Marathoners ran along the park's main roadway, clad in their official ING orange mesh shirts, costumes, signs, flags and even sombreros, as supporters and volunteers cheered them on.
"This is the best unofficial marathon ever," yelled Laura Shultz, 44, an Upper West Side resident who came out to watch the runners.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the marathon Friday night after a growing outcry from elected officials and New Yorkers who were hard-hit by the storm and who said the city ought to focus on ongoing relief efforts rather than the race.
Many runners did four laps around the Central Park loop Sunday morning to complete the 26.2 miles, while others, like William Motley, 29, and his girlfriend Katherine, created their own route to the park. The two ran from Brooklyn and found many other runners when they reached the Brooklyn Bridge. They then ran up the path, along the West Side Highway.
"I completely support the mayor's decision, but I wanted to get a run in and enjoy the atmosphere," Motley said.
Pam Wilson, 48, and Lindsay Stevens, 44, came from Johannesburg, South Africa to run the New York City marathon after training since February.
They stood by the chaotic Central Park finish line at 11 a.m. Sunday, wearing running tops with South African flags and stretching their aching knees after racing 26.2 miles within the park.
"The thing we're quite angry about is that the call [to cancel] wasn't made earlier," Wilson said. "The mayor said, 'Please come,' and we came. We feel a bit conned."
Stevens added that she was glad to see volunteers giving out water and Gatorade and supporting the runners.
"You have to get on with it and rally around — that's what we thought New York was all about," Stevens said.
Without much police presence in Central Park, the path was disorderly, with runners moving in opposite directions, bikes and strollers cruising by and even horse-drawn carriages interfering with the flow. A single ambulance stood by near the finish line within the park at 67th Street and Central Park West, but medical and recovery tents stood empty.
Akiko Nakajima, 49, lives in Queens and said she trained for nearly a year. She wore her orange top and was planning on running in Central Park in the afternoon.
"I almost cried when I heard it was canceled," she said. "I was looking forward to this race. It's so sad, but I understand."
Suzie Biery, 56, flew from Cocoa Beach, Fla., to run the marathon.
"Having gone through hurricanes, the best thing is to get back to normal," Biery said.
"I was almost afraid that stuff was going to be thrown at me," she added, as she caught her breath after running a half-marathon around the park. "I wish I would have known Thursday [that it was canceled.] It cost thousands of dollars to get here."
The New York Road Runners, which helps sponsor and organize the marathon, said it has started a “Race to Recover” Marathon Fund, which has raised $2.6 million, with a gift of $1 million from the NYRR. They've also donated marathon supplies, including water bottles and snacks, to the relief effort.
Emily Debevec, 27, from Brooklyn, came out to support her friend and other runners, yelling "New York loves you," with a sign that read: "You've trained longer than Kim Kardashian was married."
U.S. Rep. Michael G. Grimm, on Staten Island, said he helped a group of a dozen marathoners donate their time to the borough Sunday.
"They even brought Home Depot gift cards with them," a spokesman said.