Resolve and relief in New York

Runners celebrate strength, offer closure after long year in the sport

Updated: November 4, 2013, 1:35 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Amy Hamilton looked relieved, as marathoners generally do when they're taking off their shoes, but there was a little more to her 26.2-mile trip this time.

A petite mother of three and former teacher and coach from Lebanon, Va., Hamilton flew to New York last fall to race here for the first time. But she never left LaGuardia Airport, electing to turn around and make her hotel room available to someone in need when the 2012 marathon was canceled and the East Coast devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

In April, Hamilton ran a strong 2 hours, 57 minutes, 42 seconds in Boston and had just emerged from the subway in Cambridge when she heard about the bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

Sunday, on a chilly, blustery day that marked the last major race of the season, the sport of the masses reaffirmed its resilience, and Hamilton said she was elated to be part of that after finishing in just over three hours.

"Doing these races back-to-back has been extraordinary," said Hamilton, 37, who played and later coached field hockey and lacrosse at Bridgewater (Va.) College. "The best thing about this race was that it was uneventful. A happy marathon."

Hamilton said the start village in Staten Island felt a little subdued, but she commended race organizers for instituting a visible alert system along the course -- small colored flags to let runners know whether anything unusual had happened. "It was reassuring," Hamilton said, to see the green flags along the way.

[+] EnlargeMeb Keflezighi
AP Photo/Kathy WillensMeb Keflezighi, right, finished with a disappointing time but fought injury in memory of victims of the Boston bombings.

The professionals understood the import of the moment as well, especially the Americans. Meb Keflezighi, impeded by a recent calf injury that was the latest mishap in an injury-plagued year, had to stop for three minutes at the 19-mile mark and said he wouldn't have tried to run in any other race. He broke down as he told reporters, "I'm still able to run, and some people cannot do that."

"We can't get those lives back," said the teary-eyed Keflezighi, who added that he was inspired by the police and firefighters he saw at the start and also thought about the people running to benefit his foundation. "I can get to the finish line whether it's walking or running."

Keflezighi, the 2009 New York City champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, had to withdraw from Boston this year but watched much of the race in the grandstand at the finish line. He had just gone back to his hotel when the bombs exploded.

He said he will feel anxious until the last runners trudge in. "Let's hope and pray that nothing goes wrong and we can sleep peacefully," he said.

The New York Road Runners said 50,740 people started the race -- and one of them became the 1 millionth participant since 1970.

Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo swept the men's and women's titles for their country for the first time in 10 years.

Mutai became the first man to repeat in back-to-back editions of the race since Kenya's John Kagwe in 1997-98. Jeptoo, this year's London Marathon champion, made her off-kilter running form work for her again as she overtook Ethiopia's Buzunesh Deba at Mile 24 and collected a $500,000 bonus for winning the World Marathon Majors series.

The top American finish in both the men's and women's fields was 13th, by Ryan Vail of Portland, Ore. (2:13:23), and Adriana Nelson of Boulder, Colo. (2:35:05). Track Olympian Julie Culley, who saw her second chance at competing in New York scuttled by injury, watched from First Avenue as many of the elite women struggled in the windy conditions after they made the turn off the Queensboro Bridge.

Amy Hastings, who finished fourth at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, grimaced in obvious discomfort over the last few miles and wound up 19th in 2:42.

"It was a tough finish for the elite women in the field, but there were some performances that were inspiring," said Culley, a finalist in the 5,000-meter event at the London Games.

Security was omnipresent Sunday on Central Park West as runners emerged from the finish area wearing bright orange ponchos and carrying the now-mandatory clear bags with their belongings. There were the usual festive family reunions, but it was impossible to miss the increased police presence, many officers toting handheld surveillance cameras.

By early afternoon, spectators and family members began to stack up 10- or 12-deep at the barricades at Central Park West and 66th Street. Those trying to get to Central Park West from Broadway were subject to bag searches and metal-detecting wands, and access to the course and finish area in the park itself was tightly controlled.

But most runners said they accepted the measures as part of the new reality.

"I thought the organization was perfect," said Italian runner Francesco Duca, 40. "It's hard to manage 50,000 people."

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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