Runway 5K postponed until fall, Relay For Life will go on as planned

South Florida runners won't be the first to christen the new Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport runway after all.

Four days before the airport was scheduled to welcome thousands for the Inaugural Runway 5K, the event was canceled Tuesday over logistical concerns.

The accompanying Relay For Life on the Runway, benefiting the American Cancer Society, will go on Saturday as planned, but race organizers and airport officials decided that hosting both the relay and 5K was too much for a runway still under construction, said airport spokesman Greg Meyer.

Instead, the 5K will be postponed until the fall.

The elevated airstrip, scheduled to open to commercial airline traffic on Sept. 18, is still an active construction site, with dump trucks traversing the area 24 hours a day. The relay — complete with opening ceremonies and a survivors' lap on a makeshift track, less than a quarter-mile around — is restricted to a small space, but the 5K would have taken up about half of the runway's 8,000-foot length.

"When we started talking to the contractors and looking at site plans and factoring in 2,000 runners and vendors and tents, we just felt like it was better to separate the two events and postpone the 5K," Meyers said. "While it's unfortunate, we decided it was the most logistical, practical and safety-minded thing to do."

Though the 5K was capped at 2,000 runners because of transportation challenges posed by runners having to be shuttled to the runway from off-site locations, the novelty of the event continued to attract more participants than expected to the relay, Meyer said. The volume proved too much in the end. At least hundreds of relay walkers and runners are expected, but American Cancer Society officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday to provide the latest count.

Monique Stephens, senior manager of the society's Relay For Life Florida Division, sent out a mass email to 5K participants saying everyone would have their $15 or $20 registration fee refunded in the coming weeks.

"This process will take a couple weeks as there is some complications to get everyone refunded at once," Stephens wrote.

Although a new date has not yet been selected, Meyers said the 5K will be held sometime in the fall, when the new runway will have to close down briefly anyway for a disaster drill.

The refund and vague plans for a fall date were little consolation to some runners, who looked forward to making a little history. Saturday's event marks the first time the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport hosted a run or walk of any kind on its grounds.

"I was absolutely, totally, completely disappointed," said Helene Albee, 62, a medical transcriptionist from Plantation. "There were so many people who were psyched up for this, and they tell us this, what, three days before? How disappointing."

The run/walk has been two years in the making. It evolved when American Cancer Society officials approached the airport about hosting a run on the roof of one of its parking garages, but after that effort fell through, the airport suggested the elevated airstrip as a venue.

nbrochu@sun-sentinel.com