's race to prepare the course and for runners to travel to New York.

    But it was uncertain Tuesday when life in the city would return to normal, and organizers promised an update on marathon preparations.

    Nearly 20,000 amateur international runners need to get in the country. Another 30,000 or so American entrants must get to the starting line; the family and friends of runners must somehow find a way to their viewing spots.

    And on Tuesday, it was unclear when public transit, river crossings and airports would reopen.

    The marathon pours an estimated $350 million into the city each year. But it also requires major support from city departments that are being strained by the storm.

    New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said Monday they had a long list of contingency plans already in place to deal with any obstacles that might arise. The biggest concerns centered on getting runners to the start on Staten Island.

    The 26.2-mile route through the five boroughs mostly avoids areas considered at highest risk for flooding.

    "We have time on our side," Wittenberg said Monday.

    NYRR organizes about 50 events a year and has dealt with issues ranging from heavy snow to lightning to security concerns in the past.

    "We've been through close to it all," Wittenberg said.

    Organizers expected to reschedule flights to get all the elite athletes to New York in time. Wittenberg hoped that most of the amateur international runners signed up would make it. The hours for number pickup will probably be extended for those who arrive late Saturday.

    For runners who can't get to New York, the deadline to withdraw from the race and guarantee a spot in next year's event likely will be pushed back from Wednesday to Saturday. Under normal NYRR policy, organizers won't refund entry fees, and runners would have to pay again next year.

    The ceremonial finish-line painting scheduled for Wednesday was canceled, along with a news conference Tuesday. A children's run Thursday was moved from Central Park to an indoor track, and the pavilion in the park has been taken down for the time being. Wittenberg said generators or backup systems were in place in key locations.

    Extra time is always built into planning, and 700 part-time workers and 8,000 volunteers ensure the course can be set up quickly.