New York’s Central Park will host a marathon this weekend with a field one-thirtieth the size of the city’s biggest annual foot race, which was canceled three months ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy amid a groundswell of criticism.
As many as 1,500 runners will participate in the inaugural Central Park Marathon on Feb. 24, running five loops in the park before ending near Tavern on the Green, not far from the traditional finish line of the New York City Marathon that goes through all five city boroughs.
Unlike the NYC Marathon that’s organized by the not-for-profit New York Road Runners and was expected to draw 47,000 runners from around the world in November, the new race is put on by NYCRuns, a two-year-old closely held business that also hosts marathons in Brooklyn and Yonkers, New York.
“Living in New York, there’s been this real push toward local stuff, boutique architecture firms or locally sourced food at restaurants,” said NYCRuns spokesman David Alm. “NYRR is great. It’s like the big box of running companies. It’s huge, it’s a wonderful experience, it’s epic. NYCRuns is not trying to compete with that. It’s trying to be a boutique.”
Steve Lastoe, 40, began NYCRuns.com as a free online calendar for New York runners. He then noticed a market for timing and race-management services and later decided to organize his own events, incorporating in January 2011.
With fewer than 10 staff members, most part-time, NYCRuns also organizes several five- and 10-kilometer races and will hold a half-marathon in Central Park during the longer race. The marathon entry fee is $95, so 1,500 fee-paying runners would bring in $142,500 in revenue.
The NYC Marathon, by comparison, would have cost from $216 to $347 to enter. NYRR took in $54 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending March 2011, including $26.8 million in entry fees, according to a tax filing.
The Nov. 4 NYC Marathon was canceled two days before being run amid complaints from people including city officials such as Comptroller John C. Liu, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. They said it would have drained hurricane recovery resources and offended those affected by the storm, which killed 41 people in the city and left 4.8 million in the region without power.
NYCRuns sought to expand its permit for the Nov. 18 Brooklyn Marathon in Prospect Park to 1,000-2,500 from an original field of 500. It was turned down by the city because the area was being used for post-storm emergency vehicles.
Lora Vaccaro, a 36-year-old from Manhattan who’s run two NYCRuns races, said in a telephone interview that their smaller size means fewer headaches for runners.
“After the whole New York City Marathon debacle it would have been nice to register for something and roll up and run your race instead of jumping through hoops,” Vaccaro said, also mentioning a website breakdown this week that forced the Chicago Marathon to suspend online registration. “Sometimes getting into these more well-known races is like an event in itself.”
Vaccaro said the NYCRuns events also allow her “a lot more room to honestly race.”
Alm, for example, placed eighth of 262 finishers in the 2011 Brooklyn Marathon, completing the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) event in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 13 seconds. That time would have made him the 982nd finisher in the NYC Marathon two weeks earlier.
Each NYC Marathon, which began in 1970 on a Central Park-only course with 127 entrants, brings complaints from some local runners who say the race has gotten too big and too focused on luring the world’s most talented marathoners.
“That’s what I love about what NYCRuns is doing right now,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and chief executive officer of NYRR. “There’s a real need and opportunity in this city, where there’s so much passion for running, to have experiences in smaller fields and then to run in big spectacles, too.”
Lastoe said he’d like to move the Central Park race to a warmer month -- a high of 43 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) is forecast for the event. He also said he wants to make the NYCRuns races more competitive, and hopes to someday take them out of parks and onto New York’s streets, a strategy that might not appeal to some of his company’s current clients.
“He’s done a really nice job of being nimble and able to provide a variety of different offerings,” Wittenberg said. “He’ll have that interesting balancing act as he grows.”