Running through the five boroughs, which is really fundamental to us and to the race, outweigh the challenges of not being a fast, flat race. It’s a course that’s stood the test of time for very good reasons.
The quote by Mary Wittenberg, President and CEO of NYRR, organizers of the New York City Marathon, is taken from a WSJ article discussing whether New York City should consider a bigger and faster course. With 45 thousands runners, the NYC Marathon is still the biggest marathon in the world, but that number is only one third of the 125 thousands who applied. Moreover, elites forgo running NYC because of its tough, slow course: from today’s standards 2:08 men and 2:25 women are slow.
On the WSJ article, the route proposed for the NYC bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is presented as a comparison with the 30 year old course run by tens of thousands of people a week ago. The classic NYC Marathon course runs from Staten Island, crosses Brooklyn and Queens, gets into Manhattan heading to a quick tour of the Bronx and finishes in Central Park; the proposed NYC2012 course would have started from Coney Island, which could accommodate thousands of runners, and would have finished on the would-be Olympic Stadium on the West Side in Manhattan. The course is a nice one, showcasing most of NYC landmarks: for one I would love to run on the Brooklyn Bridge, but to anyone who lived or is living in NYC it should be fairly obvious that the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t quite suitable to have thousands of runners, either they run on the walkway overpass from which is possible to enjoy the Bridge fully but it’s too small, or on the underpass and through that the Brooklyn Bridge looks pretty much equal to the Queensboro or any other bridge. Then, from the Bridge one is in downtown Manhattan, breath-taking to run through but I do remember the Wall Street 5k as one of the most tortuous race I’ve ever run in the City. The finish line at the Olympic Stadium, a.k.a. West Side Stadium, would be nice and could have space for more than 50 thousands runners, but of course there’s no West Side Stadium: the project has been discussed for decades with adamant opposition of West Side denizens.
Another challenge is traffic, closing NYC arteries for at least eight hours is not easy feat; now the marathon runs peripherally to the City: 4th Ave in Brooklyn is not as central as Ocean Parkway of the NYC2012 marathon course, and 1st Ave in Manhattan runs on the should of the City while Broadway cuts across it. Street closure for an Olympic marathon lasts only a couple of hours and the runners stays in pack, while during a city marathon they spread through the entire course for hours: last Sunday, the elite finished in Central Park when runners were still in Brooklyn. (By the way, Broadway closes for the NYC Half-marathon but only for half the time.)
But probably the biggest disadvantage of changing the marathon course is that it wouldn’t run through all the boroughs, which was Fred Lebow’s original idea when he and the newly created NYRR moved the NYC Marathon moving from its four loops of Central Park to the streets of the City. (I just watched Run For Your Life, which is an ok movie.) Having run the race last year, that – seeing all the diverse neighborhoods of the city, running through the Latino communities of Sunset Park to the Jewish Orthodox of Williamsburgh, to the Greek ones of Queens, and up to the posh neighborhoods of the Upper East Side – is my fondest memory of the 26.2 miles race, and it’s what, I think, makes the New York City Marathon the New York City Marathon.