In September 2001, tens of thousands of runners were in the heat of their marathon buildup, logging miles to be on the starting line of the New York City Marathon on November 4. Then the Twin Towers fell. Miles no longer mattered, at least not in the same way as they had before. Running became a means of pounding out anger and grief, of trying to understand what was incomprehensible.
Runners trained in uncertainty, until the New York Road Runners announced the race would go on. The marathon was part of a sporting season dubbed the “Comeback Season” by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It began when president George W. Bush threw out the first pitch when the Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. Baseball, football, hockey, NACAR, and running fans and athletes took it from there.
Among them was Deena Kastor. Kastor was 28 at the time and training for her first marathon. She’d selected New York for the course—a five-borough race her coach said had the grit of cross-country. The New York City Marathon was a way for her to bring her love of and success at cross-country to unfamiliar territory.
Fifty-four days after the attack, Kastor lined up race morning with an international field of 30,000. Some wore black ribbons in honor of the people killed in the attack. Others carried American flags, wore flag tattoos or socks. The final miles of the line marking the course had been painted red, white and blue. At the start, police officers and firefighters linked arms and led the runners to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Below, armed Coast Guard officers guarded the waterways. Boats sprayed water as helicopters hovered overhead. About 2,800 police officers patrolled the course. As runners crossed the bridge, many looked left at the altered skyline.
Kastor went on to finish seventh in the race, the top American, and her time of 2:26:58 was an American record debut.