NEW YORK — Before it was canceled, last year’s New York City Marathon had been billed as “The Race to Recover,” a battered region’s defiant vow to rebound and rebuild from the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy. This year, in the wake of the Boston bombings in April, that recovery has dual significance as the 43d edition of the five-borough ramble speaks to the resurgence of two traumatized cities, one by nature, the other by man.
“Terrorists are doing the wrong thing to try to attack the runners because we will run more and run more and more and more to prove them wrong,” said Wesley Korir, who was defending champion in Boston this year and who’ll take the line at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Sunday morning. “They will never defeat us. They will never intimidate us. They are targeting the wrong group of people.”
To honor Boston’s bombing victims and salute those who ran the race that day the New York Road Runners have painted a yellow line alongside the traditional blue line for the race’s final quarter-mile in Central Park and have given blue ribbons to the nearly 48,000 entrants. “That line will be a line to the future and a line that represents our unity with Boston,” said race director Mary Wittenberg.
The Boston bombings have prompted New York to make extraordinary security preparations that will include hundreds of police officers along the route as well as helicopters, boats, divers, and dogs, and camera coverage of virtually every yard of the 26-mile race with special restrictions around the finish, which will include barricades, scanners, and bag searches. “Yes, it was awful what happened in Boston but I feel good here in New York and I feel safe,” said Jelena Prokopcuka, who won the women’s crown here in 2005 and 2006.
What the organizers wanted most after a lost year is a return to normalcy and they’ve brought in their perennial marquee field, peopled with the sport’s crowned heads. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai, who set a course record of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 5 seconds when he won here in 2011, will be challenged by Korir, by Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, the Olympic and world champion, by Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede, the World Marathon Majors leader and London victor, by Kenyan two-time former champion Martin Lel, and by American rivals Meb Keflezighi, who won here in 2009, and Jason Hartmann, who was the top US finisher (in fourth) in Boston.
“Somehow I’m still admiring how I was running New York,” said Mutai, who carved two minutes and 37 seconds off the course mark less than seven months after he ran a planetary-best 2:03:02 in Boston.
On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, who went 1-2 here in 2011, will be up against Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, the two-time world titlist who won here in 2010, as well as Olympic runner-up Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya and world runner-up Valeria Straneo of Italy.
“It was the happiest moment of my life, that day,” Dado mused of her 2011 victory.
She and Mutai were primed to defend last year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Wittenberg announced late Friday afternoon that the race, which had been held annually since 1970, would be called off. Though the course was raceable, the city and the organizers finally concluded that the event had become “a source of controversy and division” at a time when much of the region still was without power, homes had been destroyed, and bodies were being found not far from the start.
“This is no time for a parade,” Staten Island borough president James Molinaro declared. “A marathon is a parade.”
The New York Road Runners and event sponsors donated nearly $4 million in cash and supplies toward relief and recovery efforts and offered entrants the option of competing in any of the three subsequent races, with 22,000 choosing to run this year. What would have been a discordant distraction then has become a symbol of resilience and resolve.
“Last year’s call was the right call,” said Keflezighi, “and I think everybody is relieved that’s behind them and looking forward to a great Sunday.”