Sunday Morning Streets

(Apologies to Patriot’s Day).

Road races allow runners to be unique pedestrians.   We get to see cities, small towns and countrysides with our feet having the “sole” right-of-way.   Few people get to experience this.

Unlike a training run, when you have to share the sidewalks, paths and roads with casual walkers, baby strollers or automobiles, during a race, it is only you and your running comrades in some pretty cool places.  Even a solitary running trail, while beautiful, can sometimes be an obstacle course filled with mountain bikes and pets.  However, on race day, which usually occurs on a Sunday morning (sometimes a Saturday), there is only one mode of transportation, and you are the vehicle.

This didn’t occur to me until I visited Times Square as a tourist two months after running the NYC Half Marathon.  As my wife and I walked and navigated around the claustrophobia-inducing sea of tourists and activity, I thought back to the race, which came down 7th Avenue before hanging a right turn on 42nd Street.   I thought to myself: “These streets belonged to runners two months ago, if only for a little bit.”

The feeling of freedom running through Times Square, the center of the universe, is almost indescribable.  The colorful, animated advertisements were illuminated, but the streets were filled with only runners, not tour buses and taxis.   The main sound was each runner’s stride, not horns blaring or whistles blowing.  This memory will always be with me, even though the race is long over.

I once wrote about the temporary yet lasting interactions runners have with each other, and sometimes with spectators.   Well, the same can be said about connecting with the streets of a race course.

During that same sightseeing trip to New York City, more memories came back to me, this time of the 2006 ING NYC Marathon.   I thought about the moments I spent on the 59th Street Bridge, a dark structure with a sinister sign overhead reminding us that there were still over “ten miles to go.”

While temporarily facing this harsh reality, the other runners and I ran on, eventually crossing the bridge.   No cars would be going from Queens to Manhattan via the 59th Street Bridge that morning or early afternoon, just us runners.   We were then catapulted down the spiraling road from the bridge and up First Avenue via the inspiration from the screaming spectators.  The 59th Street Bridge and First Avenue are simply unforgettable.

Soon after our trip to New York City, we were visiting Washington, DC.   Memories flooded back from where I once ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  This time, I was crossing the streets surrounding the National Mall…streets that once belonged to a group of us runners, if only for one Sunday morning in October.  On that race morning, if a politician needed to head to the Capitol Building, he or she would have to yield to the runners passing around the Mall.

Being the pedestrian and the vehicle is an interesting phenomenon.   This especially rings true for me in point-to-point races, such as the Steamtown Marathon or Boston Marathon (a Monday race…um, I don’t like Mondays).  If you don’t know, point-to-point means that the starting line is geographically 26.2 miles away from the finish line, and this can be intimidating.   The only way you’re getting to the finish line is with your legs. However, it can also be inspiring because each step you run is a step closer to the finish line.

That linear, point-to-point route belongs to you briefly, and it is usually a scenic state road containing enthusiastic small town support along the way.  Such races also have amazing final stretches, whether it is from the inspirational cheers of the St. Joseph’s children on Electric Street near Scranton or the goosebumps produced from the action of making that left turn onto Boyleston Street in Boston.

There is nothing like being the engine that gets you through the streets of a race.   You can’t hail a cab or hop on a trolley.  Your running stride is the mode of transportation.

Crossing famous streets where you once raced is a satisfying feeling.  You can always say those streets were briefly yours.

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