There’s something romantic about the holidays in New York. Miracle on 34th Street makes Christmastime in Midtown seem more appealing than it has any right to be; When Harry Met Sally would have you believe New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple is wholesome rather than an alarming display or moral depravity; Hell, even Pieces of April uses Thanksgiving charm to reconcile an estranged mother and daughter on the Lower East Side. This is all fine and good, but what culture has long ignored is that none of these days are actually the best holiday in New York. That, of course, is the New York City Marathon, and it’s making its triumphant return this Sunday after being postponed in 2020.
For New Yorkers who have never ventured outside of their apartments on Marathon Sunday to watch thousands of runners trek through the city on a cool November day, let me paint a picture for you. Early in the morning, you will see the professionals. They run in a tight pack, moving their legs so quickly and gracefully that it looks inhuman. These are what the Boston Dynamics robots wished they looked like.
Later, you will begin to see the throng of regular runners. I say regular only to differentiate them from the professionals, but it is by no means a regular feat to run a marathon. These people have had to put in more work and effort into qualifying for this race than I ever have for anything in my life.
When the regular runners start appearing is when you can expect to shed your first tear (because the Marathon will make you cry). You will undoubtedly see someone run to the sideline and into the arms of their friends and family — only for a brief moment, they have a pace to maintain — in pure, unadulterated exuberance. “They’re doing it! They’ve worked so hard and now they’re doing it,” I think to myself every year. That brief moment is so filled with love and joy and pride that it is enough to make you forget all of the ills of the world. And if the runner has a kid? And they get to quickly hug their kid while running the marathon? Forget it. I literally just started crying thinking about it.
The New York City Marathon, unlike other holidays, does not have a downside. Sure, it might occasionally be harder to cross the street, but where are you trying to go? The Marathon is right there! The Marathon does not require you to come up with a silly little costume to go get blackout drunk in Bushwick. You don’t have to worry about how decades of family politics will affect a meal of dry turkey and burnt green bean casserole. You don’t have to figure out what the hell to buy your dad. You just have to show up, and the best part is that everyone shows up.
People line themselves along the route, on the sidewalks, stoops, and roofs, just to cheer for strangers. Some people make a whole day of it, with mimosas and those cardboard boxes full of coffee set up on their stoops. Literal bells and whistles are constantly going off in between full-throated yelling and clapping. A runner named Erica writes her name on her shirt and every spectator yells, “Go Erica!” Would I get along with Erica in real life? I don’t know, I don’t care, and she’s already gone (she waved though).
There are so few community-minded holidays we get to partake in. Almost every single federal holiday has been co-opted in one way or another, and too many of them focus on the often fraught premise of convening with your entire family. The Marathon escapes all of that. It’s a day for gathering with your neighbors to celebrate the momentous achievements of your other neighbors. It’s almost overwhelming in its earnestness, and every year it manages to briefly put me in a Ted Lasso-esque state of optimism and warmth toward my fellow man. Put Meg Ryan in a movie about that.