The New York City Marathon should be on (the top of) your bucket list

If you’re like me, signing up to run a marathon has probably crossed your mind once of twice. Maybe you enjoy the odd 5km jog, now and then. Or maybe it’s just one of those big ticket bucket list items, nestled somewhere in your subconscious between skydiving and learning Italian.

For me it’s both: I recently ran a 10km, and loved it (my gosh, that runners’ high). Plus I’ve always liked the idea of a challenge- and, er, 42km definitely qualifies as one. But, like many things on one’s bucket list, the idea has always remained largely dormant, as has learning Italian.

That is, until I came to New York this week. Since I arrived, the one-of-a-kind city has been buzzing with such an intensity that us mere spectators can’t help but want a piece of the pie next year – ultimately pushing the city’s marathon to the top of my list, now scribbled in big, definitive, permanent letters.

First things first, if you haven’t been to New York before, that needs to go on your list too. It’s a city unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before: intense, sparkly, all-consuming and addictive. Or, perhaps better put by Alicia Keys, "the streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you". (Fun fact: Keys herself ran the marathon in 2015).

But putting my lust to return to this city aside, what else makes the New York City Marathon better than any other old marathon? Well, as I learned this week, quite a few things actually.

For starters, it’s the biggest in the world, with more than 50,000 runners, almost half of which are international athletes who flock to the city especially to run. More than two million spectators line the course, which goes through the city’s five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

Runners write their names on their bibs, so the hundreds and hundreds of people lining the streets can cheer them on, shouting their names in encouragement. And, as one New York journalist tells me, runners are also encouraged to write the number of marathons they’ve done on the back of their bibs, which for some people can be upwards of 40 or 50 plus.

But if there’s anyone who can wax lyrical on why this marathon is the best, it’s Sydney personal trainer Benny Lucas, who will clock his 40th marathon on Sunday and his fourth in New York, alongside 52 members from his Paddington-based gym, Flow Athletic. And according to Lucas, it’s this feverous crowd support that makes New York unlike any other marathon in the world. "The whole city stops and watches it, everyone cheers," he tells me, as we sit in a downtown cafe in New York two days before the event. "People cheer out ‘Go Benny, go! And you can be 20,000th in the race but you feel like an absolute winner because of the incredible support. They do that at some other marathons, but nothing like here."

And that support extends far beyond race day, Lucas explains. "When you finish the marathon and you get your medal – if you wear that around the next week, anywhere you go, you get treated like a king. You’re straight to the front of the line at the bagel shop, you get a free drink at the bar, people have a sense of pride and people really respect you for doing something."

To illustrate the contrast, he adds: "In Australia, if you wear your marathon medal to walk back to the car after finishing people are like, ‘get your hand off it mate, what are you doing?’ It’s just such a different culture. Even the last week since we’ve been here, when you tell people you’re here to run the marathon, the reaction is like, ‘oh my God, that’s amazing – we’re going to be out there cheering for you.’"

There’s also the fact that, as a city, New York is total eye candy. Everywhere you look, there’s bright lights, yellow cabs and iconic landmarks, which seem all too familiar, not because you’ve seen them before but because they are the backdrop of films you grew up with. And herein lies the other good thing about the marathon – a chance to see the city from a unique vantage point.

"It is one of the greatest cities on earth," Lucas agrees, "and they shut the whole thing down for you and it’s the best way to get a view of the city as well – you run through the five boroughs and finish in Central Park. So outside of the support, it’s just the magnificent way to see such a beautiful city, as well."

Aside from these (highly convincing) reasons to run the marathon, I also consider it a duty to add something here about the food in New York. Having lived off an almost exclusive bagel and pizza diet for the last five days, I feel smugly qualified to boast that New York is also one of the best cities in the world to carb-load. And if that’s not an incentive to run 42km – I don’t know what is, really.

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