Get Down, Get Up: Tales from the Roadway

Just about a week or so after the last pitch of the World Series is thrown, and the last out has been recorded, New York City will once again be front and center.

Sunday, 7 November will mark the 50th running of the New York City Marathon. The 26.2-mile road race through New York’s five boroughs features more than 30,000 competitors, 10,000+ volunteer race workers, hundreds of marching bands, slews of street musicians, wielding electric guitars, portable pianos, and drum sets, more than a million spectators (while millions more will watch the worldwide TV broadcast), and some 25,000 gallons of Gatorade.

Sprung from the notion of the late Fred Lebow (the marathon’s founder and longtime director), over the years, the race has taken on the feel of a massive international festival. Featuring runners from all 50 US states and over 100 different countries, the journey will begin again (after COVID KO’d the 2020 event) on Staten Island, atop the Verrazano Bridge, eventually winding through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, before concluding on the rugged hills of Manhattan’s Central Park.

H. Jackson Brown once wrote, “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength, but by perseverance.” And that just may be the greatest lesson of the
storied race.

But while Mr. Brown’s words are certainly very telling, he did overlook a few things. For along with that tireless perseverance comes a lot of help – a 25+-mile-long cheering section, compromised of a million or so adoring strangers, plus a widespread field of competitors unlike any other in modern sport. You’ll see blind runners, wheelchair competitors, and runners with missing limbs. And there are many other entrants, including characters like Santa Claus, pizza delivery guys/gals, and yes, even Gumby, gracing
the course.

And given that incredibly eclectic mix, the high stakes for the elite runners, the jockeying for position by so many different top-drawer advertisers, etc., there’s one thing that many of us may have forgotten…The competitors help each other.

November 5, 1991

I’m making my way across the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan when I lose my footing and trip. (The bridge’s roadway is covered by a mile-long carpet to give the runners a break after some 15 miles, pounding directly on the pavement.)

So, after I belt out an unprintable expletive, the man behind me scoops me up by a corner of my racing shirt, steadies me, and has me back in stride within a few seconds. That was just before mile 16.

I ran with him and two other runners for the next eight miles before I tired in Central Park and had to let them go. To this day, I’m convinced that the man’s quick reactions and general unselfishness saved me from having to drop out of my first-ever marathon.

November 14, 1993

An unusually hot mid-November day makes for nearly-unbearable road racing conditions. Long after the elite runners have completed their interviews and TV coverage has returned to regularly scheduled program, the majority of the runners are left to slug it out along the course. And I’m one of them, feeling like I’ve got dogs on my legs.

Cramping badly, I spot a medical tent a few hundred meters up 5th Avenue. Arriving in agony and now unable to walk, I see, at least, 20 other runners writhing in pain on the sidewalk, victims of the freakish November heat.

Within a few seconds, a race volunteer and a NYC transit cop are literally sitting on the sidewalk right next to me, helping pound the heat cramps right out of both my legs. Soon, the pain has dissipated long enough that I think I can actually walk again – maybe even run.

With a lot of clawing, yelling, and some much-needed support, I somehow run another seven miles after that. To complete the race.


“If you want to run, then run a mile. If you want to experience life, run a marathon.”

Emil Zatopek, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), Triple Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1952 Games, 5K, 10K, and the Marathon.

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