The best photos of the New York Marathon of the past 50 years

Follow our live coverage of the New York Marathon 2021.

The New York City Marathon is one of the world’s largest and most democratic road races. Olympic medalists and world champions cover the same 26.2 miles as the weekend warriors. There were 1,283,005 total finishers from 49 races and thousands of photographs captured by dozens of photographers for The New York Times.

The runners parade in the five arrondissements and through the images here. Their thighs throb, their hamstrings vibrate like banjos, and their fingernails darken like the afternoon sky. But the vast majority are triumphant when they reach the finish line, having challenged the limits of their endurance and experienced New York’s loud, welcoming and eccentric embrace. Where else can you expect to be watered by a cat?

Hours before the start, thousands of riders start loading buses and ferries and travel from Manhattan on departure to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. They are extremely hydrated and nervous at this point, but portable toilet lines are available at the start and on the course. Unlike the annual Pyongyang International Marathon in North Korea, however, New York City will not offer the option of making an official stop at a karaoke bar.

Frank Sinatra will sing “New York, New York” so many times the waves of runners kick in, even his recorded voice will start to sound hoarse. This bump start over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is eagerly awaited, so the first mile uphill is barely noticeable and the second mile downhill feels dizzying but treacherous. The guy who plans to dribble basketballs the entire 26.2 miles is begging for little to no wind so his props don’t end up in the Atlantic Ocean.

At this early stage of Brooklyn, it’s less of a race than a parade. The course is flat, the crowds are large and the smell of Sunday morning cooking fills the air. Central Park, where the entire marathon took place before it became a race in five boroughs in 1976, looks woefully far from here. But there is no way at this point that anyone considering reaching the finish line in a taxi.

It is still mainly a preamble. Bands are playing and signs in the crowd are funny: “Nails are for losers”. “Pain is French for bread.” Then over the Pulaski Bridge, you cross from Brooklyn to Queens and reach the halfway point at 13.1 miles. If you’re a four-hour marathoner, you’ve hit the halfway point as the male winner nears the finish line, about to cover 26.2 miles with an average of less than five minutes per mile. . You wonder how anyone can travel so fast without driving a Vespa.

It starts to get serious, going up the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15. The race takes place calmly on the bridge, without enthusiastic spectators and the sound of footsteps muffled by a special carpet on race day. The Manhattan skyline is in panoramic view, but runners mostly look inward, gauging their legs and fuel. Soon, a spectator’s sign will inevitably warn, “It seems like a huge job for a free banana.”

Exiting the bridge to Manhattan provides one of the most exhilarating and misleading points of the course. Crowds flock along First Avenue and many runners make the mistake of accelerating recklessly, only to exhaust themselves before the finish. Crowds thin out in the Bronx, and back in Manhattan, the legs grow heavy on the gradual climb up Fifth Avenue. Fatigue can be confusing. If a volunteer offers something to you, make sure you aren’t about to eat a sponge.

These high-tech running shoes with catapults in the soles can’t do it all. The last few miles in Central Park are a chore. Two hills appear around Mile 24. After an excursion along 59th Street, runners reenter the park at Columbus Circle for the final stretch. In the 1994 race, Germán Silva of Mexico prematurely rushed into the park, recovered and won anyway. Don’t try this.

Finally, a slight climb leads to the finish line and, exhausted but satisfied, you get a medal around your neck. But you haven’t finished. You continue to exit the park and join other people on their way to their hotels, filling Midtown Manhattan with what appear to be spandex zombies in expensive shoes. Then you call home and report your time and say, “You won’t believe it, but I got hit by a cat.”

These photographs will also be published in a special section of this Saturday’s print edition of the New York Times.


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