WILDWOOD - Up until three months ago, Ocean Drive Marathon director Edward DiPalma was worried that he would have to dramatically alter the course for this year's race.
Hurricane Sandy broke through a retaining wall on a portion of Ocean Drive approaching the Townsends Inlet Bridge in Avalon - approximately 23 miles into the 26.2-mile course from Cape May to Sea Isle City - and turned the road into in a crumbled mass of asphalt.
"The road was ruined," DiPalma said Saturday at Wildwoods Convention Center. "I wasn't sure we were going to be able to have the race and if we did, I was thinking about changing it to an out-and-back course. It was touch and go for a while.
"But the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders gave us
permission to have the race and the Cape May County Department of Public Works really came through and repaired it. They put down a bed of gravel and then rolled it. It's still closed to vehicle traffic, but it's going to be open for the runners"
The road will have less foot traffic than in previous years. As of 3 p.m. Saturday, 650 runners had registered for the marathon. That marked a decrease (approximately 20 percent) for the first time in the 15-year history of the race. Another 540 had signed up for the 10-mile race and approximately 250 are scheduled to participate in the five-kilometer run.
The ODM can be tough on runners. Besides having to traverse five bridges, they have had to deal with a head wind for 12 of the 14 previous editions of the marathon. But weather may not be as big a factor this year. The forecast for today, according to weather.com, calls for temperatures in the 40s with winds from the southeast at seven miles per hour.
"I have no idea why our numbers are down this year," DiPalma said. "The only thing I can think of is people from other parts of the country were a little hesitant to register because of the way Hurricane Sandy hit the area"
There are runners from 39 states entered in the marathon, plus at least two from South Africa.
Neither of last year's champions - Brian Waters of Harrisburg, Pa., and Jacqueline Melchior of Olathe, Kan. - is entered this year. In fact, only one of the former ODM winners - 2005 champ Jeff Probert of Wall Township - is in the field.
Rocky Mount, N.C., resident Bruce Newman, who was the only competitor in the wheelchair division last year, will have company this time around. DiPalma said fellow North Carolina resident Paul Kelly will be in the race, plus two or three others from Michigan. They were all competing in a race in Atlanta on Saturday.
Newman completed last year's ODM in 2 hours, 15 minutes and did so without the benefit of an escort for at least part of the race.
"We had someone lead him out of Cape May in a car last year," DiPalma said, "We had another guy on a bicycle that was supposed to lead him through Wildwood, but Bruce was too fast for him. The guy met him at the Crest Tavern and Bruce was out of sight by the time they got to the (Wildwood) Boardwalk."
Today's marathon begins at 9 a.m. today on Beach Avenue in front of Congress Hall and finishes at the JFK Promenade in Sea Isle City.
Contact David Weinberg: