By RUTH SHARPE
WITH OVER 37,000 runners, two million spectators, more than 100 bands and TV cameras everywhere, the ING New York City Marathon is the largest marathon in the world.
A staggering 90,000 people apply to get a spot in the spectacle that, for many, proves to be a highly individual and personal experience.
Contrary to what many people think, the marathon doesn’t begin at 10am when the cameras roll and everyone jogs off energetically over the Verrazano Bridge. The majority of the 37,000 runners have been up and on their feet since 5am.
In my case, as a member of the MacMillan Cancer Support team, we met at 5.30am in the lobby of our hotel in Times Square and, after a quick team photo, made our way to the New York Library to wait in an hour long scrum to get one of the many buses to Staten Island.
We arrived at the athlete’s village around 8.30am and, after another long queue for the toilet, dropping off our bags and a very nervous warm up, it was suddenly 9.50am and the prospect of a 26.2 mile run loomed.
The course stretches through the five boroughs of New York – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. Beginning in Staten Island, you cross the immense structure that is the two-mile long Verrazano Bridge, which takes you into Brooklyn.
This is where the madness unfolds. Thousands of residents literally bombard the streets, holding welcome banners, screaming your name and demanding high fives.
Bananas, sweets and tissues are being handed out on front porches and people are urging you on in any way imaginable.
The course unites dozens of culturally and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods especially in Brooklyn. This is highlighted as you enter its Hasidic Jewish community, where all the children are spookily presented in the same fashion and the uniformly bearded men turn away from you, as their religion forbids them to look at exposed female skin.
At mile 12 you hit Queens, not the prettiest part of New York, but things are beginning to get painful at this point so most people plug in their i-pods and try and focus on keeping themselves moving.
Mile 16 is a landmark spot as it’s when you cross the (uphill) Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan and the very lengthy prospect of First Avenue awaits. This is the spot where many slow down as they begin to hit the dreaded ‘wall’.
Luckily, first aid tents are more frequent at this point and for those of us who have been injured for the last two months and not been able to do any training (of which I met quite a few in the first aid tents), this is where the race turns into slow two kilometre hobbles in between each first aid point, in order to get your next hit of ICY HOT.
This is an amazingly strong American version of Deep Heat – this is no advertising ploy, I am just deeply grateful for the existence of such a numbing substance!
At mile 20, many forget that you still have the small task of facing the Bronx. Nervous runners speed up and check their pockets, while others take the chance to get down to the hip hop beats of the bands and MCs that rap your name as you pass through their hood.
Safely over the Harlem River and back into Manhattan, the greenery of Central Park comes into sight, fooling runners that it’s almost over. There are still 4.2 miles to go however and these are probably the most painful.
The crowds are still relentless in their urgency that “there’s not far to go, you can do it girlfriend, way to go!” and similar Americanisms that make participants chuckle all the way to the finish line.
I was told crossing the finish line in Central Park would be one of the most thrilling moments of my life. That wasn’t quite the case as by this point it had felt like a spear had been rammed into my back with every step for the past 10 miles. Once I’d finished and walked the extra mile to find my belongings and a foil wrap to stop the shaking, I was grateful to collapse and wait for my family to rescue me.
The ultimate ordeal
On the day, each runner put their body and soul on the line in a very public way. It may seem like the ultimate physical ordeal, but for most the marathon is also deeply emotional, a testing of one’s inner will and, for many, a tribute to a departed comrade.
A lot of people question the sanity of those prepared to undertake a marathon. Many runners, including myself, questioned their own sanity as we lined up in the start area, however there was a clear reasoning in mine and many other people’s heads why they were putting themselves through this.
In my case, it was raising money and awareness for Macmillan Cancer Support. For the few who are not aware of the work of Macmillan Cancer Support, it is essentially the support system for the thousands of people who are affected by cancer in the UK.
When hit with the bombshell that is cancer, people need help living their lives, not only in terms of medical help, but practical, emotional and financial needs. Macmillan nurses provide any kind of support they can from walking the dog, taking you to hospital appointments, helping you sort your finances and most importantly they can listen and understand and hopefully improve your situation. At the moment, Macmillan Cancer Support only operates in Britain, but as a result of interest from expatriates affected by cancer in the Algarve, The Resident is currently investigating the possibility of bringing Macmillan nurses to the region.
If anyone has any relevant information towards this cause, please contact [email protected]