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Marathoners Disappointed, But Understanding of New York Cancellation

Dressed to run, people pose for photos at the finish line for the 2012 New York Marathon, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 in New York’s Central Park.
Dressed to run, people pose for photos at the finish line for the 2012 New York Marathon, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 in New York’s Central Park.

Runners hoping to compete in the 43rd New York City Marathon were very disappointed to have the city cancel the race less than 48 hours before it was to take place, but on Saturday they expressed understanding that the time was not right as many city residents struggle to recover from the deadly and destructive superstorm Sandy.

In 2010, Ethiopian runner Gebre Gebremariam won the New York City Marathon with a time of 2 hours 8 minutes 14 seconds. He was looking forward to running again this year, hoping to reclaim his title, lost last year to Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai. But he said he understood why the mayor had decided to cancel the race which was to take place this Sunday and follow a 42-kilometer course through all of New York's five boroughs.

“It's the right decision. We saw the damage. We saw that people are without homes, they lost their lives, they lost their homes, they lost their businesses, and we are part of them," he said.

Moroccan Abderrahime Bouramdane, who finished fifth in the 2008 and 2009 marathons and tenth in 2010, said he understood the cancellation, but felt that the city should have made the decision earlier in the week to spare the approximately 20,000 runners who come from abroad from expensive and lengthy travel.

“I said it's Friday night, it's too late to make the change and cancel the race, not for only me [but] for all people and all athletes, coming to run, [and] people running for fun," he said.

Somali-born American runner Abdi Abdirahman, who also competed at the 2012 London Olympics, said the main thing is that the people of New York recover. He said events this week would not deter him from coming back to run in the 2013 marathon.

“I will, definitely, I will come back next year and run. And it's going to be better than ever. I think the New York Road Runners is a first class organization and they do more than just a race, I think that they are part of New York and they will come back stronger than ever," he said.

Ethiopian Gebremariam, who perhaps got his start as an endurance runner walking 20 kilometers roundtrip each day to school, said he hopes people will learn from superstorm Sandy about the dangers of climate change.

“This is not a natural problem, this is a manmade problem, it is coming from the climate change - people damage their trees, the people they damage their ice [glaciers] and everything, and it is coming through," he said.

Professional athletes such as these men are known as “elites” in the running world. At the New York Marathon many of the top competitors come from Africa, with Kenyan and Ethiopian male and female runners winning or finishing in the top five for at least the last five years.

The elites train intensively, running twice a day and covering some 200 kilometers each week. They typically run two marathons a year, which have lucrative prize money, so for them, the cancellation of the marathon can mean the loss of as much as $200,000 for a first place finish.

But it is also costly and disappointing to the amateur runners who have come from all over the United States and across the world to run, for what is for many of them, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Mexican runner Gerardo said he trained for over a year and only found out the race was canceled when his flight arrived in New York on Friday. But he was stoic about the situation.

"We came from Monterray Mexico, and we had the same situation two years ago from Hurricane Alex and we understand that there is a lot of pain here. Yes, it is very difficult for the people, we understand that," he said.

Canceling the race will also have economic implications for the city, which makes around $340 million in spending from the some 40,000 runners - many who come from outside New York and use the city's hotels, restaurants, shops and transportation.

After Sandy hit, the mayor said the race would go on, but changed his mind after widespread anger over the decision. Irate New Yorkers said it was inappropriate after so many had died and feared the race would divert important resources from the recovery effort.

And that recovery effort continued on Saturday. The marathon organizers said they are donating blankets, water and $1 million to the relief effort.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 80 percent of the subway system is back up and running, power has returned to most of Manhattan and the military is helping to move millions of gallons of fuel to the area to help alleviate the sudden gasoline shortage.