Spirit of Marathoning Alive and Well in New York

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04:  Large groups of j...
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 04: Large groups of joggers run through Centeral Park on November 4, 2012 in New York City. ย (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

No matter who you are, training for a marathon is a serious undertaking. It requires months of preparation and hours of training. We sacrifice nights out with our friends and time with our families so that we can get those miles in before and after work. Instead of sleeping in and relaxing on weekends, we’re up early to run for several hours before getting to the rest of our day. If we’re lucky we’ll get a nap later. If not? We just sleep really, really well that night, only to repeat the whole thing all over again the next day.

For a lot of people, this much work requires a higher calling or a cause outside themselves to stay motivated and focused, so they run in the name of charities. Perhaps a runner or someone she loves has been affected by a significant disease or disability, or maybe she just feels passionate about the cause and wants to do something to help. For these runners, who solicit the support of their friends, family, co-workers and in some cases complete strangers, running the marathon isn’t just about reaching an athletic goal that they’ve been working towards for months, it’s about fulfilling an unspoken contract with their supporters.

When the New York City Marathon was canceled just 48 hours before the gun was to go off, charity runners didn’t feel they had the option to go home or try again next year. They’d promised countless people that they were going to run 26.2 miles as their part of the bargain, which is something many of them couldn’t turn their back on, which is how the Run Anyway movement was born.

Lance Svendsen, a 27-year old pastor from New Jersey, told the Associated Press, “When we run for a cause, we need to run anyway.” So he decided that he was going to…well…run anyway. He would put his 26.2 miles in on Sunday using the original marathon course of four loops around Central Park. Figuring that there were others who shared his view, he put the word out on Facebook and Twitter. Come to the race’s finish line in Central Park at 8 am on Sunday. Bring a donation for the relief effort (which representatives from Renaissance Church in Summit, NJ, would deliver to Staten Island that afternoon), enough supplies (water, gels, etc) for you and someone else. And run.

What happened next surprised everyone. Within 35 hours, the Run Anyway Facebook page had almost 2,000 “likes” and the hashtag #runanyway was trending on Twitter. On Sunday morning, thousands of runners showed up to run, many of whom were decked out in their race shirts and bibs. Some, like Svendsen, were there to complete their charitable obligation, some were there because they’d traveled from overseas to run through New York. And some where there simply to show their support for the ravaged city in their own way.

While many runners opted to only run a loop or two of the park instead of the full four, it didn’t make much of a difference. Hundreds of runners from all over the world filled the park that day with a spirit of optimism and determination that couldn’t be ignored. All because one man decided to run anyway.

Would you have run anyway? If your charity race was canceled, would you feel obliged to run?

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In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

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