Runners gathered in the early morning darkness on Staten Island. They passed confetti cannons in Brooklyn and a heavy metal band in Queens. And after being cheered on in the South Bronx, they drove through Manhattan and ended in Central Park, where volunteers greeted them with medals and ponchos and cheered supporters from the stands.
After being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York City Marathon returned for its 50th edition on Sunday. For many New Yorkers, the race served as a metaphor for the city’s difficult recovery after being one of the places most devastated by the pandemic, an opportunity to express pride and give back to the community after months of lockdown and halt to reopening efforts.
The race was still limited in some ways. The field of 30,000 participants was about 40% smaller than the 2019 group, which had more than 53,000 participants. The riders were spread over five waves, with longer intervals between their starts than in previous years. Race organizers had decided to reduce the crowds around the hydration and refueling stations, and the festivities at the finish line were relatively subdued.
Still, it was hard to escape the collective optimism, a feeling reinforced by the hot sun, cool air and colorful fall foliage along the course and upon arrival in Central Park.
“It was just like a homecoming party,” said Joe Shayne, running coach for New York Running Club TeamWRK, after finishing the race. Shayne said local running clubs were out in force during the race to celebrate the return of the marathon.
Rykiel Levine, an emergency room resident at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, stepped out as a medical volunteer for the first time.
“It means that the world is getting back to normal, which is really exciting,” she said. “And it’s really nice to see the city come together and connect and make us feel like this pandemic may be behind us. “
The marathon brought many familiar scenes back to the city.
For some participants, like Grace Ackerman, it meant shaking nerves. She was running her first marathon and ate peanut butter on toast as she sat on the floor of the Staten Island ferry station before the start. Ackerman, 23, said she would focus on her training even if she became physically tired.
“At the end of the day, I have practiced and I can do it,” she said. “I just need to remember that.”
For others, it was about finding the best way to accompany the participants in the race.
Boris and Yelena Sobolev, a married couple from Staten Island, have volunteered for the marathon for six years. On the starting area on Sunday, Boris said he was “very excited”.
“They have so much energy that you literally feel it in the air,” he said.
Yelena added: “I was very upset last year. You get energy for the whole year, it’s amazing. You have to feel it. “
The area near Cumberland Street and Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn was electric, with runners slowing down and dancing to rapper Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” as they made their way along the course. The DJ, acknowledging the interruption of the marathon last year, told the runners: “We can’t even tell you how much we missed you. We’re back, that’s all that matters.
As runners filled the streets of First Avenue in Manhattan, people shouted, whistled, rang cowbells and a live band played “Ring of Fire.”
Brian Dillon strolled the course in Bay Ridge, where he had lived all his life, wearing an absolutely special accessory: a miniature replica of Parachute Jump, the old amusement park ride at Coney Island. Her brother had made it for a previous mermaid parade with cardboard, barbecue skewers, foil on top of yogurt pots, plastic milk jugs, fishing line and lots of glue.
In the Bronx, members of the Boogie Down Bronx Runners cheered on the group’s 35 participants, many of whom were running their first marathon.
“We’re trying to prove that we’re not the sickest county in New York State,” group member Vanessa Gamarra said. “There is so much more to the Bronx community. “
And although in the marathon, as in life, it was the journey and not the destination, for many participants the finish line offered a sense of relief and triumph.
Amanda Chang, 27, completed her first New York Marathon and second marathon. She was happy crossing the finish line.
“The crowd is amazing,” she said. “I feel like this is what Kim Kardashian looks like – a red carpet, everyone is applauding.”
Josh Cassidy, who finished fourth in the men’s wheelchair division, said the race was “surprisingly really great”.
He had competed in Boston but had taken time off for the birth of his son two weeks ago and had modest expectations for himself.
“It’s so good to be back in New York,” he said. “I missed it.”
And for some, the race brought a revival.
Joel Gonzalez watched the race on First Ave with two huge Puerto Rican flags. Gonzalez, who ran the 2017 and 2018 marathons, said he was there to cheer on everyone but especially the Latin community.
He said he plans to use the day as a personal reset – he’s going to quit smoking. And tomorrow Gonzalez was planning to start training for next year’s marathon.
Traci Carl, Nadav Gavrielov, Talya Minsberg, Karsten Moran, Alexandra E. Petri, Ashley Wong and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.