Connecticut mom keeps promise to run for charity after NYC Marathon is canceled

Superstorm Sandy didn't stop Karin Keith from running 26.2 miles and raising money for a childhood friend's fight against breast cancer.

Keith, a 43-year-old mother of three, had trained to run in the New York City Marathon, which was canceled at the last minute amid the aftermath of Sandy. So Keith, a real estate agent from Fairfield, Conn., joined 13 runners affiliated with Connecticut Challenge — a nonprofit cancer charity co-founded by her husband, Jeff — to run a marathon-length stretch throughout Fairfield and Westport on Sunday.

“I was running in honor of a childhood friend, Amy Nessel, who has been fighting Stage 4 breast cancer for two and a half years,” Keith said. “So I set a goal to raise money and it was going to be an incredibly emotional day for both of us, and then New York got canceled.”

"It was so much more personal than a big city marathon could ever be.”

— Runner Karin Keith

Rather than retire her bib or stow away her sneakers, Keith, who had trained for the race since August, ran alongside Nessel as she rode her bike 26-plus miles in the November chill.

“We said, ‘You know what?’ We’re still going to go out and run,” Keith said. “We’re going to do the whole thing.”

Keith, who was without power for five days following Sandy’s wrath, had raised $8,000 for the race and was determined to see the finish line — at whatever cost.

“I told people I was going to do this run and I was ready to do it,” she said. “As long as we weren’t taxing the area in some way, I think the spirit of getting out there and running is important, that we can do this and we can come back after the storm.”

The makeshift course, which closely followed a 25-mile bicycle loop that’s part of the charity’s annual summer bike ride, was a hilly and challenging trek, but well worth the effort, said Keith, who was greeted by relatives at virtually every checkpoint.

“To run a marathon and have your family literally right there on the road with you, it was such an incredibly cool experience,” she said. “It truly was a great community coming together and making the best of it.”

Keith said the race was quickly organized by her husband shortly after news that the New York City Marathon had been canceled spread among running circles. There was never a question as to if there’d be a race of some sort, she said.

“He knew I was ready to run,” Keith said of her husband Jeff. “And he put it together.”

Jeff Keith, co-founder and president of the Connecticut Challenge, was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma at age 12 and soon lost his right leg. He later ran across the country in 1985, covering the 3,000-mile trip from Boston to Los Angeles while raising more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society. He also has founded Swim Across America and Swim Across the Sound, two nonprofit cancer research organizations.

“He has a gift of being able to really pull together for people,” Keith said of her husband. “He was on the road, he was at every single water station making sure people were safe. It was an amazing day on so many levels.”

Keith, who was initially doubtful the New York City Marathon would take place after Sandy’s direct East Coast hit, said she’s grateful she was able to exert the “pent-up energy” she had reserved for the run.

“I would love to have the experience of New York one day, but you couldn’t have planned it better, really,” she said. “To have my whole family there, giving high-fives every three miles and to have neighbors come out, it was unbelievable. It was so much more personal than a big city marathon could ever be.”

Meanwhile, in New York’s iconic Central Park, thousands of would-be marathoners put in an unofficial 26.2 miles on Sunday like Keith after Friday's last-minute cancellation.

"A lot of people just wanted to finish what they started," Lance Svendsen, who organized an alternative marathon called Run Anyway, told the Associated Press. "It is amazing. My guess is about 600 people have left so far."