The Loudest 26.2 Miles

All media provided by author, Hallie Rosenzweig ‘25

Touching all five boroughs, bringing cheer to the otherwise dim November streets, and proving New Yorkers are not always the cold creatures we set them out to be, the New York City Marathon evokes something in New Yorkers like nothing else. 

The New York City Marathon took place last week on the 5th of November. First organized in 1970 by New York Road Runners, the foremost New York City Marathon was a local race around Central Park with only 55 finishers. Fifty years later, more than 50,000 people from all corners of the world gather at the base of the Verrazano Bridge to embark on one of the most renowned courses in the Road Running world. 

Not only is finishing the New York City marathon an accomplishment that can bring joy and fulfillment to one’s life, but the pure “human energy” radiating from the race itself sparks joy in any spectator’s life. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Road Runners report that their numbers have finally reached capacity once again. The 2021 race brought only 25,000 finishers, while a mere two years later (2023), those numbers doubled in size. This increase in participants is a friendly reminder that the dark times of the COVID pandemic are becoming a thing of the past. 

An almost instantaneous omen of the great race day was the weather. The weather featured blue skies and scattered clouds, warmth in the air with a lingering, crisp November breeze. After weeks of rain and clouds, the skies chose to clean up just in time for the anticipated event. Highs were in the 60s, lows in the 50s, but most importantly, the air was crisp–not thick, ideal for running conditions. 

Our very own community here at Grace had some participants in the event as well. New math teacher, Karen Zhang, completed the 26.2-mile course and is a humble, yet seasoned marathon runner. She claims to have “done a couple of marathons prior.”

A marathon is traditionally 26.2 miles long and can take anywhere between two and ten-plus hours to cross the finish line. However, the time it takes for one to finish does not define the skill and determination put into their training. 

This year, the record was broken for the New York City Marathon by Tamirat Tola, who finished the grueling course in a mere 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 58 seconds. For the women, the first-place spot was awarded to Hellen Obri, who rose above the competition, finishing in 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 23 seconds, only minutes away from the course record of 2 hours and 22 minutes. 

Ms. Zhang finished in a whopping 3 hours and 44 minutes, which is an above-average and incredible time. 

While some “pros” such as Tola and Obri take the New York Marathon as a race to run world-class times and scratch up against world records, others use the marathon as an opportunity to support a cause, honor a loved one, or even just accomplish something exciting. Ms. Zhang does the marathon just for the fun of it! The variety of motivations for marathons makes them so touching and empowering. 

Unlike other marathons, the New York City Marathon is not extremely selective and strictly reserved for the fastest out there, even though some of the fastest runners still take part. The Marathon assembles those from all walks of life, from teenagers to boomers, abled to disabled, professional runners to walkers, and all that lies in between. 

Commencing at the feet of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the marathon takes runners through South Brooklyn, crossing over into Fort Greene, and spilling out onto Bedford Avenue (claimed by many to be a highlight of the race). The race then continues into Long Island City in Queens, onto the Queensboro Bridge, up 1st Avenue in Manhattan, dipping into the Bronx, back down 5th Avenue, and finally through the coveted Central Park to conclude the race. 

The marathon is no walk in the park. Approximately two miles from the finish line along the grinding final stretch, lies a hill in Central Park near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Usually strolled by house carriages, bikers, and laid-back joggers, this stretch of Central Park undertakes a different facade on race day.  

Imagine you’re 24 miles into a marathon, your limbs are weak, and your fatigue is causing you to drown in the riled-up crowds. Nevertheless, you keep on pushing.

One doesn’t have to be a dignified marathon runner to know the pain of running “miles” past your breaking point. Seeing the runners trek up the final hill, it’s hard not to sympathize with them. While the cheer and morale of the scene from the spectator’s point of view were rather uplifting, the bitter thought of how those runners felt during those final pushes is stomach-churning. 

Ms. Zhang touched on another challenging part of the course: the 18-mile checkpoint right at the foot of the Queensborough Bridge. She claims that the “most difficult part of the course was running north on First Avenue after the bridge.”

This stretch of the marathon is difficult and proves the discipline of the runners who conquer this draining tract. At mile 18, the perilous running has most definitely taken a toll on the body, and the adrenaline of being “close enough” to the finish line has yet to kick in. 

While the “final hill” in Central Park may be daunting, at least the finish line is in view, and what’s another two miles when you’ve already run 24? Unfortunately, Ms. Zhang’s most difficult stretch seemed almost hopeless. Although she still kept going, what is it that pushed her through? 

