Weekend Column: Missing the Marathon

Stanley Biwott of Kenya winning the marathon in 2015. Photo by Andrew Dallos.

By Chris Breslin

With the air now cool and crisp and the leaves changing colors, the Upper West Side usually has the New York City Marathon to look forward to on the first Sunday in November. Potential runners and businesses alike were disappointed in June of this year when the New York Road Runners, the Mayor’s office, and the Governor’s office together decided it was impossible for the race to take place this year due to the coronavirus.

When I spoke with the Chairman of the Board of New York Road Runners, George Hirsch, he said, “It’s a huge loss for the city with an economic impact of over $450 million, and nowhere will that loss be felt more than the Upper West Side. It is truly heartbreaking.”

​This year would have been the 50th anniversary of the New York City Marathon with over 52,000 runners entered. Last year, more than two-and-a-half million spectators lined the course, which spans all five boroughs.

The fireworks before the Marathon. Photo by Studio Sarah Lou.

​The Marathon brings energy and economy to the Upper West Side as everyone spills out onto Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue, and Broadway after the race. There are also the pre-race dinners the night before where everyone loads up on pasta, but the post-race celebratory dinners are resplendent with runners and their families who come from over 140 countries to celebrate this day and the restaurants are jammed.

Ardian, the manager of Francesco’s Pizza on Columbus Avenue, who has worked Marathon Sunday for the last 20 years told me, “It is one of our best days of the year.” I asked him how he felt about the Marathon being cancelled this year and he said, “Everyone has to be safe, but we are sure going to miss it. I hope that next year it will be back. It’s a very hard time for everyone right now.”

Over on West 72nd Street I spoke to John, a bartender at The Emerald Inn, and he said “Marathon Sunday is the second biggest day of the year for us next to St. Paddy’s Day.” Nothing could be bigger than St. Patrick’s Day for this establishment.

I have run the Marathon eight times and it is simply magical. It’s almost like the Upper West Side has its own special holiday on this day. One of my favorite places to get a cup of tea after the race and watch all the runners wrapped in their foil blankets is The Muffin Shop on Columbus Avenue and West 70th Street.

After the race, runners and their families often wind down or eat on the Upper West Side. Photo by Ernie Fritz.

Throughout the pandemic The Muffin Shop stayed open. I dropped in recently for one of their treats and spoke with Ali who is the owner. Ali told me, “It’s a very big loss that there will be no marathon this year. I do as much business in one day on Marathon Sunday as I do in one whole week, but we have to understand what is going on and be safe for everyone.”

Just up the block, Nicky “Meatballs,” Marmando, who owns Polpette on West 71st Street and gets a huge marathon crowd at his restaurant each year, said, “The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the Marathon weekend is the biggest grossing week of the year for my restaurant. I just hope another round of stimulus comes through to help all the businesses out.”

The Marathon has certainly been a day for everyone on the Upper West Side to look forward to each year. As for next year, George Hirsch explained, “We are very hard at work for the 2021 New York City Marathon. It means so much to us to bring the Marathon back and we will, and it will be exciting, but the people’s safety comes first.” Here’s hoping for next year!

COLUMNS, NEWS | 18 comments | permalink
    1. Marti Cassidy says:

      There are many ways to re-channel our need to cheer on others, like we did recently for front line health care workers.

      Pastor Ian Alterman is leading homeless groups on therapy walks, pert of his awesome outreach program. Perhaps WSR could publish the schedules and we could cheer them on from our windows and balconies, boosting their self esteem and helping them heal.

    2. Kerry says:

      Great insight into how the NYC Marathon impacts the small business owners of the UWS.

    3. Rena says:

      Fantastic article pointing out a poignant loss for our community

    4. Annie says:

      Still staggers me the ripple effect of this pandamic. But I am so glad that these buisness are keeping such a postive attidue, we are truly in this together and I applaud the pateince and perserverance of NYC! Stay safe everyone!

    5. ben says:

      The cancellation of the marathon this year is a small silver lining as far as I’m concerned. There is no reason that it should be made impossible to get around the city over some race (this goes for bike races too). They can run in circles around the park or something rather than taking over streets. Or have it in a less heavily trafficked area like around Staten Island or back and forth on the Rockaways. It probably disrupts as much business as it generates.

      • uwsgrl says:

        Such a Debbie Downer! It’s one day. And it’s not just “some race”. Instead of looking for something to complain about, next year head out and cheer the runners on. Perhaps you’ll understand the contagious spirit of the day better.

      • Abdul Sayeed says:

        I’m with you, Ben! I’m another Debbie Downer!
        What a pretentious, self congratulating event! I’ve disliked it from the start, some forty years or so
        You want run? Good for you! It’s very good exercise! Then run or sprint a few miles on the street or in a park. But twenty-six miles through the city so you can be wrapped in some space blanket? And why? For what? What have done except exhaust yourself?

        • Jeff Berger says:

          I’ve run 6 marathons. There is no accomplishment like running 26.2 miles after months of training in cold, heat, snow, rain. Early morning runs, late night hill training. I did it to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training. Ironically, Fred Lebow (the founder of the NYC Marathon) hated charity running, but now most people run for a cause.

    6. Toni says:

      Great article, Chris Breslin. As a NYer (and a huge fan of Polpette) the NYC marathon is one of my favorite events every year. It is sorely missed in the crazy year of 2020.

    7. Craig says:

      Insightful piece that truly captures the loss for the community.

    8. Cameron G Rose says:

      I love Marathon day so much. I’ve never ran it but I love walking around the UWS randomly congratulating people I see in foil blankets. Such a nice day.

    9. Bill dick 3 says:

      I’m concerned about the overall adherence towards the virus. It’s time for out of the box solutions for small business. How much can small businesses take. Maybe we could have spread such events over several weekends even nighttime. Time of each runner is kept I believe. Instead of just a total loss to local economy. God bless stay safe.

    10. kevcav says:

      you know nicky meatballs – lol – great aericle chris – kev cav

    11. Andrew says:

      Chris Breslin is the man! Well written article, it captures perfectly the excitement and festivities of race day!