There is nothing easy about the New York City Marathon.
So why do I love it so much?
It’s hard even getting INTO the NYCM. Last year, a record 105,000+ people entered the lottery to secure one of 15,000 bib numbers. The other 35,000 numbers go to international runners, charity runners and other “guaranteed” entrants—sponsors, affiliates and oh, right, the professional runners. Those people. The ones who might actually win.
When I first ran it, in 1989, I filled out a paper application, wrote a check, put a stamp on an envelope and took it to the post office. Which I realize sounds as quaint and improbable as riding a horse and buggy. Nearly 25,000 people ran it; less than 5,000 were women. We got cotton T-shirts, which I still love.
And with more than 50,000 participants, every part of running it is a logistical challenge. I left my house at 5:30 on the morning of the marathon to get to the staging area on Staten Island, and sit for a couple of hours waiting for my start and didn’t get home until 5:30—that’s a 12-hour day for four+ hours of running through the five boros of NYC (that is, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan).
AND the course itself is hard! Not that any marathon is “easy,” but NYC has so many hilly rises and dips in the second half that I’ve never managed a “negative split”—that is, to run the second half faster than the first. This year, I ran the second half only 4 minutes slower than the first half, which felt like a minor victory.
If this doesn’t sound like a fantastic way to cover 26.2 miles, I do understand. The NYCM is not for everyone.
So, wait, WHY do I love it so much?
If you live in the greater NYC metro region (I’m in NJ), NYC is THE marathon.
People (non-runner division) ask, “Are you running THE marathon?”
If you’re running a different one—say Philadelphia—the non-runners say, with perhaps a little pity, “Oh. How long is THAT marathon?”
And then there are the famous spectators. When you cross from Queens to Manhattan on the 59th Street bridge and hit First Avenue around mile 16, you run into a tunnel of sound so loud, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like Taylor Swift making her entrance to a sold-out crowd at MetLife Stadium.
Nearly 2 million spectators line the course, and this year it was more packed than ever, I think because the weather was perfect for them—55 degrees and bright sunny sun. (Sun and 55 is not “perfect” for runners, despite what the TV announcers told you, especially for those of us who start late and run slow.) The spectators pushed in so far that at times it was like running through the Tour de France. Allez allez allez!
The subway makes it easy for spectators to see their runners in a few spots. My people—boyfriend Rick and daughter Nina—came to mile 8 in Brooklyn, and miles 17 and 23 in Manhattan. It’s such a charge to find YOUR people in the great screaming sea of spectators. Thank you, Rick and Nina!
And then there are all the different people running the race—young and old, slim and not so, multi-marathoners and first-timers. I chatted at the start line with a woman from South Africa. With all due respect to the elite marathoners, the “real” runners are just as interesting (if not more so) to me. The runners in the “streaker” club wore bibs on their backs with the number of NYCMs completed—I saw a man with 47 on his back! 47! That’s almost back to the very first NYCM! (1970)
Honestly, the NYCM is as exciting to watch as it is to run.
Around the 20-mile mark, I heard people say that Mary Keitany won. It was her fourth NYC win, and her time of 2:22:48 was only 17 seconds off the course record, which would’ve earned her a nice $50K bonus. (Dang!) Last year’s super champ, Shalane Flanagan, came in third. (Some men won the men’s race, I’m pretty sure, but they’re not my problem.)
Next year, 2019, will be 30 years since I ran my first NYCM. (Wait, how did THAT happen?) I hope I can get in, because I think that would be a pretty cool way to circle back to the beginning of my marathon adventures.