The New York City Marathon is the largest, most popular marathon in the world, drawing NBA All-Stars, record-setting runners from around the world, charities, and lobbyists that want to make a point this year.
But for average New Yorkers, the marathon is a chance to get in the zone, see their city, and run all five boroughs without having to worry about traffic lights.
“It gets me out of my head,” said Alexander Kok, 32, who will be running in the NYC Marathon for the first time Sunday. “It’s relaxing and energetic, and powerful.”
Central Park, the West Side Highway, and Roosevelt Island typically set the scene for these runs. Kok lives on the Upper East Side where it’s a short walk to the park; convenient since he has been running four to five times a week to prepare for the marathon.
It will be the second marathon he has run.
About three years ago, Kok started running actively to stay fit. Eventually he started doing half-marathons, just to show he could. Then a friend invited him to run the NYC Marathon for charity—to raise money for Standing Tall, a school in Harlem helping children with physical impairments. He happily accepted.
So three months ago, Kok ran a marathon in Alaska as a warm up.
“It was quite a nice temperature, and fairly flat,” Kok said. It just made him that much more excited for the NYC run.
“It’s different because it’s such an important event in the city,” Kok said. It makes him proud to be in New York, proud to run for Standing Tall, and proud to be a part of the event. “It is like one of those things you have to do in your life.”
The Great Outdoors
“New York has such an active running culture here, it’s a good social activity,” said Chet Mancini, who had been offered a spot in the marathon by a friend. “It doesn’t take much planning, and you can enjoy the great outdoors.”
Mancini, 26, a software engineer living in Williamsbur
“It’s relaxing to enjoy the scenery,” said Mancini. While his body focuses on moving along the path, his mind relaxes and takes in the views of Prospect Park, East River Park, Central Harlem, Staten Island, Colonial Williamsburg, and some far-flung trails in corners of the city he would not have ventured to if not to just run.
New York City is the greatest city, but when you live there you just spend all of your time inside an office, said Andrew Keet. He always played sports in the other cities he’s lived in—along with snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing—but it was too much of a hassle to continue in New York City.
“But I needed to get outdoors and exercise,” said Keet. Just being outside, running and people watching, is one of the best experiences, he said.
The only downside, if ever, is having to fight traffic if he’s taking a route with intersections. So the idea of being able to run five boroughs undeterred by traffic lights sounded amazing.
“I’m super, super stoked,” Keet said. “The crowds are going to come out and make it even more amazing. It’s one of the best places to run in the world.”
Kimberly Winston lives and works in Lower Manhattan, but her runs take her over the bridges, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, up to the Queensboro Bridge, and through Roosevelt Island.
“I like that you can have a different scenery for every run if you want,” said Winston, an executive producer with NY1. “I love that it leaves me with a clear head and a sense of accomplishment.”
A few years ago, Winston was living between First and Second avenues, and would watch marathoners go by every year. She said to herself, “That’s going to be me one day.”
“I wasn’t a runner at all,” Winston said. But she signed up for the Brooklyn Half marathon in 2011.
“Most people don’t start with a half marathon as their first race, but go big or go home, right?” She ran the halls marathon that year, but didn’t get a spot in the NYC Marathon. In 2012, Winston got into the NYC Marathon, but was unable to run.
That year, Hurricane Sandy hit and the marathon was canceled. After the storm, the mayor had said the race would go on. But the runners didn’t feel right, and the growing public outcry led to organizers closing the race for the first time in its 42 years.
So in 2013, Winston ran her first marathon. This year, she’ll be doing it again with three coworkers.
“I am feeling nervous! Even though I’ve done it before, you still wonder—did you train enough, how are you going to feel on race day,” Winston said. “I had such an amazing experience last year that I just hope it is equal to that or even better.”
The runner’s high is real, said Jessica Defilippo.
Defilippo is one of many New Yorkers who had no interest in running until they started. The city is full of running clubs and organizations. There is rarely a morning in one of the city’s larger parks where one doesn’t see a jogger.
“It’s introduced me to an amazingly supportive running community,” said Defilippo, who will be running her third marathon on Sunday. “It’s become a lifestyle.”
She moved to the city straight out of college and it has been the place she’s built her life.
“Running through the boroughs by foot feels like a celebration of all those things and so many more,” she said. It’s not just a marathon, it’s the best of New York City and its residents.
“There really is nothing like it,” said Defilippo. “Each borough has its own unique and special feeling as you pass through it. It’s those crowds that carry you right to the finish line.”
Health and Hope
Running is one of the best parts of life for Elizabeth Maiuolo, but it did not start out that way.
A decade ago, Maiuolo, who works in nonprofit, had a heart attack at age 28 and was faced with a lifetime of pills, surgeries, and check-ups. Her doctor said it was that, or a lifestyle change. She chose the latter.
Maiuolo started running—and hated it.
“I was in awful shape,” Maiuolo said. She would do a quarter mile on a treadmill and feel like death. But she did not want another heart attack, and pushed on.
She became healthier over the years. Maiuolo was kind to her body, and felt rewarded by it in return. She started running longer distances, blogging about running, and used her experiences to inspire others.
In 2008 Maiuolo ran in the NYC Marathon for the first time, and has done so every year since.
“It’s fantastic,” Maiuolo said. “It feels very liberating, very relaxing … you’re running through your city and it’s very exciting, very inspiring.”
And there’s nothing like the crowds that show up.
“It feels like a party. The biggest party in the world,” Maiuolo said.