Ms. Zhang answered this question with an uplifting tone. “I kept going because I knew I had friends later on in the crowd, and that moment of joy to feel their support was worth it all.” 

While the actual running is the core of the marathon, the “soul” of the NYC Marathon is the two million spectators, most of whom have friends and family in the marathon, who rally along the streets for hours and hours. Ms. Zhang also attributed the rolling crowds as a “nice distraction” as she ran. Whether it be the cowbells or the comical posters, Ms. Zhang, who has participated in other marathons before, considers the continuous roaring crowds to be the factor differentiating this marathon from any other. She remarked, “The crowds and energy stand the NYC Marathon apart.”

The creativity of New Yorkers is evident in times like these, with posters containing puns with friends’ and family’s names, ranging from the kindest and most uplifting messages to the more humorous “toilet jokes.” Some posters read, “Go go Jojo!” while others read, “Go Mike, don’t poop.” Regardless of who the respective posters are made for, the wide range of empowerment reaches every single runner and hopefully encourages them to keep on chugging. 

The passion among runners and spectators is also rooted in their dedication to loved ones and their support for all sorts of causes. Many dedicate the difficult challenge of a marathon to “battles” that their loved ones or themselves have fought and possibly lost to. People run for a plethora of reasons: Cancer, Alzheimer’s, injustices, and everything in between. This is yet another uplifting message of the marathon.  

The passion and meaning behind the marathon is contagious. 

Middle School Math and Science Curriculum Coordinator at the Trevor Day School, Meghan McDonough, completed the marathon and gave insight into the importance of the spectator’s energy to the runners. Ms. McDonough shared that, “The crowds carry us all to the finish.  New Yorkers were out in all five boroughs from early morning hours until late into the evening cheering for friends, family, and total strangers. I wrote my name on my shirt and heard ‘Go Meghan’ for 5+ hours — it is SO motivating and awesome!”

How often do New Yorkers engage with strangers, let alone cheer them on for hours and hours? The NYC Marathon is a remarkable event for its very own city, as the pure human spirit brought to the streets is unusual for the rushed and unphased aura NYC holds.

Ms. McDonough also brought up a crucial and remarkable aspect of the NYC Marathon, which is the inclusivity of it all. She stated, “More runners run NYC than any other marathon in the world.  This year 51,933 people started and 51,404 finished. The NYC finish line stays open until the final finishers cross.”

While some runners don’t finish until the late hours of the night, 99% of all of the runners competing in the event cross the memorable finish line in the heart of Central Park. As Ms. McDonoughmentioned, the finish line is open until the final finisher crosses, and if you were wondering, the crowds are still cheering when the final straggler polishes off their 26.2-mile rally. 

Ms. Zhang and Ms. McDonough shared a common belief in the uniqueness of the NYC Marathon. This belief is that the welcoming environment and vivacious crowds bursting with “human energy,” are what make the event so special. 

It is hard not to be inspired when watching, cheering, or hearing stories from the NYC Marathon, and such inspiration could very well turn into a reality.

Undoubtedly, the idea of running a marathon is daunting and intimidating at first. To combat this common fear, Ms. Zhang and Ms. McDonough shared some tips for those who potentially would be interested in completing a marathon! 

Ms. Zhang mentioned that her background in high school cross country helped, as well as an 18-week training plan that she followed leading up to the event. Ms. Zhang also enthusiastically endorsed the benefit of “having a group of friends, family, teammates, etc. to run the marathon with.” 

Ms. McDonough’s running career only began in 2018 when she ran her first marathon, and five years later, she participated in this year’s New York City Marathon. Meghan completed a 20-week training program, which started in June, and she had been building up incrementally for the race. She claimed that the long distance of the marathon felt hard to conquer at first. 

“It may seem impossible at first,” Ms. McDonough shared, “but each week you add a mile on and you prove to yourself that you can do it!” 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, a metaphor that correlates to how you can’t simply pop out of bed one morning and go run a marathon. All it takes is dedication and some hard work. Walking is notably not forbidden in the New York City Marathon, and many do take walk breaks! 

Seemingly, the New York City Marathon is open to interpretation. Some feel just as passionate about cheering as others do about running or walking.

Venturing through the park on race day, the beaming smiles of people of all ages, blanketed in orange ponchos and “TCS NYC Marathon” medals, greeted anyone passing by. The joy was contagious. The New York City Marathon is always a beam of positivity and spirit on an otherwise dim Sunday in November, bringing out the true passion and love embedded in the culture of New York City. 

Hallie Rosenzweig ‘25, the author, is staff writer, a co-director of Good Morning Grace, and the Social Media Manager for The Grace Gazette.