x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

New York runs back into life after a year of setbacks

The first major marathon in NYC since three people were killed by bombs at the Boston Marathon in April was successful and as it is always the case: exhausting.

After all that has happened in the past year, it was clear that this year’s New York City Marathon was probably going to be a little different. Indeed, by 6am of race day, coastguard patrol boats and bomb-sniffing dogs were being readied. And yet, three hours later, everything seemed the same as always.

The elite runners, lean and determined, immediately sprinted ahead and out of sight. Crowds cheered the endless and colourful stream of runners that followed for hours, including at least one man dressed as a peacock. Just like always, the spectators held signs saying “Go Mom!” and screamed “Viva Mexico!” or “Yay Italy!” when runners passed by in shirts emblazoned with their country’s flag or name.

This was the first major marathon since three people were killed by bombs at the Boston Marathon in April. Moreover, New York had cancelled this same race in 2012 because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy barely a week earlier. Symbolically, everyone knew that this event had to succeed.

“It had a little extra layer of meaning,” said Dr Benjamin Kligler, a family practitioner from Brooklyn who had run two prior New York marathons, and who finished this one at a “very satisfying” 4 hours 35 minutes.

“It was New York showing it had recovered from Sandy, and people showing they were willing to participate despite what happened in Boston,” he added. More than 50,000 people hit the 26.2-mile route on November 3, led by Geoffrey Mutai (the top male finisher) and Priscah Jeptoo (the women’s champion), both of Kenya, with times of 2:08:24 and 2:25:07, respectively.

Like Dr Kligler, thousands of these runners had trained strenuously for months for the cancelled 2012 race, many spending hundreds of dollars on airfares and hotels. They were all guaranteed a spot this year – which in itself is no easy accomplishment – but did that make up for the effort, money and hope squandered a year ago?

The cancellation was “very frustrating”, said Dr Kligler, although he understood the reasons. What was particularly annoying, he added, was all the weight he put on by bulking up on carbohydrates in preparation.

New York City dentist Nathaniel Sasson, meanwhile, had shrugged off the cancellation by creating his own course last year, through some of the most storm-damaged parts of the city. Other runners he knew, who had travelled from London and Toronto, joined an unofficial marathon-length run consisting of four loops around Central Park in Manhattan.

“People I saw who came back today were very excited,” he said, a few hours after finishing the race in 5 hours 15 minutes.

“They did not mind coming back. They just want to run New York.”

Mixed with the relief that they had finally managed to run the famous course, there was also anxiety because of the tragedy earlier this year in Boston.

Certainly the runners noticed the added security measures, everything from police with scanning wands at the entrance to the starting line, to helicopters hovering overhead. But none of it interfered with their run, they said.

Tighter screening kept the crowds thin at the final quarter-mile. However, Dr Sasson thought he saw more fans than usual over the rest of the route.

One of those fans, New York designer Jennifer Napoli, said she sensed a more determined mood this time. “I felt it was important for us to have this, like we have been battered as a city too much,” she explained.

In the end, some things stay the same in any marathon, no matter the city, the weather, the politics, or the nationality of the runners themselves: Exhaustion. Lungs that feel as if they cannot pull in one more gasp of air. Legs that feel like heavy weights. And total exhilaration and inspiration from the cheers of the crowds and the knowledge that, unbelievably, you did it.

Fran Hawthorne is a New York-based author and journalist who specialises in covering the intersection of business, finance and social policy

On Twitter: @hawthornewriter