New York City Marathon

t an enthusiastic amateur runner the participation in the New York City Marathon is one of the greatest things you can experience. I wanted to run it for quite some time. But that is easier said than done. In fact the New York Marathon is not a run where you simply sign up for. There are two ways you can try your luck. Either you try the absolutely overpriced version, using an authorized tour operator, or go for the second option: a lottery. For me there was really only one option, the lottery and -believe it or not- I won a starting position. So I "only" had to cover my own expenses. You can probably imagine that this is still a big chunk for a globetrotter.

Boston, here I come

When I worked in the U.S. years ago, I only had a chance to see New York City before I headed further south. However all the people I had met raved about Boston. With ten days to spare,
Boston Whale Watching
Whale Watching in Boston
I had the opportunity to extend my vacation a little and so, included Boston in my itinerary.

Once there I plunged straight into the classic tourist program like visiting Harvard and the MIT. I was even lucky and was able to join an interesting architecture lecture at the MIT.

Additionally, whale watching could not be missed. Let's go the whole hog. Brrrrr, it was cold. And it was not even worth it, as I didn’t seen much.
Then New York was closing in. I bought a $15 bus ticket in Boston’s Chinatown. The price was dirt cheap, therefore it would become a bus tour of the "other" kind. The "ticket shop” was a small table in front of a bakeries counter. When I asked the baker, she called someone to sit behind the table and voila, the "Travel Agency" was opened.

Even for American standards, the ride was rather unconventional. There were only Chinese passengers on board. No one spoke a single word of English. Even the bus drivers didn’t. On top of that, the ride was accompanied by Chinese music and film. It felt like being on the Chinese mainland.

Big Apple

New York City - Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Back home in Germany, I had reserved a centrally located artist hotel in Manhattan. The location was fantastic. The Empire State Building was only five blocks away. At that time Nina Hagen stayed there as well and performed at the hotel's small theatre. What perfect conditions for a great time.

After arriving in NYC, I met Petra, a friend of mine who completed an internship in New York at that time.

New York City - Fireworks
Fireworks in order to get attuned
It is a tradition for all marathon that on the eve of the run there is a big pasta party to fill up the energy stores and of course we participated intensely. The culmination of this celebration was a big fireworks show in honour of the runners.

Being ice cold in the queue

And then the big day had finally arrived. Between 5 and 7 in the morning the runners were picked up by tons of busses at 42th street and 5th Avenue, before being transported to the starting area. That was absolute madness. 32,560 runners from 97 countries had to be at Staten Island by 7am at the latest, as the bridges were closed down for traffic at 7 o’clock. Because every few seconds a participant bus hit the streets, even the whole 5th Avenue was blocked. It was organised chaos.

And how could it be otherwise? Even though on the day of days there was no rain, it was freezing cold. After I had attended the coolest Halloween in Boston for years, the NYC marathon was about to set up a similarly miserable record. The only good thing was that I had heard beforehand that we would have to wait for three hours outside in the cold and so, I had brought a thick blanket with me. Next to me was a girl who already was having a shivering attack and her lips were turning blue. Therefore I gave her my blanket and earned a look of deepest gratitude. I hope that good karma would pay off later on ;-)


New York City Empire State Building
New York City Marathon - Start
Pushing and shoving at the start
And then it finally happened and at about 11:15 the NYC marathon officially started. Abruptly more than 32,000 runners stormed over two floors onto the Verrazano Bridge. Pure madness. It kind of felt like being on a battlefield. And although we were divided into different starter groups, it was much too much and the start was more like a war zone than a marathon.

After the Verrazano bridge the course went through Brooklyn, the first of the five. "Going” describes it pretty well. Real running was unthinkable in such a crowd with all the pushing and shoving. There was some compensation with the hundreds of spectators cheering us along the course. But unfortunately that did not help much. My starter group was simply too slow. And starting at the end of the group did not help either. Thus a real slalom began and I even had to climb over barriers to overtake the slower runners. I was far from finding my own running rhythm.

The different groups joined at the 8th Mile. I had hoped that by then, the field would be extended in length and the situation would unwind. But unfortunately the crowded conditions intensified.

Dragged along by the crowd, we reached Queens. A spectator held up a sign saying in big letters "Surprise you are in Queens". From here it was not far and the Queensborough Bridge came into view. Just over the bridge and I was in the middle of Manhattan. A great feeling!
As appointed, Petra was waiting just at the other side of the bridge. I had not expected to recognize her in the great mass of people. But she spotted me immediately and waved and shouted to me. Her first comment was, "You look still quite fresh". Well, no wonder. Until then in terms of physical exertion, there was not much, with all the pushing, shoving and climbing.

New York City - Manhattan
But it was slowly getting better and I quickly grabbed another banana from Petra before running down 1th Avenue, through Harlem and over the next bridge into the Bronx. In that part of Marathon, only a few people were watching and the atmosphere was accordingly calm. However the section through the South Bronx was relatively short and another bridge brought us back to Harlem. It was there I already started my sprint. I knew that the time I was hoping for, was out of reach. But at least I wanted to get as close to it as possible. Just before the beginning of Central Park I switched into the final sprint mode. I spotted another runner in front of me, who tried the same and together we sprinted in slalom round the runners almost to the finish.

Anaerobic? Does not matter - Just get weaving!

In textbook style, I fully sprinted the last few miles. Everything I learned about aerobic / anaerobic running was forgotten at that moment. Being inspired by the cheering of the crowds I simply got weaving at full speed. Although of course they cheered all runners, I had the feeling as if they all had been there just for me. So I literally floated -well, at least it was my impression- over the finish line. My stopwatch showed a sparse four hours. Too bad, I was really disappointed. I had trained hard and had caught a good form on the day. At least 3:15 or less would have easily been possible on that day. But I guess that I lost at least half an hour only at the beginning. But as the winner crossed the finishing line at 2:08 I guess that for us amateur runners, only the Olympic motto applies: Participation is everything!

New York City Marathon Finish
Freezing at the finish line
And here I am. At the target. THE target. I was there. I had managed to finish the New York City Marathon. Even though the winner received their medal a few meters away, we got the mandatory aluminium emergency blanket. And we certainly needed it, because it was still bitterly cold. Shortly after arriving - I once again got stuck in a human traffic jam - I also began to shiver. My body cooled down too quickly. It felt like it took hours to get to the place where the truck where I deposited my clothes was, at the start.

As I hadn’t left any proper warm clothes at the finish, I immediately headed back to the hotel and warmed up with a long, hot shower.

In the evening there was a big celebration where the pros got their medals and everybody -or at least who was still able to- danced all night long.

On Monday, all finishers were published with their names and finish times in the New York Times. Of course I immediately bought a copy. Honestly, how often are you mentioned in the Times as an average Joe citizen?

The final tourist program

New York City Statue of Liberty
Touri- Prog.
For the grand finale of my visit there was still some tourist plans on my schedule, like a ferry ride to Staten Iceland, or the Guggenheim Museum with some "interesting" video installations, which did not quite meet my taste. Or how the German comedian Hape Kerkeling said: "I lacked the intellectual approach". However from an architectural point of view, the museum itself of course, was a must see.

Setting of to new adventures

The ten days were over quickly. Especially the marathon had burnt into my memory. There were 2 ½ million people along the course who ensured an unforgettable atmosphere. Just awesome. I am happy to have captured some of the moments while running, with a little disposable camera. Thus, the anticipation for the next run stays alive. In fact already happened just two weeks later. An underground run in a salt mine. But that's another story...

I am very much looking forward to your questions and comments in the guestbook.

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New York City Marathon