The Five Boroughs were off and running again Sunday morning as more than 33,000 athletes took a 26.2 mile journey with the return of the TCS New York City Marathon, the latest milestone in the city’s pandemic recovery.
The marathon’s 50th running was more than just a test of endurance, for thousands it is a shining beacon of hope. Literally running through all five boroughs, the 26.2-mile trek showcased Sunday just how far the Big Apple has come since the early, dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic by opening the metropolis up to an army of athletes.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s big race, but a year later, the world’s largest marathon was back in full swing. A tidal wave of humanity began filing into the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the crack of dawn, wrapped in blankets and clutching their bib numbers.
For some it was a long wait as they snoozed prior to the big start, while others used the time to warm up by stretching or even relaxing and reading a book.
Beginning at 8 am with the male and female wheelchair racers respectfully, the 50th TCS New York Marathon launched with the sound of cannon fire from the Veteran Corps of Artillery Institute (formed on Nov. 25, 1790), which served as the starting gun. Charging, the marathoners broke off into the early morning sun with the iconic bridge serving as both their backdrop and initial goal.
And they had a long way to go.
The first wave of professional wheelchair division, hand cyclists, and runners slogged across the bridge and into Brooklyn, then Queens, crossing the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, looping around Wills Avenue in the Bronx, and then back down in Manhattan toward Central Park.
Top athlete Albert Korir finished in two hours and eight minutes, while Peres Jepchirchir finished two hours and 22 minutes, both earning first place. Additionally, in the top three women’s wheelchair division was Madison de Rozario, Tatyana McFadden, and Manuela Schär. While in the men’s wheelchair division Marcel Hug, Daniel Romanchuk, and David Weir were the top of their section.
Johnny Shay could barely hold in his exhilaration when describing how great it felt to be back participating in the marathon after the hiatus. Shay proudly showed off his gold medal, awarded for completing the race in under three hours.
“The energy in the crowd was amazing. Everybody turned out today and I fed off that energy and felt really good. I got my gold time under three hours,” Shay said. “I was home for the whole pandemic so you can feel the electricity out on the streets today. I saw one sign that said, ‘Triumph of the human spirit’ and it’s such a good day to celebrate everybody pushing their limits, trying to prove to themselves they can do something tough, you know, so it’s really inspiring to be part of it.”
As the world’s largest marathon, several professional runners felt its immensity as they collapsed at the finish line. Grimacing in pain or clutching their head as they were wheeled away, the immeasurable undertaking was apparent through their pain. Still, they pushed forward, despite a few even lacking experience.
Darren Tomasso is from New York City and shares that this was the second time he ever participated in a marathon. Initially, Tomasso was just a trainer for runners since 2018; however, when the world went on lockdown due to the pandemic, he picked up running shoes for himself.
“I’m a trainer myself. I’ve trained runners for so long since 2018. But I’ve never actually put myself in the ring.” Tomasso said. “It was really during COVID-19 I realized like, what am I working towards? Why can’t I throw myself into the ring and do this myself? So I committed myself to doing this and I ran my first marathon in October in Chicago and wanted to do it again in the home court in New York City with a 301 time, and I just learned so much from this process.”
Aside from exhaustion, the first thing on Tomasso’s mind after finishing the race was food.
“I’m really hungry. But I feel so, so good,” he said. “It’s just to be able to come back after everything that this world has gone through.”
A version of this story first appeared on amNewYork.