Runner races for charity after storm cancels New York City Marathon

November 6, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Sabina Honig, Becki Chandler and Amir Feinsilber (from left) come west on East Sunset Way as they near the two-mile mark of a 26.2-mile run — a substitute for Honig’s canceled New York City Marathon and as a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. By Greg Farrar

In Issaquah, native New Yorker Sabina Honig awaited word from family and friends as Hurricane Sandy walloped the East Coast.

The prospective New York City Marathon runner also listened closely for information about the race scheduled to occur less than a week after the Oct. 29 superstorm.

Lingering damage from Hurricane Sandy led organizers to cancel the New York City Marathon, but Honig did not let the setback interrupt her race. Instead, she set out from home in the Issaquah Highlands on race day, Nov. 4, and logged 26.2 miles on local streets.

No medal awaited Honig at the finish line, but she used the race to raise money for relief efforts along the Eastern Seaboard.

Honig, 44, raised more than $2,000 by Nov. 5, as the fundraising cutoff deadline approached. The public can continue to donate online to Honig’s cause.

Honig’s parents in Queens did not lose power during the storm, but Hurricane Sandy left friends elsewhere in the borough homeless.

The longtime runner attempted for years to earn a spot among the runners in the New York City Marathon. The race is among the largest on the planet, and the course meanders across Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and then on to the finish line in Manhattan.

How to help

Donate to Sabina Honig’s Hurricane Sandy relief effort on the crowdfunding-for-good website Fundly at

The marathon organizers, New York Road Runners, held a lottery for applicants in April.

Honig entered the lottery in early winter. In the meantime, she continued to run daily, but did not start to train for the marathon.

“It was really kind of just like a spur-of-the moment decision. I figured, ‘If I don’t get in — which I probably won’t — so, what? I’m out like 11 bucks or something like that,’” Honig said. “I just went for it.”

Runners receive lottery notifications online, and as the deadline neared, Honig kept a close eye on the marathon’s website.

“I’m checking and checking and checking my profile. It actually had said that I didn’t get in, and I was really upset,” she said. “I was really kind of bummed. That evening, I went home and I was disappointed.”

Then, Honig’s plans for the marathon changed again.

‘If I don’t run, it’s a bad day’

“The next day, I’m at work and I see an email from the ING New York Marathon and the New York Road Runners club, and I’m figuring, ‘OK, it’s probably the official email telling me that I didn’t get it,’” she said. “I decided to open it anyway, and it was like, ‘You’re in.’ I was shocked.”

In 2006, Honig, a user experience researcher at Microsoft, left New York and settled in Washington. The chance to run in the New York City Marathon represented a long-held goal — “a bucket list thing,” she said.

“I tried getting in while I was living there and didn’t get in,” she said. “Of course, now that I’m 3,000 miles away, I get in.”

So, she started a 16-week training regimen in July. Typically, she runs four to six miles four or five days a week, and embarks on a longer run each Sunday.

Honig started running about a decade ago for exercise, and later competed in marathons throughout the United States, including races in Las Vegas and Austin, Texas.

“At this point, if I don’t run, it’s a bad day,” she said. “It’s more mental now than physical for me.”

Honig, a vegetarian, nibbles sushi or pasta the night before a marathon and, for breakfast, perhaps some bread spread with peanut butter. Then, along the route, she downs nutrient-packed gels. In headphones, she blares pulse-pounding songs from Muse, Run-DMC, Rush and other artists.

For the New York City Marathon, Honig made plans to fly east Nov. 1, but hurricane damage and logistical challenges paralyzed flights into the New York City area, just as thousands of runners intended to arrive for the marathon.

The night before the scheduled flight east, “I got the call that I didn’t want to get,” Honig said.

‘New York is a very resilient city’

The airline canceled the flight, and scarce options existed for Honig to reach the starting line on Staten Island in time.

“Trying to get through to the airline to reschedule was just an exercise in futility,” Honig said. “I couldn’t get through to them all day.”

Flights remained booked solid until after the marathon. Nationwide, as Hurricane Sandy spiraled toward the East Coast, airlines canceled more than 13,000 flights.

Unable to reach the marathon, Honig decided to bring a marathon to Issaquah. The longtime runner set a goal to raise $5,000 for American Red Cross storm relief efforts

“At first, I think I said it and I couldn’t even believe I said it,” she said in a Nov. 1 interview.

Honig combined routes from training runs to form the impromptu marathon route. The course stretched along Lake Sammamish and through downtown Issaquah.

“I was just so upset and I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better,” she said. “I could have, if I wanted to, made an effort and stayed online and looked for some way, any way to get to the marathon itself. I just couldn’t put forth the energy to do that. It was just too stressful, but I didn’t want to give up on the whole thing.”

Online, she used the crowdfunding-for-good platform Fundly to solicit donations for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

“I’m not doing this to do it fast or to beat a certain time or to race,” she said. “I just want to fulfill the goal and finish it and do it.”

Organizers canceled the marathon Nov. 2, amid outcry from officials and residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“New York is a very resilient city,” Honig said. “After 9/11, I was still living there, and it was amazing just how quickly things started to get back to normalcy.”

Amir Feinsilber, 39, another highlands resident and a veteran of 10 marathons, joined Honig early Nov. 4 for the Issaquah race.

Feinsilber read about Honig’s fundraiser on Facebook and decided to join the run the night before. Honig’s friend Becki Chandler cycled alongside the runners.

“This is my 11th marathon, technically, and the only one where I didn’t actually get a medal at the finish line, but it’s in many ways more meaningful than the other 10,” Feinsilber said.

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