The NYC Marathon: A Comeback Story

Last year, Hurricane Sandy put the kibosh on Gotham's biggest road race. This year the runners are back, and more jubilant than ever.

Runners cross over the Pulaski Bridge into the Queens borough of New York during the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013.     Photo: Kathy Kmonicek/AP

Yesterday morning I woke up and went for a run in Prospect Park. It was empty, the trees red and electric yellow, and I had the place, which is normally full of bikers and joggers, mostly to myself. A temporary wilderness. Sirens wailed in the distance as I ran up a small dirt trail near the park's eastern border, and as I looped back toward Grand Army Plaza I headed toward the noise. Choppers buzzed overhead and the sirens dopplered in as I jogged down Union Street in Park Slope toward Fourth Avenue, which was marked off with police tape and lined with yelling people. A woman played a horn on a balcony. The sirens gave way to the sound of Neil Young's Powderfinger, which was being played by a mediocre rock band in front of a bar. The song ended and one of the bandmembers said into the mic, “What the fuck. Oh. Sorry. Didn't realize this was on.” The first wave of marathoners passed by, pumping fists and hollering back at their supporters on the Avenue. It was mile seven.

I grew up outside the city and moved to Brooklyn from New Mexico last October, just before Hurricane Sandy hit and shut down, well, everything, including New York's signature endurance event, the marathon, also known as the world's largest block party. It was a strange displacement to arrive back here when the city's collective cockiness was tempered by nature. The subways would be pumped out, the Jersey Shore rebuilt, the Rockaways boardwalk 2.0 fortified with a bigger concrete wall, but at the time it felt as though the change was in some way permanent. We'd seen something scary and new; if another city-buckling superstorm is not inevitable, it certainly seems likely, as David Gessner reported in Outside's November issue. 

But everyone loves a comeback, especially here. Today Fourth Avenue was a scene of unmitigated and almost defiant joy. People were cheering, hugging, yelling, pumping fists, hurling joyful profanities. It reminded me of the parking lot outside the old Yankee Stadium after a big win, especially when I reached 7th Street, where another impromptu rock band was cranking out Metallica's Enter Sandman. An observer in full body black fleece hammered on his cowbell by the police tape. “Some of these, girls, whoah,” he said. “I mean, can you believe it? They're fit and they're beautiful. Ringers! They're ringers.” 

A runner in a Batman poly shirt passed us. “GO BATMAN!” yelled the guy with the cowbell, and he started to hammer on his instrument, and then the band behind us transitioned from Metallica to an overcharged instrumental version of another old victory song. As the guitar hit the first notes, it was impossible not to sing along, for just a second:

Start spreading the news
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it ...

Go Batman is right. Give ‘em hell. 

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