It’s quiet at first, the New York City Marathon. We left the house at about the same time the elite men left Staten Island – 9:50 – and when we got to the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Nassau in Williamsburg, just before Mile 12, there was only the occasional wheelchair athlete going by – laying down, sitting up, propelling themselves a half-dozen different ways – to a smattering of applause from the still-thin crowd. Which grew, after waking up, getting coffees, setting up the portable lawn chairs (smart), (note to self), finishing brunch (casual). The band on our corner was already set up, the horns in fine form. It was beautiful out, blue with barely an edge except when the breeze came up. Kids played behind the police tape. Cops tried to discourage people from randomly crossing the street. Sunday.
And then the helicopter. Followed by the police cars with flashers, the unmarked cars with flashers, the phalanx of motorcycle cops, the scooters, the bikes, a truck full of past Olympians waving, a guy on a skateboard filming. And then a tight clutch of elite women, fluid in their lightness, fast and focused, just down the street, in front of us and gone in a heartbeat. Then more women. Another helicopter/cop car/celebrity/scooter/bike sequence. And the elite men, already almost at the halfway point just an hour after they began. (We train – train is a big word – with a Jamaican ex-boxer who refers to the elites, head bowed and hand over his heart, as “The Africans”.) They, like the women, are exquisitely lean and strong, fiercely fixed on the road ahead, alone. There is no deviation of attention to right or left. Our cheers fall behind them, too slow. They have three of five boroughs yet to cover, and only an hour and seven minutes in which to do it. We cannot help them, so we admire. A blur of fluorescent orange sneakers before they vanish.
Moments later, in the dust of the elite, come a dozen of the merely extraordinary, then several of the absolutely excellent, and then many of the very, very good. And then, as one, the rest of the 50,000 runners, 75% of whom are running their first NYC Marathon. They are a tsunami of feet, a thunder of heartbeats, and they are full of good humor – in tutus, in headdresses with feathers, in a rainbow of color and slogan, they turn the corner, raising their arms and exhorting the crowd to cheer for them, which we do, roaring with all the whistles, noisemakers, balloons, shaken signs (“If The Cubs Can Do It, So Can You!”), applause, shrieks and everything else we’ve got. With just 12 miles under their bibs, they are still strong, still flying their flags and wearing their capes, still high-fiving the spectators.Halfway, they are strong and funny and full of hope, and they need us. We feed them. They take us with them, raucously. And here’s a guy right in front of us who stops to kiss his mom and dad and take a selfie with them and then run away with their Gatorade and their carefully-paced Baggie of orange sections.
And there are so, so many of them. Fifty thousand runners will run past our spot, and it takes forever, and after what seems like a very long time, we get hungry and thirsty, so we go to Frankel’s on Manhattan Avenue and sit in the window, and we finish an organic Irish salmon with cream cheese and capers and onions and tomato on a bagel, and also a pastrami and cheese and egg on challah, and they’re still thick on the street. We stand in line for a cappuccino from Five Leaves and finish it and there are even more, and thousands more heads bob toward us in the sunlight. We take the subway and meet a friend in Grand Central and drink some wine and then we go to the MET and look at the Beckmanns and find a Grecian urn painted with runners – naked ones, 2,500 years old, strikingly modern – and when we come back and get back into the subway, it’s dark out. In our subway car, a fellow is wearing the big gold finisher’s medal around his neck and a pleased air. He’s from Mexico, and has just run the best time ever of all his seven marathons (4:07!), and admits that it’s much easier to run here than at Mexico City’s 3,000 feet of altitude. He’s fine after his 26.2 miles, but really, really hungry now, and at Grand Central, he walks off, just like that, without even looking like he’d just pulled off a small miracle, and goes to look for a burger.
story © Dianna Carr images © Francis Tremblay