On the morning of November 3, I will wander down the block and watch the strange sight of thousands and thousands of people running by on a carless street. It will be the New York City marathon, and the intersection where I will stand is mile eight of the more than twenty-six-mile course.
Watching people run by whom I do not know should be boring, but for the forty-five minutes I will spend it is not. The sidewalk will be jammed with neighbors, guests, and visitors. Music with a strong beat will be playing. The first competitors we will see are the disabled participants in racing wheelchairs who start separately from those who are ambulatory. They are wildly cheered and encouraged by the crowd. Then an empty street with anticipation building for the first runners. A phalanx of motorcycles and trucks carrying cameras roars up Lafayette Avenue, and we become alert because we know that right behind these vehicles are the elite marathoners, one of whom hope will win the race. Many will be from African countries, and they will largely be in an Indian file at the center of the road. Then a small group of runners appears a hundred yards back. They are awfully good runners but are not going to win. Each year I wonder how these people feel—better than 99.99% of all those who run—but who will never come in first or even third or fifth. Does their ability make them feel good or are they just frustrated?
Now we are on the lookout for the first women runners, also the elite. As a cheer went up for the first men, another erupts when the first woman is spotted.
Soon the runners no longer appear as individuals. They stream as groups, but for a while longer almost all are still clustered within five feet of the street’s centerline. This changes every moment as more and more runners are in sight. Soon they cover the pavement from curb to curb. We can’t even glimpse he opposite side of the street, and it will remain out of sight for an hour or more as thousands and thousands of running people go by. This river of runners may be made up of many individuals but together it forms a new flood flowing east anticipating the turn north. It will then leave Ft. Greene and enter Williamsburg.
I find myself noticing the colors that bounce by. This is not a uniformed sport, and the running clothes comes in many hues, often indicating the nationality of the wearers: Rumania and New Zealand, Japan and Nigeria, and almost every country in between. Some carry messages—“World Peace,” “Fight Climate Change,” “Marry Me Becky,” “My Kids Are the Greatest.” Some run in costume—every so often I spy a bunny rabbit or a Santa Claus. At one time there were a lot of Obamas. How many, if any, Trumps will there be? A few simultaneously juggle as they run. I have seen a guy running backwards. For years, a man in a tuxedo ran carrying at shoulder height a dining room tray with a glass on it as though he were going to serve champagne at the finish line.
I watch the gait of the runners. Some have a high knee lift while the feet of others only clear the ground by a few inches. Often the different styles are side by side so it seems as if each is equally efficient. Some are awkward as a new-born colt; some are as graceful as a gazelle.
Many of the runners seem to be in their thirties, I but find myself looking for the outliers. I am somehow when I see those who are sixty or seventy, and I spot many.
Even though the run is not even a third over where I watch, some of the runners will look as if they are straining, and I wonder if they will make it. Some look as if they are merely coasting and do not care about their time. Others seem as if they are pushing themselves, chasing a PB—a personal best.
As the crowd of runners increases and seen more and more blur by, I feel something akin to a vertigo. It’s time to go home. I will turn on the TV because even though runners are still going by my viewing spot, eighteen marathon miles away the elite runners will be approaching the finish line. I can hear through my windows cheering for those at the end of my block commingled with cheers on TV from Central Park, and I will be struck as I am every year that soon there will be a winner while many still have two-thirds of the race to go.
And through all of this, I always feel a bit of pride that I, more than once, ran this marathon, and I wonder if I am happy or sad that my body no longer will allow it.
But to all those run on Sunday, I wish you good luck, or I suppose more appropriately, God speed.