"It was kind of eerie because initially there was no one, and then suddenly there was everyone," said Busch, who had arrived around 7 a.m.
Runners refueled at hot dog stands and dodged cyclists and strolling tourists.
"This is the great power of running," said Vincent Laiz, 37, who came from Spain. Seconds later, his impromptu and international group counted down the seconds, in German, to 8 a.m., whooped and set off.
Some, like a team from Bermuda, hadn't fully shaken the sadness of the cancellation. "It's like when you find out that Santa Claus isn't real," said Spencer Conway, 30, who had turned his country's flag into a cape.
Many runners found a way to volunteer for storm victims.
Instead of running his first marathon, Akil Defour of Brooklyn climbed 20 flights of stairs in a building without power or heat in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver water, blankets and peanut butter sandwiches.
"I knew I wanted to volunteer after they canceled the marathon," said Defour, 30, who put in five hours of work with his running team. "We decided it would be easier for us athletes to go up and down the buildings."
On Staten Island, where the marathon course begins, the runners with backpacks emerged from the ferry for a quick, emotional briefing.
"The devastation and damage you are about to wander into," said Staten Island resident Jonscott Turco, who paused, almost teary. "It's pretty extraordinary. The only thing I can prepare you for is they're still finding people, remains."
The landscape worsened as they approached the waterfront. Shuttered gas stations. Long gas lines, with people asleep in their cars.
One man honked and yelled, "There's no marathon! Go home!" But people standing outside one deli yelled encouragement: "Thank you, ladies!" ''God is good!"