26.2 at 50

The New York City Marathon is one of the world’s largest road races and most democratic. Olympic medalists and world champions run the same 26.2 miles as weekend warriors. There have been 1,283,005 total finishers over 49 runnings, and thousands of photographs captured by scores of photographers for The New York Times.

The runners pulse through the five boroughs, and through the images here. Their thighs feel stabbingly sore, their hamstrings twang like banjos, and their toenails darken like the hastening afternoon sky. But the vast majority are triumphant in reaching the finish line, having challenged the limits of their endurance and experienced New York’s loud and welcoming and eccentric embrace. Where else can you expect to be high-fived by a cat?

Before the Race

Hours before the start, thousands of runners begin loading buses and ferries and travel from Manhattan to the start at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. They are extremely hydrated and nervous by this point, but there are lines of portable toilets available at the start and on the course. Unlike the annual international marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea, however, New York will not offer a chance to make an official pit stop in a karaoke bar.

2019 Sunrise on the Staten Island Ferry. Charles Hugh Jones of Brooklyn was on his way to his second start in New York.Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

2013 Alfredo Dellossantos of the U.S. preparing his handcycle for the race. He would win the men’s division in 1:30:10.Credit…Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
2019 Runners, some chatty, some serious and all of them bundled up, rode a shuttle bus from the ferry to the start.Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times
1992 Racers in a newspaper-strewn tent during a moment of stretching, calm and perhaps reflection before the start.Credit…Ed Quinn for The New York Times

1991 Near the start, runners quickly shed the extra layer of pants and shirts they wore to stay warm before the race.

Credit…Ed Quinn for The New York Times

1984 Fred Lebow, left, the marathon’s founder, and Abdul El-Amin looking over rows of runners’ applications.Credit…Keith Meyers/The New York Times

And They’re Off

Frank Sinatra will sing “New York, New York” so many times as the waves of runners set off, even his recorded voice will begin to sound hoarse. This humpbacked start over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is one of great expectancy, so the first mile uphill is hardly noticeable and the second mile downhill gives a giddy but treacherous sense of ease. The guy planning to dribble basketballs the entire 26.2 miles prays for little or no wind so his props don’t end up in the Atlantic Ocean.

2004 Mile 1 is all uphill as runners cross the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge out of Staten Island and into Brooklyn.Credit…Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
1972 Six women took a seat at the start, protesting a rule that called for a separate start for them from the male runners.Credit…Patrick A. Burns/The New York Times

2013 Huddling before the start. Runners faced chilly conditions and winds that gusted near 20 miles an hour.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

2019 In a celebratory mood at the start line. With more than 53,600 finishers, the race became the world’s largest marathon.

Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Up Fourth Avenue

At this early stage in Brooklyn, this is less a race than a parade. The course is flat, the crowds are buoyant and the smell of Sunday morning cooking fills the air. Central Park, where the marathon was held in its entirety before it became a five-borough race in 1976, looks awfully far from here. But there is zero chance at this point that anyone is considering reaching the finish line in a cab.

2013 The fastest wheelchairs can barrel downhill at 60 m.p.h., but on Fourth Avenue the course is mostly flat.Credit…Andrew White for The New York Times
1996 A rooftop on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. Racers start on slightly different courses but come back together.Credit…Steve Hart for The New York Times
1985 For almost the entire route, it was standing room only along the sidewalks, which made a lamppost perch ideal.Credit…Barton Silverman/The New York Times
2011 John Shakal’s normally sleepy block on 74th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in the year it was added to the route.Credit…Beatrice de Gea for The New York Times

Brooklyn to Queens

This is still mostly preamble. Bands are playing and signs in the crowd are funny: “Toenails are for losers.” “Pain is French for bread.” Then, on the Pulaski Bridge, you cross from Brooklyn into Queens and reach the halfway point at 13.1 miles. If you are a four-hour marathoner, you have reached midway as the men’s winner nears the finish line, about to complete 26.2 miles while averaging less than five minutes per mile. You wonder how someone can travel this fast while not riding a Vespa.

