This month, I completed my second New York City Marathon. While many friends and family members congratulate me for what they see as an impressive accomplishment, I see the experience as a privilege.
Sure, it takes a lot of training to be able to run 26.2 miles in one stretch. I logged nearly 400 miles — and wore through a pair of shoes — in the four months leading up to the marathon.
But once training is out of the way, the marathon itself is a 26.2-mile-long block party, made possible not only by my training, but by the enthusiasm of the 2+ million New Yorkers who line the streets to cheer on total strangers by name and hand out water, bananas, bagels, saltine crackers, candy bars, pretzels and paper towels.
Because I had my name printed on my shirt, I heard “Go Vince, go Vince, go Vince!” for most of the five hours it took me to complete the course. I high-fived hundreds of spectators along the way. It’s no wonder I had a smile on my face as I ran through five boroughs, across five bridges and through countless neighborhoods, each with its own character.
This year, the winds gusted up to 40 mph, but the crowds were still out. And we runners were enthusiastic, too. Nothing can full convey the excitement of the starting line, but for an idea of it, check out this video I shot just moments after a cannon signaled the start for those of us in Wave 2.
In 2010, I documented the journey in a short article in the Staten Island Advance, which I will paste below. In the meantime, I can report that I have fulfilled the requirements to run in 2015. Assuming I stay injury-free (which I never take for granted), I expect to be back at that starting line on Nov. 1, 2015, and every subsequent year that I am able to.
This isn’t something to be crossed off a bucket list. This is experiencing New York at its best, and I can’t imagine not taking advantage of it.
Coast Guard choppers buzzed low over Fort Wadsworth on Nov. 7 as I joined more than 43,000 people from around the world at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
The normally peaceful federal park was a sea of runners, UPS trucks and porta-potties. As I entered the corral that corresponded with my bib number, the sharp boom of a cannon signaled the start of the 41st ING/New York City Marathon.
A small crowd of Italians raised their eyebrows and cheered. The first wave of athletes, the elite and competitive, were now racing toward Brooklyn. For those of us in the second wave, our own cannon boom would come in a half hour. We gathered on the bridge’s off-ramp. Loudspeakers played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Runners shed their jackets. And within minutes, we were running across the eastbound lanes of the bridge.
The excitement on the bridge was more palpable than it was in the corrals. Scores of runners stopped to take pictures. We were more than 250 feet above the Narrows, with a commanding view of our destination across the harbor — Manhattan.
One of the best decisions I made was to put my first name on the front of my shirt. As soon as I was off the span and in Bay Ridge, spectators cheered me by name. Instead of music from my iPod, I ran to the sounds of clanging cowbells, clapping and shouts of “Go Vince!”
The streets of Sunset Park, Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint were one long party. The sounds of the crowds kept my legs moving, and the sight of the signs kept a smile on my face. Some of my favorites included: “Run like you stole something;” “Unlike the MTA, you run;” and, “They’re running out of wine at the finish line.”
I didn’t smile for every step. The Queensboro Bridge incline is physically exhausting and, with no crowds to cheer us on, the eerie silence is a mental challenge. I considered pulling my headphones from my pocket, but high-energy music would only speed me up and deplete the energy I would need in the last few miles.
A wall of sound greeted us as we came off the bridge and onto First Avenue. The party was back, and it ran from 59th Street well into the 100s.
After a quick mile through the Bronx, the Madison Avenue Bridge brought us back to Manhattan, where each mile marker seemed to take longer than the last. Fifth Avenue is a slow, steady incline. I checked my Garmin often, calculating in my head how fast I needed to run to break 4:30.
The Central Park crowds were plentiful, but they, too, seemed exhausted—perhaps from cheering all day. It was tough for me to smile as I rounded Central Park South. Then one stranger called me by name, and I responded with a smile, a thumbs up, maybe even a “yeaaah! thank you!”
That scene repeated itself a few times as I pushed myself through the park. Those cheers and the ticking clock kept me running.
At 4:29:18, I crossed the finish line. Five boroughs and bridges, and nearly 100 high-fives later, I earned the right to wear my “To hell and back” marathon T-shirt.
Until that point, my longest run was a painful 20 miles along the Jersey Shore on a windy October morning. A friend and 2009 marathoner advised: “If you can do 20 miles on your own, you can do 26.2 with 40,000 other people and about a million cheering you on.”
She couldn’t have put it better, except that the spectators number about 2.5 million, and their energy made all the difference.