An Empire State of Running: The NYC Marathon


New York City. Fashion capital of the world. A brewing hub of market-moving advertising campaigns. An arena for cut-throat competition in real estate, stocks, and other high-octane careers. A melting pot of not only diverse cultures but eclectic interests as well. Skills in various disciplines are honed and exhibited here. Be it art, business, music, or athleticism, New York will always have an avenue available for you to demonstrate and put your capabilities to the test.

When it comes to pushing the barrier of self-capabilities, runners are no stranger to the idea. Similarly, with every other kind of fitness enthusiast, every runner–be them trail or road runner–knows how to and loves setting new challenges to overcome.

From changing playing grounds from metropolitan roads to dusty trails, to aiming to hit a sub 1:00:00 at 10K or sub 2:00:00 at 21K, or from running short distances at full speed to enduring grueling marathons, each runner will always seek and find ways to elevate themselves.

Being a runner myself, I am fueled with such same ideals. Having tried my hand—or I guess feet, would be more appropriate—at trail running, and in turn, marathons; I set myself a challenging goal. I turned my sights at the daunting task of finishing all 6 Marathons Majors.

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The would-be “holy grail” for marathoners. The epitome of marathoning. A long journey, indeed. One that would start at an event and venue that some peers of mine in running have dubbed as their personal favorites. With nothing but good things to say about every aspect of the race, my friends had made me eager to participate in it.

I registered, booked my plane tickets, and thus began to chase after the 6 Marathons Majors. The exodus will start at the United States of America, in no place other than New York City, at the New York City Marathon (NYCM).

A fitting backstory for a gigantic event

Dating back to the 1970s, the NYCM’s beginning was a rather humble one that is completely parallel to the scale it’s run at, now. With a small execution budget of only 1,000 dollars, founders Fred Lebow and Vince Chiappetta opened the event to 127 entrants, offering simple, inexpensive wristwatches and old baseball and bowling trophies in place of today’s standard finisher’s medals and whopping prize money.

In its 48 years (counting until the 2018 series) of consistent execution, the NYCM sparked the achievement of major milestones in the running scene. World Record-breaking finishing times were set, marathon and long-distance running for women were pioneered, and persons with disabilities were empowered to race in pocket events. Truly gargantuan strides.

Today, the NYCM still breaks barriers in a marathon, as one of the biggest marathon events in the world. With a reported 52,811 total finishers in the 2018 NYCM, the event has not only helped bring together the local community but a global mass of runners.

Overwhelmed and electrified

We arrive at New York city a week before race day. The scene was a contrasting gradient of trees with leaves of vibrant oranges and yellows, gradually mixing in with a stark spectrum of dark to light greys of looming skyscrapers and a gloomy, autumn sky. The temperature was beginning to drop, hardly noticeable for the city’s residents. Palpably evident to us from the sunny, tropics.

A few days from now, there will be an expo where we will be briefed for the race. There will be days of feasting on all the carbs you can possibly eat, we’ll receive our race kits, and we’ll get to be in a massive event hall, mingling with the other 52K individuals we’ll be running with on November 4.

52,811+ runners. At one event hall charged with excitement, that number was electrifying.

Everything that went on–from the handshakes and the greetings of good luck exchanged between runners, to the accommodating manner of which volunteers assisted you, to getting your race kits, and up to the briefing itself–at the TCS New York City Marathon Pavilion just fired you up to run the race on Sunday. And this being my first time running NYCM–and coincidentally, my first time in New York City–just added a little bit more novelty to the whole experience.

The large crowd dissipates the tension

Sunday, November 4, we make our way to Staten Island–the starting line of the New York City Marathon. Thinking about the race makes my heart pound. I can’t tell whether it’s nervousness excitement. Maybe it’s a balanced mix of both. I really couldn’t say.

We wait for our ferry to take us there, and I chat with some members of our group to try and shake off the nerves. I’ve attended a lot of running events abroad. But not a full marathon. I trained for months. I want to do my best. My competitive side wants a low 5 finishing time–around 5:15 to 5:30, but I’ll be happy finishing at sub 6. My heart races faster. This ferry ride has been the longest 30 minutes of my life.

Docking at Staten Island, loud music, and a crowd of smiling runners and volunteers greet you. Attentive, cordial, and accommodating. My nerves calm down a bit. After our things were collected, and any and all preparations were settled, we carry on to find a spot at the starting line. A thought crosses my mind; wow, there sure are a lot of people. These can’t be all volunteers and runner. It seems way above that count.

