Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a new New Yorker. Today’s post – No. 34, if you’re keeping score at home – is about the 2013 New York City Marathon, which happened Nov. 3.
The winning times long since recorded, they arrived in bunches at mile 16 like waves at sea inching toward an unseen shore. Theirs would not be the names etched in glory on this day yet they pushed onward. Completing the New York City Marathon would be prize enough.
I watched the race unfold from 63rd and 3rd on Manhattan’s East Side, marveling in a way that belied my utter lack of interest in running as sport or calorie-burning method. Runners too numerous to count came and went. Some wore stone serious visages while others played jester to the crowd. Rows of six deep gathered along the barricaded route to offer words of support to friends, family, and strangers alike with their voices and signs and even the sounds of a vuvuzela or two made infamous in the 2010 World Cup. The event’s collective euphoric spirit left me with a lump in my throat a time or two, I’m not ashamed to say. The fact I learned via my smart phone someone had crossed the finish line 20 minutes prior mattered little.
I’ve been blessed to attend some great sporting events in my year in New York City – Matt Harvey’s first shutout with the Mets, watching the great Thierry Henry exhibit his magic for the Red Bulls, seeing the Harlem Globetrotters goof around the Garden. The Marathon stood out, largely because it celebrated everyone, wrapping participants and spectators in a blanket of kinship and humanity. The race not only united the five boroughs over its sprawling 26.2-mile course but also united people from across the globe, based on the number of national flags I observed and foreign dialects I over heard. Winners were determined in traditional ways (i.e., fastest times) but as I watched the race I saw no losers. Instead I witnessed people giving it their all in the moment. And as gratifying as it must have been for them it was gratifying for me in a way I had failed to anticipate.
The heartwarming scenes that played out across the Marathon belonged to the average runner – if a person completing the world’s most famous marathon can be called average – and the fans pulling for them. The day’s wow moment came in the seconds before the first pack of Kenyan men appeared on the horizon. A car with an electronic time board showing the race had lasted an hour and 21 minutes to that point led them. Behind the vehicle followed around eight to 10 dark-skinned men as thin as models, god-like in the way they floated above the concrete. The crowd buzzed when the Kenyans passed, acknowledging greatness on a global scale existed in their midst. And just like that the leaders were in the distance, a new group appearing in their wake.