Runners stream over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the start of the New York City Marathon (Getty)Runners stream over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the start of the New York City Marathon (Getty) © Copyright

Ode to the New York City Marathon

As a born and bred New Yorker, Chris Chavez has watched the NYC Marathon as a spectator, covered it as a journalist and taken on the five boroughs as a runner. This year he will be toeing the line on Staten Island again. He tells us why the race is so special.

I was born in Queens, and with the exception of four years of college in Wisconsin, have lived in New York pretty much all my life.

The 2011 NYC Marathon was the one that convinced me to get into distance running. Geoffrey Mutai won that year in a course record [of 2:05:06, which still stands] but I remember watching it on TV and that’s what made me want to try it. I was a sprinter in high school and I got to college and didn’t want to put on weight, so I just started running two or three miles a day, figuring I could run charity 5Ks.

Then I watched the NYC Marathon.

Maybe it was the human-interest stories they were showing on the broadcast and the way the elite runners were going through all these familiar streets that really made me want to do it. I took the plunge and did Chicago in 2013, but NYC was always top of the list.

I finally ran it in 2014. I got hurt in the middle of the race, but I kept going. This year training has been going really well and now I know what to expect.

A hell of a town

Staten Island: you’re only there for the start, you’re freezing and you want to go and get the race started and then you go over the bridge, which is such an iconic place to start.

Brooklyn is way too long. You’re there for 15 miles, so I think the way I break it down in my head is that it’s the Brooklyn Half Marathon plus the other boroughs.

Queens is where I get a little bit more emotive and will get some extra motivation, because that’s where my parents and some of my family are waiting for me.

Then it’s the part where I got hurt in 2014: Queensboro Bridge. It’s tough because it’s the only part of the course were it’s totally quiet as you don’t have spectators. The incline coming up from Queens is tough and the fact you have the ability to hear your breath, hear your steps abut very little else – sometimes it makes people freak out.

You’re anticipating 1st Avenue right afterwards and kind of excited to get to that point because you know you have Staten Island and Brooklyn knocked out of the way – all you’re missing is Manhattan, The Bronx and then you’re back into Manhattan, so you really want to get Queens over with and for that you have to get over the bridge.

But for me nothing beats Manhattan.

Empire state of mind

Once you get there the welcome on 1st Avenue is just this wall of sound. It’s the loudest thing you’ll ever hear and you’ll have the temptation to get really excited at that point because of the crowd and the noise. You’re tempted to go a little bit faster, but you have to remind yourself you have another 10 miles to go as soon as you hit Manhattan. And that’s just the welcome to Manhattan.

The ending to the race, being in Central Park, is one of the coolest finish lines in the world.

The Park is where it really hits you that you’re about to finish this journey that you started really far away in Staten Island. 

From a spectator's perspective or the journalist's perspective, where you’re focused on who’s going to win, it’s great because they’re always bringing in some pretty great elite fields every year, which makes the race exciting up front.

But nothing beats it from the runners’ view. The fact that you’re out there with 50,000 other people is incredible. It’s the biggest marathon in the world and part of me thinks at least you’re not going to come last.

And the people that come out to the race are from all around the world.

I know you see that at a lot of World Marathon Majors, but I feel New York definitely turns out the most international field just because for some people it’s the first time coming to see New York City. To be able to go to all five boroughs in one shot, that’s a pretty exciting way to get around – a draining but exhilarating way to see the city.