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City a mecca for long-distance dreams
Running legend Bill Rodgers poses in downtown Manchester on Friday. Rodgers is in town for this weekend's marathon festivities. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER (David Lane/Union Leader)
Drivers will have to make way for runners on city streets Sunday during the Manchester City Marathon, which could have its largest field in the race's six-year history.
The race begins at 8:50 a.m. Sunday at the corner of Hanover and Elm streets. Elm Street will be closed for the duration of the marathon and half-marathon, which could last until the afternoon hours.
The Bridge Street bridge will also close during a portion of the day and Manchester police advise drivers to expect delays crossing the Merrimack River on the Granite Street Bridge. Police recommend using the Amoskeag and Queen City bridges instead.
Race director Sarah Normand said as many as 2,500 runners could participate between the marathon itself, the half-marathon and the relay, where teams of usually four cover the distance in chunks.
The field expanded this week when the Manchester Marathon Association reopened registration, providing an alternative to runners who planned on running the New York City Marathon on Sunday but were wary of trying to get in and out of the city as cleanup continues from Hurricane Sandy.
When New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg decided late Friday afternoon to cancel the event, Normand was overwhelmed by inquiries from runners interested running in Manchester, which serves as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
"It's been very hectic for us. Fortunately we can accommodate the runners," Normand said.
The response was so great that online registration was left open until 7 p.m. Friday, then two more hours until 9 p.m. as the entries continued to increase.
Normand said runners can also register in person today at the Anthem Sports and Wellness Expo at the downtown Radisson Hotel.
"It's easier for people who are from other areas," Normand said. "We want to make that an option for them."
One of the runners whose plans turned from New York to Manchester is Bow native Alli DeStefano, who was running to raise money for Boston Children's Hospital's "Miles for Miracles" program. DeStefano, who raised more than $3,000 in pledges, had mixed emotions about running in New York while the city worked to recover from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy.
"It was very much a relief," said DeStefano, a 24-year-old teacher living in Wellesley Mass. "It would have been very hard to receive a cup of water at a water station when I know a block away people don't have water of their own."
DeStefano said the only reason she was still planning to run in New York was she was doing it for charity. Once she heard it was canceled, she was able to register online for Manchester.
The additional runners may extend traffic delays in areas where police encouraged drivers to avoid.
The marathon route includes stretches through the Mill Yard along Commercial and Spring streets, then moves up River Road before turning south and east toward Livingston Park and the Doors Pond Trail.
Livingston Park could also have some congestion today during the final leg of the children's marathon. Children qualified for the one-mile run by logging mile-by-mile over the past few months. The qualifiers will gather Saturday and complete the distance together.
Traffic will be affected along Hooksett Road near the park, Hanover Street from Candia Road, where the course will veer south along Lake Shore Road on the western edge of Lake Massabesic, a new stretch just added to the route this year.
Travel across Hanover from Maple to Elm will be restricted and police recommend drivers avoid the area as the runners head to the West Side for a four-mile loop, then cross back over the Hands Across The Merrimack Bridge and make a push for the finish at Veterans Park.
Police said the best option for drivers wanting to cross the city may be to take Interstate 293 and bypass downtown altogether.
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