1 year after Sandy, New York City marathoners are ready to run
The New York City Marathon is hoping to make a triumphant comeback this weekend after Superstorm Sandy's devastation forced its cancellation last year. And despite heightened security following the terror attack at the Boston Marathon, many of the estimated 45,000 runners are shrugging off concerns for their own safety.
"I'm not going to stop running the marathon because somebody thought it was a good idea to blow up a couple of bombs in Boston," said 50-year-old runner Dave Kleckner. "I don't intend to run scared."
Flooding from the superstorm, which was spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, forced Kleckner and his family out of their Manhattan apartment building, but he was still gearing up to run the marathon when it was abruptly canceled just days before it was to start.
A few months later, he ran the Boston Marathon and finished before the bombs went off, then he spent an anxious night tracking down fellow members of his running club. Security isn't a concern for him in the 26.2-mile race through New York's five boroughs on Sunday, and he even plans to have his wife and children there to cheer him on.
"I wouldn't miss it for anything," he said. "Except another superstorm."
Hundreds of police officers will be posted along the route. Police helicopters will patrol the skies, and police boats will keep watch from New York Harbor and the East River. As with any large-scale event in the city, the police department also will deploy bomb-sniffing dogs and plainclothes officers blending in with the crowd.
The New York Police Department bought 100 mobile security cameras after the Boston attack. It said those cameras will be positioned to keep an eye out for anything suspicious along the route where there are gaps in the sight lines of permanent cameras.
But the finish line, inside Central Park, has become perhaps the biggest worry after two homemade bombs hidden in bags detonated near the finish line in Boston, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
For the first time, the city is fencing off a portion of the western perimeter of the park for the race. Spectators will have to pass through security checkpoints, where bags will be searched, to enter that area. There will be an additional layer of fencing around the finish line.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said security there will be tight.
"It always is tight, but obviously we're going to pay particular attention to that this year," he said.
Marathon organizer New York Road Runners decided it would be impractical to ban bags from the finish area. It encouraged spectators to take no more than one bag, no larger than the size of a purse, per person.
"We have this real belief that running helps people. And the marathon helps this community in so many ways," NYRR president Mary Wittenberg said. "We never wavered in the continuing on, preserving the best of what this is all about."
Wittenberg said organizers are much better prepared this year to communicate with runners and the public should anything go awry. She said she still remembers the runners who ran up 18 flights of stairs carrying water to stranded public housing residents after Sandy as embodying one of the organization's finest moments.
After the 2012 race was called off, runners had the option of taking refunds or accepting guaranteed slots in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 marathons. Of last year's 60,000 registered runners, 21,000 decided to take the guaranteed slots and 30,000 took the refunds.
But for some athletes, it was still a bit too soon to return to New York.
Irish runner Stephen Toal flew into the city last year determined to cap off his personal goal: running the London, Berlin and New York marathons before he turned 50. But he said when he saw photographs of the "utter devastation" from the storm in Staten Island, he understood why the race was canceled.
A few months later, Toal ran Boston, where the sound of the bombs going off reminded him of the sectarian violence he had lived through in Northern Ireland years ago. The memories of that April day and of the chaos in New York have stayed with him.
He says he'll return to New York to run next year. Not this time.
"I didn't think this year would be a good year to run it because it would be the anniversary of so many things," Toal said. "Including those that died, those that are probably struggling in terms of, maybe, homes, jobs, livelihoods."