NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York City Marathon is a go for Sunday, and while logistical questions persist one thing is certain: The 26-mile route will have a disaster for a backdrop.
And a debate.
"I think some people said you shouldn't run the marathon," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news briefing Wednesday. "There's an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy. There's lots of people that have come here. It's a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you've got to believe they would want us to have an economy and have a city go on for those that they left behind."
Race organizers were still trying to assess how widespread damage from Superstorm Sandy might affect plans, including getting runners into the city and transporting them to the start line on Staten Island. Easing their worries a bit was news that 14 of the city's 23 subway lines were expected to be operating by Thursday morning - though none below 34th Street, an area that includes the terminal for the ferries that go to the island.
And there were runners like Josh Maio who felt torn about whether the race should go on.
"It pulls resources and focus away from people in need," said Maio, who dropped out due to an injury but is coaching about 75 runners.
He agrees the race is a boost to local businesses hurt by the storm — it brings an estimated $340 million to the city. But he is uncomfortable with devoting so much to an "extracurricular" event.
Top American Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 men's champion, regards the marathon as "something positive ... because it will be motivation to say, 'Look what happened, and we'll put on the race, and we'll give them a good show.'"
New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg said organizers planned to use more private contractors than past years to reduce the strain on city services. Many people have offered to work as volunteers and could fill in gaps, and many runners and fans plan to raise money to help victims of the storm.
She compared this year's race to the 2001 marathon, held seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as a way to inspire residents and show the world the city's resilience.
Jonathan Cane ran in that race, working for the police department at the time as a fitness instructor, and it was "an amazing experience." But like Maio, he had mixed feelings about holding this year's marathon.
"I think if they do pull it off, the city will get behind it," said Cane, who is coaching more than 200 runners signed up for the race. "It's already a unique event, and this will make it more so."
Wittenberg expects the field will be smaller than the 47,500 who ran last year because some entrants can't make it to New York, but said so far organizers had received no more cancellations than normal. New York's three major airports were expected to be open Thursday morning with limited flights, leaving the nearly 30,000 out-of-town runners with hope that they can fly in but no guarantees.
Race organizers were rescheduling the elite runners' flights to get them into New York on schedule, with many rerouted to Boston. Number pickup for entrants is scheduled to open Thursday morning at the Javits Center.
Meanwhile, traffic choked city streets as residents tried to return to work and limited commuter rail service resumed. Utilities say it could be days before power is fully restored in the city and on Long Island.
The course mostly avoids areas hit hardest by flooding. Getting everyone to the start on Staten Island could be the biggest challenge if two usual methods — the ferry and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel — are still closed. Organizers are working on contingency plans.
Runners always had to rise in the wee hours of the morning to make it to the start in time, and now they may need to get going even earlier.
Once under way, runners will cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. The route then winds through the borough and over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. The Queensboro Bridge will bring the runners into Manhattan's East Side. After a brief swing through the Bronx, they finish in Central Park, which was closed Wednesday. Some 250 mature trees inside the park were felled by the storm.
The 43rd edition of the marathon is set to include three Olympic medallists and the reigning women's world champion.
Kenya's Wilson Kipsang won bronze in the Olympic men's marathon. His challengers include 2011 Chicago Marathon champ Moses Mosop of Kenya and 2010 New York winner Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana won gold and Russia's Tatyana Arkhipova was third in the women's race in London. Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won a world title a year earlier.
"Already what we're hearing from people is we went through the 9-11 marathon, and there was never a more moving marathon, and what that marathon did was it unified this city and brought people back to the streets for the first time in weeks," Wittenberg said. "What was most striking about that marathon to me was it was not about running and it wasn't about the runners. It was about the city. And on that day, instead of the fans being there for the runners, the runners were there for the city. And this marathon already has that same feeling."
Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report