I look at the outliers more carefully, and I realize that they’re spectators. Amazing was my first thought. The whole community–not just runners, race organizers, and volunteers–came out to show their support for everyone running the marathon. They were relatives, neighbors, shop owners, church choirs, students, teachers, and anyone else you can think of. It was a celebration not just for participants and their closest friends and family, but a celebration for the whole city.

I was astounded to the point of my nerves mattering for only little by the sight of the crowd. Never have I seen an event so well-supported by both runners and non-runners. I could only wish that it would eventually become like this for the events I plan to organize back in Manila, someday. As a race organizer, I can’t help but feel envious of the success of the event; having turned-out not just a massive runner/volunteer participation, but also spectatorship. It would help a runner a lot during a long, and exhausting run.

The gun fires, and we run. I’m still pretty much at awe of the event. All throughout the race was just smiling people, wishing you luck. Maybe a few very serious ones who would pass you by without even so much as a hello. Volunteers didn’t just make sure you were hydrated, but wished you luck as well. Every 3 or 5 kilometers, you’ll see a band playing music to your left, a choir singing church songs to your right, a crowd of university students shouting out cheers at you.

Starting strong and finishing stronger

Truthfully, it was still a pretty tough race. The race route had us crossing five bridges and crossing Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, and finishing at Central Park at Upper East Side. It was an “uphell” ride, for sure. Aside from that, we were running in the cold of an 8- to 12-degree draft. I ended up cramping at kilometer 30, dragging it out until the finish line.

If you’re running NYCM for the first time this year, I’ll have some race tips for you ready soon, because I sure wish I was given some before running it. But I guess marathons are just another of the things in this world that you can never really fully prepare for.

The cramp was frustrating. I had a good start, but because I didn’t really know how cold it would get, I didn’t really do much cold weather training back in Manila. I pass by a singing choir a few kilometers in on a cramped-up run. They hand me some snacks that I gladly accept, gulp down some water, and hearing their well-wishes, my attention was refocused. I fill my thoughts with one thing; these people are cheering me on so I can finish.

They’ll hand out tissues, sanitary wipes, snacks, and beverages, even if the organizers of NYCM didn’t necessarily ask them to do so. Despite the difficulty, witnessing such a scale of community support was a heartwarming, and hands down, the best race experience I’ve ever had in my life. I think back to my anxiousness at the ferry and how it was all so silly. This was going to be a breeze because everyone will be helping you cross the finish line.

It could be the snacks and the water, but after the encounter with the choir, I run the last 12 kilometers with renewed energy. I cross the crowd-filled finish line without cramps and a happy grin across my face. I was awarded my medal and a pat on the back, and finally, the chance to take a short respite before all the photo opportunities my friends and I will surely take once everyone has finished their runs.

I take a walk and think back to when I first set foot on New York. I came in as a first-time tourist, coming to a city that was totally diverse and one that I’d only admired from readings and photos I’ve seen. I came in a runner who had never run a full marathon outside of his homeland. I came in as a race organizer with a comfortably quaint idea of running events; thinking that as long as everything we can provide for the runners are in check, we’ll have a great event.

But on November 4, I cross the finish line of the New York City Marathon as a more learned person in terms of the way of life of New Yorkers and other cultures that are represented in the city. I crossed the finish line as a runner who is finally on the first step to conquering the six major marathons of the world. And I cross the finish line as a race organizer with a renewed perspective about how, and more importantly, why we put in the time and effort to organize events for the running community.

Running in the Philippines is still young, hence our events are currently at a much smaller scale when viewed beside an event such as the New York City Marathon. So young and full of potential. 58,811 finishers, thousands more of volunteers and outlying support and spectators, are numbers that are at an Everest of a height to aim for. In the Philippines that could only be a dream.

However, for me, it’s what those numbers represent is what I see as achievable in the Philippines.

That number which stood for the people who helped, people who ran, people who shouted with you when you were in pain, people who handed out help without being asked to, people who took jackets that were discarded and gathered them up for donation. A massive number representing the number of people helping out and supporting other people. A number that stood for the truest sense of the term running community.

If you plan to start your journey on completing the world marathons as well, the New York City Marathon is still accepting registrations until February 15, 2019! You may visit their website to know more about the details!

Check out my New York Marathon Experience Video:


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