2013 Marathoners making the turn from Lafayette Avenue onto Bedford Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant.Credit…Andrew White for The New York Times
1993 Tom Young and Pam Kezios were married in a brief ceremony near Mile 8, where separate paths merge into one.Credit…Edward Keating/The New York Times
2019 Ronan Barbier and Leneures Aurore shared a moment during an event that inspires a range of emotions.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times
2011 A daring attempt to cross the street in Hasidic Williamsburg, one of the quieter stretches of the marathon.Credit…Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
2006 A runner in a bird suit, continuing a rich tradition of marathon costumes, enjoyed a break in Williamsburg.Credit…Michael Nagle for The New York Times
2003 Tens of thousands of runners, and cups aplenty for each. Sweeping up at Bedford Avenue and South Fourth Street.Credit…Frances Roberts for The New York Times

Into Manhattan

It begins to get serious, heading up the Queensboro Bridge at Mile 15. The race goes quiet on the bridge, with no cheering spectators and the sound of footsteps muffled by special race-day carpet. The Manhattan skyline comes into panoramic view, but runners are mostly turning inward, gauging their legs and their fuel. Soon, a spectator’s sign will inevitably warn: “This seems like an awful lot of work for a free banana.”

2019 Spectators offered an emotional lift as runners made their way through Queens toward the Queensboro Bridge.Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times
2014 The view of the Queensboro Bridge — vehicle traffic up top, foot traffic below — from the Roosevelt Island tram.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times
1980 It was a clear day, offering runners a view across the East River, but conditions were chilly and blustery.Credit…Barton Silverman/The New York Times

To the Bronx and Back

Exiting the bridge into Manhattan provides one of the most exhilarating and deceiving points on the course. The crowds swell along First Avenue and many runners make the mistake of speeding up recklessly, only to fade into exhaustion before the finish. Crowds thin in the Bronx, and back in Manhattan the legs grow heavy on the gradual uphill along Fifth Avenue. Fatigue can bring confusion. If a volunteer offers you something, make sure you are not about to eat a sponge.

1990 Spectators secured a prime vantage point on the Queensboro Bridge as runners streamed up First Avenue.Credit…Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
2010 The sisters cheered as two runners took a break on the steps of the Handmaids of Mary Convent in Harlem.Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times
2013 Firefighters from Ladder 28 in Harlem climbed the truck to show their appreciation for the marathoners.Credit…Robert Caplin for The New York Times
2014 People turn out on sidewalks all over the city, as above in Harlem as the elite male runners dashed past.Credit…Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The Finish Line

Those high-tech running shoes with catapults in the soles can only do so much. The final miles in Central Park are a grind. Two hills appear around Mile 24. After an excursion along 59th Street, runners re-enter the park at Columbus Circle for the final stretch. During the 1994 race, Germán Silva of Mexico turned prematurely into the park, recovered and still won. Do not try this.

Finally, a slight uphill leads to the finish line and, exhausted but satisfied, you get a medal around your neck. But you are not finished. You keep walking out of the park and join others making their way to their hotels, filling Midtown Manhattan with what seem to be spandex zombies in expensive shoes. Then you call home and report your time and say, “You won’t believe this, but I got high-fived by a cat.”

1983 New Zealand’s Rod Dixon was the first foreign man to win the race, finishing nine seconds ahead of Geoff Smith.Credit…Keith Meyers/The New York Times
1980 Passers-by search the results of the 12,483 finishers posted on a bank window in Midtown the day after the race.Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

1980 Marathoners in Central Park after the race, wrapped in the foil sheets that are designed to retain body heat.

Credit…Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

2015 Shari Diaz and Wicki Ball crossed the finish line in the dark, minutes after the race had officially ended.

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

2006 An aerial photo of Brazil’s Marilson Gomes dos Santos crossing the finish line in Central Park in an upset win.

Credit…Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

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