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Editors’ Note: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Road Runners president and chief executive officer Mary Wittenberg issued the following statement at 5:30 p.m. on Friday:
“The marathon has been an integral part of New York City’s life for 40 years and is an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch. While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division. The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it. We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this —to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track. The New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead for participants.”
Julie Culley is used to answering questions about running. But about hurricanes? Not so much.
Nevertheless, the Asics-sponsored runner has spent the past week fielding queries about whether or not the New York City Marathon should go on as scheduled this Sunday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the organizers, the New York Road Runners, have given the race the green light, sparking a flood of controversy — and front-page stories in all the local newspapers — about the insensitivity of the decision in light of those still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
This will be the first marathon attempt for Culley, who represented the USA in the 5,000 meters at the London Olympics this summer. But because she’s a New Jersey native, the hurricane is all anyone wants to talk about.
“I’m trying to keep a positive outlook, but every time I check my Twitter account, people are blasting me and anyone else they can think of for carrying on with the marathon,” Culley said during an Asics pre-marathon breakfast Friday morning at the Empire Hotel.
Shannon Scott, director of marketing for Asics America, the apparel and footwear sponsor of the race, said: “It really wasn’t our decision, but once the decision was made to go ahead with the race, we felt compelled to stand behind our partners and the runners. New York Road Runners has been a great partner for many years, as has the city of New York, and we’re hoping the funds that are raised by the race will help people restore their homes and get back on their feet.”
New York Road Runners said Thursday night it was committing at least $1 million, or $26.20 for each of the 40,000-plus runners expected to participate in the race, to the newly created “2012 ING New York City Marathon Race to Recover Fund.” The fund will support a number of charities involved in the relief efforts, including the Mayor’s Fund and the American Red Cross. In addition, marathon founding members Jack and Susan Rudin and the Rudin Family Foundations also committed to donating $1.1 million, and the race’s title sponsor, ING, said it would make a $500,000 donation. NYRR is also encouraging all runners, their families and friends and the organization’s 60,000 members to at least match the $26.20 per runner donation.
Culley, too, hopes to be able to donate money and time to helping those in need once Sunday’s event is in the books. “I’ll have a three-week break with no running when I can help with the relief effort,” she said. “That’s where my heart is, I want to help the communities that have been damaged.” That includes Long Beach Island, N.J., where Culley’s family owns a home. Although residents are still barred from returning to the island to check on their property, Culley said she’s seen aerial shots and thinks the house is OK. “We’re thinking maybe the first floor was flooded — that’s the best-case scenario,” she said. Her family lives in Clinton, N.J., and was not directly impacted by the storm.
“I’m hoping that by running the marathon and raising money, it will help the city to heal,” she said.
Culley said it’s been hard to focus on her training and race-day preparations because of the storm, but she knows that’s essential for her to perform her best on Sunday. And she said it “never crossed my mind not to run. Of course, I was thinking, what would be my plan B if they cancel it now that I’m in shape and have done all this work? I could run somewhere else, but it just wouldn’t feel right. I actually feel better that it’s here, so we can try to help the city.”
And so, with less than two days to her marathon debut, Culley said, “It’s time for me to focus on the race.”
She admitted that she’s “really nervous” about running 26.2 miles for the first time. “I’m scared in a way,” she said, “because I’m used to shorter distances. I know I’ll make it to the finish line, but this is a whole new adventure. I hope all the work I did will pay off.”
She said she woke up in a panic in the middle of the night Friday worrying about the bottles the elite runners leave along the course. “What if I don’t find them, what if I can’t identify them? It’s crazy. But I’m excited for the distance and I’m sure it’ll be a positive experience. I just want to get across the line and put it all out there and be excited for another one.”
Culley said she’ll be happy to run between 2:32 and 2:34. “That’s not the fastest marathon debut in the U.S., but I’ve only had a short time to train after London. I want to keep doing races and keep getting better. I know it will be a huge learning experience, and a PR [personal record].”
Although her sights are set on the marathon, Culley, who finished first in the women’s 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials and 14th in the London Games, said she expects to head “immediately back to the track” in January. “I’m hoping to make the World Championship team,” she said.
But this time, it may be in the 10,000 meters. “There’s always the 10K to experiment with,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business on the track.”
And are there other marathons in her future? “If you take care of your body and recover properly, you can find a balance of both,” she said. “Some of the best female runners bounce between track and road. This has been an overwhelming year for me and the marathon is a refreshing change. So maybe I’ll want to come back and do another fall marathon next year.”