marshaling a marathon

The New York City Marathon, without a single pun, is a marathon of an event.  Last Sunday I had the opportunity to contribute as one of the 8,000 course marshals.

The NYC Marathon is the largest in the world, attracting runners from all over the globe. There is a craving for pounding the pavement of closed streets on a 26.2 mile course through five boroughs of the most culturally diverse city on the planet.  Last Sunday more than 50,000 people did just that.  Many more wanted to, but each year the quota fills fast.  The privilege of participating requires either the luck-of-the-draw (lottery) or an involved set of qualification criteria.

In May I ran a 10K in Queens while I was in NYC.  During the last two miles of that race, thoughts of running a marathon were laughed out of my consciousness.  Running that kind of distance requires discipline to endure long-periods of self-imposed discomfort.  If you know anything about running, taking on a marathon is quite admirable, both the process and the feat.

this year's marathon brought out the 'windy' icon on the weather app

this year’s marathon brought out the ‘windy’ icon on the weather app

The idea of running an event like a marathon is not simply grunting it out at all physical cost.  Some do, and can barely walk the next few days.  Not properly preparing borders on stupidity.  Depending on one’s fitness level, it takes several months minimum of dedicated training.  A beginning runner would need significantly longer.

GV ran her first this year.  She qualified by running nine New York Roadrunners events last year and volunteering for one.  Performing the 9+1 is one of the ways to guarantee a spot for the succeeding year.

GV in her last mile

GV in her last mile

Duties as a marshal included keeping spectators off the course, while being there to offer assistance to runners who might need it.  My delegated spot was inside the last mile in Central Park, a stone’s throw from the Plaza Hotel along 59th Street, and relatively close to the excitement of the race end.

Observing tens of thousands of runners over hours was telling.  As the first elite runners were finishing, their faces were all business, almost without expression.  And they were fast, their pace more rapid than most runners sprint.  Then almost like a water faucet slowing opening up, the road started filling to a constant flow which was not to stop for many hours.  What did seem to change over the hours were the facial expressions, slowly turning from grit to exhaustion.

the first men finishers

the first men finishers

What struck me was how many people, natural cheerleaders, filled the course sidelines — estimated at more than a million.  And participants were treated to music, over 130 live bands played along the way.

Experienced runners taped or had written their first names on their shirts, so that vocal supporters would call out their names for personal encouragement.  Many wore shirts from their home countries — a surprising number from France, followed by Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, as well as from Africa and South America.

Logistically, getting 50,000 runners off in waves at the start in Staten Island is mind-boggling, a marathon of coordination in itself.

Combined with the pre-day run through Central Park and the massive pasta feast the evening before, thousands make it a weekend festival.  All of it makes the energy of the race infectious.  Knowing how difficult running more than one hour is, I was content with my participation limited to contributing as a course marshall.  I think I’ll leave marathons to crazy people, and those who have massive amounts of discipline and dedication to running.

a colleague where we were stationed in Central Park

a colleague where we were stationed in Central Park

marshal