On They Go: A Love Note to NYC Marathoners

Photo by Caitlyn Kim/WNYC

Photo by Caitlyn Kim/WNYC

Few things are as stark as the difference between watching runners of the New York City Marathon (pacing between 8:45 and 10:45-minute miles) at mile 18 on First Avenue and then again at mile 23.5 on Fifth Avenue. At mile 18 runners are newly rejuvenated by raucous cheers of strangers and the occasional friend from 60th Street to 97th Street, feeding them the unquantifiable energy and the experience that maybe, perhaps, they’re not alone in all this.

But cross directly west to Fifth Avenue twenty to thirty minutes later, and you see in technicolor the breaking of spirit, the disbelief of what still lies ahead (even when they exit the shadowy avenue and enter Central Park, they know they’ve still got two excruciating miles to go). Doubt gives way to panic then to a near defeat-accepting state of shock and exhaustion.

Simultaneously though, you see legs moving, bodies projecting forth. No matter the speed, no matter the split time; most runners at this stage (third or fourth wave starters, running for health, for personal victory, for family, for charity) propel themselves forward, despite all. Their pain is exceeded by a seemingly programmatic force that moves them slowly but steadily along the never-ending upward incline that is Fifth Avenue between 120th and 90th Streets.

They march on, walking, jogging, running or barely inching forward in turn, but on they go. And if you’re watching them at this point in their race, you do everything at your disposal: shout, smile, extend a high five or banana in order to give them any iota of psychic fuel to burn for the propulsion needed to carry on. On they go, and you can’t help but feel a familial pride for each and every one of them, doing what is hard, and refusing to stop.