NYC Marathon: The Biggest Block Party for Runners

All nine of my 9+1 races in 2017

So, that whole blogging regularly thing… I probably should have looked at the calendar before posting it, because the past few weeks have been insane. The final piece of insanity was this past weekend, filled with marathon festivities and amazing moments with friends.

Saturday really ended my 2017 running year with the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K, aka my final 9+1 race to qualify for next year’s NYC Marathon. I was running it as a fun run, and it’s a great course for that: Starting at the U.N., we ran down to 42nd Street, then headed down 42nd past Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library before hanging a right on Sixth Avenue just after Bryant Park and heading north. Then it was on to Central Park for the final mile-plus, ending at the marathon finish line.

I have no photos of my finish — thanks for those pictures of my right hand, MarathonFoto — but Coach B and her Adventure Twin came out to cheer and snapped a photo of me grinning about a half-mile from the finish. It’s been a while since I went into a race where I was legitimately only running for fun (vs. taking it easy because of injury), and it felt really good. And my time was about five minutes better than I had expected for a fun run, so I was doubly happy.

After some subway shenanigans to meet up with Coach B and Adventure Twin to deal with weekend subway construction, we headed to Brooklyn for the original rainbow bagels, then a shower (for me) and brunch (for all of us) before round 2, the pre-marathon meetup.

During that break, Coach B gave another one of her runners, Back Of The Pack Badass, a pep talk for the marathon, her first. BOTP Badass and I have run together a few times this year as part of 9+1, and so I was listening and mentally taking notes for next year. Adventure Twin, who ran the marathon last year, was listening and reliving his experiences, good and bad. (Lesson 1: Queensboro Bridge is brutal. For everybody.)

Yeah, this was starting to feel real now. What did I get myself into?

The pre-race meetup kept that going. It was a mix of runners and cheerers, local and visiting Sub-30 members (plus a couple of spouses), and people I knew well and ones I was meeting for the first time. Sub-30 gatherings are great because it’s a collection of people who might not otherwise have met if not for the club, so conversation tends to be interesting, both running and non-running.

Sunday actually started later — I could take my local train instead of driving to Secaucus — plus there was the extra hour of sleep. Good thing, because cheering for a marathon (at least the way we do it) is a long day.

We met up in Brooklyn near Mile 12 in time to catch the handrim elites coming through. The bar across the street had the windows open and the music cranked up, so it was basically a block party where the street is blocked off for runners, not partiers. Crowds were pretty sparse then, but by the time the elites came through, our section was so crowded, we moved to a spot where idiots standing on the course weren’t standing in front of us. The marathon is a huge parade of awesome people all running their own race, and we didn’t want to miss it. Good thing, because by the time the first Subber came through, we were in a spot where we could high-five.

The beauty of the marathon is that whether you can see a runner you know or not, you can still see amazing people. The Achilles program allows people with a disability to run the race with a guide. Other dress up. We saw the Blues Brothers, Mario and Luigi, Dorothy and the rest of her Wizard of Oz quartet, one guy running in a sequined string shirt, a few bananas.

Then there are the people running for somebody. I do that once or twice a year for American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation program, and there were plenty of DNation runners out there Sunday. Running for somebody, whether it’s a specific person or you’re running for a cause and several people, is a different experience. It’s hard to explain, but all three times I’ve done it, the race has had more meaning for me, and the training has been as important as the race. So when I see runners out there in a shirt for DNation, or Team for Kids, or Team RWB, I’m cheering for them.

We stayed in Brooklyn, even when it started raining, until the last Subber came through at about 2:15 p.m. Then it was back to Midtown Manhattan for a really late lunch before working our way through the security maze to cheer at mile 26 in Central Park. By the time we made our way to the course, it was getting dark and we were seeing the runners who had been out there for at least five hours. So we found a spot that was well-lit enough that our sign was visible and set up with the club flag, signs and cowbells. Lots of cowbells.

A marathon is a huge freaking achievement, something only 1 percent of Americans ever do. Like any race, if you’re doing it, it’s going to hurt. It hurts if you’re running 5-minute miles, and it hurts if you’re running 18-minute miles. The biggest difference is how long the hurt lasts. These runners coming in now, the group I’ll probably be part of next year? They’ve been out there for twice as long as the winners and watching them, you can tell. But when they heard the cowbells ringing and our whooping and hollering, a lot of them smiled, or visibly perked up. I’ve had races where I’ve done that. I also remember races where I appreciated the cheering, but just didn’t have it in me to respond because I was focused on just getting across the finish line before I died. We cheered for everybody, and it was a blast. That bond in the running community that we all share comes out at times like this, and it’s awesome.

As our BOTP Subbers came through, starting with BOTP Badass, we got a bunch of sweaty hugs, some smiles and some thumbs-up before they each headed up the final hill to the finish line. Seeing everybody hit their goals (and I think most of the Subbers hit at least one of their goals) was awesome.

Next year, that’s going to be me.

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