The city came alive Sunday for the 40th running of the NYC Marathon. As 44,000 runners toiled to conquer the 26.2 mile course that famously meanders its way through the city’s five boroughs, millions of dedicated spectators enthusiastically cheered them on with bells, whistles, flags and banners of all shapes and colors.
Happily planted at mile 26 with an unobstructed front row view of the runners as they came by, just yards away from the finish line and their personal glory, I watched in awe and admiration, secretly thrilled as they smiled or winked at our cheers and returned our high fives.
The NYC Marathon is a truly moving event to experience live. The elite runners are incredible, almost superhuman, cruising through the finish line in a mere two hours. But the real story is the every day folks who make up the rest of the 44,000 pack — the moms, brothers, grandfathers, teachers, construction workers who set out to accomplish a major life achievement. Seeing them persevere to their personal goal, sometimes wincing in pain and emotion, fills you with inspiration and the spirit of the day.
Being able to share in their victory is the most amazing part. There’s a camaraderie that exists between runners and spectators — it’s like a special club for one day of the year where everyone’s welcome, all you have to do is show support. This year I felt it more than ever before in the discovery of a new favorite place to catch the action — mile 26.
Next year skip 1st Avenue and head to the west side to experience the marathon in all its glory:
1. You don’t need tickets to the finish line to share in the runners’ joy: Watching the runners come up the hill and see “200 yards to go” is priceless; you can almost feel their extra burst of energy. So don’t sweat it if you can’t score the elusive finish line tickets.
2. Show up at any time and still get a great view: We strolled over at 1:00 and snagged front row access. A little bit of patience and openings come up within no time, until then the benches that line the route provide a nice arial view. Surprisingly, it was much easier than 1st Avenue even after the run around we encountered from the ING folks when trying to find a public entrance — just know in advance that the best spot to enter is at mile 26.1.
3. The final stretch: The runners come back into the park off Central Park South at Columbus Circle just before mile 26 knowing that they’re in the home stretch. Stroll down to Columbus Circle and watch them stream into the park and embark on the last yards amidst bleachers filled with energetic spectators, it’s an amazing sight to see.
4. The runners are pumped so close to the finish line: It’s amazing, they rally the crowds and take pictures of the lines of people along the route. It’s a whole new experience to share in their enthusiasm as they head down the home stretch.
5. CPW turns into a walk of fame block party: CPW is closed to traffic from Columbus Circle all the way up to the finish line and packed with spectators and runners coming off the finish line. Wearing their mylar blankets as badges of honor they come back down CPW to meet friends and family for their own personal winner’s circle.
The runners’ commitment and pain as they run or hobble by makes the marathon a moving experience, never has that been more true than at mile 26.