Checking off a Bucket List Item: Escorting the NYC Marathon
If you spend enough time racing and riding bikes in New York City a bit of monotony is unavoidable. The early morning Central Park races start to blur together, to say nothing of the (at times grueling) training miles up and down 9W. Thankfully there are exceptions like Saturday’s absolutely spectacular transfer ride but for better or worse after a decade plus of riding in New York City I feel like I have seen and ridden most of the things there are to to see and ride in NYC. There was, however, one ‘bucket list’ ride that I hadn’t checked off my list until this past weekend: escorting the NYC Marathon wheelchair race.
Which is how I found myself - with various pre-race paperwork and hurdles cleared - mounting my Garneau A1 in darkness on Sunday morning and riding through Brooklyn on an absolutely beautiful morning alongside a couple dozen fellow NYC cyclists in matching helmet covers and safety vests. It was an early morning for what would prove to be a speedy 16 mile per hour jaunt through multiple boroughs as part of a ride that I won’t soon forget.
After a breakfast of bagels and coffee served on an out-of-service MTA bus, obligatory group photos, and some last minute instruction from maestro Michael Gately, we lined up in pre-assigned order just off the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, prepared for the task of clearing the road for the pro wheelchair athletes. I was teamed up with Kevin Hsieh from Kruis CX to cover the second place Men’s racer, just behind New England’s Keith Kelly who was assigned the race lead and in front of Mark Robohm of HVC Racing. In no time the race leaders came screaming off the bridge and into Brooklyn. From the gun it was a three man race between Daniel Romanchuk (USA), Marcel Hug (SUI), and David Weir (GBR) which allowed us to put two escort cyclists in front and two behind, whistles at the ready.
The next ninety odd minutes were eye opening. I quickly learned how readily pedestrians would wander across the marathon course, oblivious to the speed of the athletes (we hit 30 miles per hour on the descents). My whistle saw plenty of use during the race, along with some aggressive hand gestures and occasional screaming. But the more eye opening aspect of the experience was witnessing first hand the power of the athletes at the front of the race. As a spectator watching from a fixed course-side location the wheelchair racers go by in a flash, making it all but impossible to comprehend how much power they’re putting down on a consistent basis over 26.2 miles. Escorting the race provided a whole new perspective on these truly inspiring athletes, especially when it came to the fury of their attacks as the three leaders went at each other relentlessly throughout the race, the thump of their efforts sounding out with each push on their chairs. It was quite simply incredibly to see.
In fact the only even slightly disappointing part of the entire experience was having to pull off as the three leaders exited the south end of Central Park - thus missing the three up sprint finish where Daniel Romanchuk took home the win. But even with missing the finish I don’t know if I will ever have a more exciting ninety minutes on the bike than escorting the race on Sunday.
As soon as we finished our escort task we refueled on coffee and returned to the Upper East Side where the famous 1st Avenue party was in full swing. We caught a brief glimpse of TBD’s own Corey Williams as he cruised through mile 17 in what would be a sub-3:30 finish and then spent the rest of the day partying with spectators and race finishers. It total it was an exhaustingly long day but it was also one that I will not soon forget. As a longtime NYC cyclist this was a definite bucket list item that has now been checked - which I suppose means it is time to start adding some new ideas to that list.
A big thank you to Michael Gately who organized the wheelchair escorts and an even bigger congratulations to all of the marathon finishers.