Vicksburg runners run despite marathon cancellation

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lisa Tillotson had just picked up her race packet for the New York City Marathon when she heard that the race had been canceled.

Like a true runner, she took it in stride.

Although disappointed, the 52-year-old Vicksburg resident enjoyed the rest of her weekend in the city, then joined with thousands of others Sunday morning to run the marathon anyway by completing the 26.2 miles in Central Park.

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It was the end point of a nine-month training regimen and a whirlwind weekend following the devastation brought about by Superstorm Sandy.

“You could say it was the most controversial marathon ever. Just to participate in it was a once in a lifetime event,” Tillotson said. “We would’ve preferred it to have been organized. You’d like to get a medal if you go through all this.”

Tillotson and her friend and co-worker, Angie Standish, arrived in New York Thursday for the marathon. They picked up their packets Friday evening, then found out moments later that the race that was to begin less than 48 hours later had been canceled.

The decision was brought about by public outcry from New Yorkers. Much of the marathon route was through areas affected by the storm, and the police and emergency crews needed to support almost 40,000 runners when they were needed elsewhere raised outrage.

Tillotson understood the decision, but didn’t like the timing. Like thousands of others, she not only spent $216 for the entry fee but also hundreds of dollars for travel and accommodations.

“Immediately, our reaction was anger toward (New York mayor Michael) Bloomberg. To get 40,000 people drawn into the city, then it’s canceled, it seemed like a strategic move to have his cake and eat it too, financially,” Tillotson said. “Someone said, ‘I just spent $1,700 for a T-shirt.’ That’s how you felt.”

Word soon spread of the alternate, unofficial marathon, however. Thousands of runners gathered Sunday in Central Park and completed four laps, roughly following the marathon’s original 1970 course rather than the newer layout that touches all five boroughs in the city.

It took Tillotson and Standish around 51⁄2 hours to run the 26.2 miles. Along the way, they encountered plenty of supportive locals.

“The support from New Yorkers was great. They were saying, ‘Bravo!’ They were trying to give us candy and water,” Tillotson said.

The marathon — official or not — was to be Tillotson’s first. She wasn’t sure if she’d attempt it again next year. The New York City Marathon uses a lottery system for entries. All of this year’s runners are guaranteed entry to next year’s race, but must again pay the entry fee and expenses.

“I’m probably going to to try to plan that. It’s something I’m going to keep in mind,” she said.