The New York City Marathon is truly a multicultural and awe-inspiring experience. From the multilingual banners at the pre-race expo to the spectators’ signs along the course (“¡Si se puede!” and “Vive Le France” to name just two), it is clear that NY draws athletes and crowds from across the globe. Even at the Staten Island “villages” where runners gather for hours before lining up at the start, a 20 minute Port-O-Potty line is only long enough to hear two cycles of pre-recorded instructions in about a dozen languages. The energy, number of languages, and runners wearing hand-me-downs to keep warm in 30 degree weather and shed at the starting line, these villages seem like a cross between a refugee camp and Woodstock.
The race itself proves the point. I heard the crowds screaming for Italy, France, Mexico, Canada, Chile and Norway (not to mention the Ethiopian and Kenyan frontrunners). The signs and music displayed each neighborhood’s style and culture, from the bagpipes of Bay Ridge, to Salsa in Sunset Park to rap and hip-hop in the Bronx and Harlem.
Miles 10-12: South Williamsburg is another story. The course brings the runners along Bedford Ave. through Hasidic Williamsburg – dozens of Hasids on each block, watching the race – and deafening silence. Hasidic men watched us out of the corners of their eyes, as if thinking, “Why run, if Pharaoh’s not chasing you?” And the women and children stood nervously at the corners, contemplating the ideal time to dash in front of the runners to cross the street, seemingly annoyed that we would dare disrupt their routine, so soon after Shabbos.
The silence was broken by the hipsters of North Williamsburg and Greenpoint, who treated us to the music of the newest indy rock bands (whoever they are) that haven’t sold-out yet.
Miles 15-18: First Ave came as advertised: the adrenaline-inducing crowds after the pace-killing Queensboro bridge (where, during this race, the world marathon record holder, Haile Gebrasalassie, QUIT the race and retired from running). First Avenue sported huge crowds and more countries represented than the United Nations. And I soon passed the most prominent runner of the race – the Chilean miner recently rescued from months underground.
I waved hi to some family and friends, and then got “in the zone” to power through the last 9 miles of the race.
Miles 18 to 22 were pretty much a blur, nothing to report. And I would love to forget Miles 22-24 – a increasingly steep incline up 5th Avenue to reach the final leg of the race in Central Park.
Suddenly…it was over. The last few turns through the park were the loudest, the most inspiring and most painful part of the race. And 365 yards (the 0.2 of the 26.2) has never felt so long. I would have actually preferred to run another mile, just to postpone the wave of pain which took over my legs as soon as I stopped running. But it was a good pain nevertheless – a pain that confirmed (in case there was any doubt) that I finished a marathon.