Posted by: Joe English | November 3, 2008

Races: ING New York City Marathon; an international parade of runners in NYC

Runners at the start of the New York Marathon

Runners at the start of the New York Marathon

NEW YORK – When I boarded a bus in mid-town Manhattan at a little after 5:00AM on Sunday morning with a group of runners heading out to the start of the New York City Marathon, all I could think was, “man, this is early.” Early, especially, because the race didn’t start for many of these runners until 10:00 or 10:20AM, depending on their start assignment. It was going to be a long morning and a long day, but one of the most memorable ones of their lives.

When I got off of the bus in Fort Wadsworth about an hour later, I had another thought: man, it’s really, really cold out here.

As I wandered through the Athletes’ Village, I was surrounded by runners from nearly every country on the planet. From Italy to Sweden and Jamaica to South Africa, the runners had come to run in the biggest marathon of them all.

Runners were scattered around, lying on the grass, sitting in a small assortments of tents, and standing in groups. All of them trying to stay warm; some had brought tents, sleeping bags, even chemical hand and foot warmers to fight off the chill. A stiff wind blew into the village, making hands shake, turning exposed skin to bumps, and chattering teeth.

Runners wait in a tent

Runners wait in a tent

I asked a group of runners what they planned to do with the tent that they had brought with them to the start: “We’ll leave it. They’ll give it to the homeless,” they said proudly. They looked pretty cozy in there.

Others stood in lines to get coffee or hot tea, or hunkered down in the lee of the few buildings in the area to get out of the wind.

It was cold, cold, cold. And the cold never gave up on this day. Paula Radcliffe, winner of the women’s race, said afterwards that the whole field seemed to be lined up behind her on the Verrazano. “We’ve got the whole road ladies” she quipped.

Back in the village, I continued to talk to runners, getting ready for the big day. I saw a man in a Bull Fighter’s outfit from Spain and someone that looked to be in a military uniform from Cuba. There were fire-fighters in their fire gear, complete with their oxygen tanks strapped on their backs. I spied a number of jugglers, a guy in an outfit that can only be described as a buttless-thong, and a whole bunch of women in bikini tops decorated with flags, flowers and other items.

A parade of nations, including all sorts of unusual creatures, had assembled to make their way through the city.

A runner waves at the start

A runner waves at the start

Finally, the time came to move into the corrals. Runners were divided into three groups, which started in waves 20 minutes apart. From my perch on top of a double-decker sight-seeing bus next to the starting line, I watched as the thousands of runners poured past, heading off on their grand adventure.

The course starts by immediately crossing the Verrazano Bridge. The field had been split into groups that would run on either the top or the bottom of the bridge. After the race, Texan runner Tim Anderson told me, “you really want to be on the top (of the bridge), because people pee off the side of the top deck. If you’re on the bottom, stay away from the edges.”

Another runner, Barbara Moulds of New Mexico, added after the race that the bridges seemed to go on forever. “I couldn’t believe the bridges. They just seemed like they would never end.”

Professionals lead the way
The professional men’s and women’s field made hasty progress despite the windy conditions. While Paula Radcliffe said that she might have been able to run a course record had the conditions been calm, second-place finisher Ludmila Petrova still managed to run a new Marathon World Record for master’s women (2:23:45). And American Kara Goucher of Portland, Oregon, managed to run the fastest debut marathon in history, unseating Deena Kastor as the record holder for that distinction (2:25:53).

Radcliffe added after the race that she felt that “women should be capable of running sub-2:20 on this course.” She went on to say, “It was really tough out there, because of the wind.”

Marilson Gomes dos Santos

Marilson Gomes dos Santos

Race winner Marilson Gomes Dos Santos brought home his second victory here in New York in three years. The Brazilian sensation was leading at mile 20 when Moroccan Abderrahim Goumri passed him. Goumri hung onto a slim lead for the next five miles, but in the 26th mile, Gomes Dos Santos dropped his pace from about 5:00 per mile to a quick 4:44 per mile. He passed Goumri and never looked back. He closed out the race with a 4:47 mile, opening a about a 25 second gap on Goumri in just the last mile of the race.

“I never lost hope,” Gomes Dos Santos said after the race through an interpreter. “The people in Central Park gave me hope. They cheered me on.”

Thousands follow

All smiles on Central Park South

All smiles on Central Park South

With the professional field clearing the way, it came to the 38,000+ marathoners behind them to make their way through the 26.2 mile over the rest of the day. Runners streamed into Central Park for hours, with the biggest bulge of runners around 4:30:00-5:00:00. The closing miles of the race feature a number of tricky hills in the park, before runners pop out onto Central Park East and then turn onto Central Park South near the end of the race. On this short strip at the end of the race, the spectators were perhaps the thickets and loudest of anywhere on the course.

Nicolas Sanchez of Mexico had come to watch his cousin run in the race. He stood with a Mexican flag on Central Park South cheering wildly for the runners. “I cheer for the runners from Mexico. I cheer for all of the runners. They are amazing.”

Runners in Central Park

Runners in Central Park

As the sun began to get low in the sky, runners and walkers continued their march toward the finish. Just as it had been in the morning, the weather took another turn colder, as darkness feel.

Late in the afternoon, race officials had begun dismantling the aid stations and were in the process of reopening the roads, despite the large number of runners and walkers making their way toward the park. “It’s a little discouraging,” Alison Press of Roswell, Georgia told me, “but I’m still going — and I’m going to finish.” She did finish proudly in about seven hours.

Far behind Allison and long into the evening, walkers continued to slowly make their way down Central Park East in the dark. Now on the sidewalks, and having to fend for themselves at cross-walks, it was a quite march in the dark and chill of the night.

It may have been dark and cold, but their spirits were not dampened. One man, walking extremely slowly, smiled at me weakly near 106th street and Central Park East. “What does it take?” he asked me rhetorically, reciting the slogan that was emblazoned across thousands of the New York Marathon t-shirts this year. “I’ve got what it takes,” he answered to himself softly as he kept on heroically toward the finish.

Congratulations to all of the finishers, and all who started, of the ING New York City Marathon from Running Advice and News.

Photos galleries coming shortly.

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News



  1. […] crosswind bringing down the temperature even lower. Don’t take my word for it – check this report out too. If an Englishman complained about the cold, what more an Asian who trains in 32C?! I found […]

  2. […] crosswind bringing down the temperature even lower. Don’t take my word for it – check this report out too. If an Englishman complained about the cold, what more an Asian who trains in 32C?! I found […]

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