By Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of runners in New York City are refusing to let a canceled marathon spoil their Sunday plans and are channeling months of preparation into informal runs intended to benefit victims of superstorm Sandy.
Amid criticism from victims of Monday's storm that the race would divert resources from efforts to help flood-ravaged parts of the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday canceled the marathon. The event, scheduled for Sunday, had been expected to draw more than 40,000 runners to the city.
Early Sunday, more than 1,000 people, many of whom had planned to run the race, crowded onto two Staten Island Ferry boats, headed to the stricken borough with relief supplies ranging from food to plastic bags to help residents store belongings from damaged or destroyed homes.
At the home of Ruth Silverberg on New Dorp Lane in Staten Island, a group of 15 marathon runners formed an assembly line and cleared a basement with seven air conditioners and other debris that had flooded with 4-1/2 feet of water.
"I'm awed," said Silverberg, 59, her voice choking, as she thought it would take two weeks of work and the runners took two hours.
One of the runners was Samantha Somach, a 29-year-old from Manhattan who feared a backlash from Staten Island's residents.
"I was a little afraid we wouldn't be welcomed," said Somach, an event manager for NASCAR. "But people were so grateful. Some people wanted to pay us."
Manhattan's Central Park also was crowded with runners near what would have been the marathon's finish line, scores of them shivering in the lingering overnight cold. A group called run4allcauses was collecting donations for Sandy's victims.
Kelly Rooney, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mother from Florida, was at first irked that Bloomberg called off the marathon after insisting earlier in the week that it would go ahead in spite of Sandy, whose 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds and record surge of seawater devastated coastal communities and killed at least 110 people in the United States.
Rooney traveled to New York with her husband and 6-year-old daughter, while her parents flew in from Mexico to cheer her on.
By Saturday afternoon, Rooney was over her disappointment and looked forward to a charity run on Staten Island that she had found advertised on the Internet.
On Sunday, she planned to run with a backpack full of dog food, cat food, batteries and some water donated by her hotel, the Ritz-Carlton across from Central Park.
"I truthfully at this point don't care if I run. I just want to give this stuff out," she said.
'WANTED TO DO SOMETHING GOOD'
The idea for the Staten Island run came from Jordan Metzl, a 46-year-old doctor of sports medicine, and his running friends just as the debate was heating up last week about whether storm-battered New York City should hold a marathon.
He was discouraged that the running community was being perceived so negatively when it holds so many races to raise money for a variety of causes.
Metzl expected hundreds of runners to show up for the Staten Island run, including participants from Germany and Italy. U.S. rower Alison Cox, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, also was expected to participate.
Lara Duerrschmid, 27, was among those boarding a ferry. "I know it's going to be tough to see (the damage) but I just wanted to do something good," said Duerrschmid, a resident of Manhattan's Upper East Side, which was spared the worst of the storm.
The runners will take different routes across Staten Island and distribute supplies along the way.
Other informal runs will be held on Sunday that loop around Central Park - the original 1970 route of the New York City marathon.
Mindy Solkin, a running coach, organized a 5-mile (8-km) run on Saturday that started at the marathon's finish line in Central Park.
She also was planning a 26.2-mile run on Sunday called The Ad Hoc Marathon. Solkin and fellow coaches from The Running Center in Manhattan planned to be there with water and "power gels" to pass to runners.
Since Friday night, Solkin also had been scrambling to get some of the 50 runners she coaches registered in upcoming marathons in places such as Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Metzl, who has run 29 marathons in his life, said it would be pointless to let well-trained bodies go to waste.
"Initially we were just going to do a run to raise some money and then we thought, hey, we've got these legs that are ready to run 26 miles, why don't we actually run in Staten Island and get things that people need?" he said.
(Additional reporting by Ilaina Jonas, Phil Wahba and Atossa Abrahamian; Editing by Louis Charbonneau and Eric Beech)