Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pheidippides in New York

Becket, February 17, 2013

When the first New York Marathon was run in 1970 it included barely more than a hundred participants that run several loops around Central Park's Park Drive to complete the required 26.2 miles.  Over the years the event grew larger and larger, and in 1976 the organizers drew a new course with a simple but compelling premise: the race had to to go through all five boroughs of New York.

It's a wonderful mapping problem, don't you think?  A little bit like the legendary mathematical puzzle known as "The Seven Bridges of K√∂nigsberg" that asks for a route through the city that crosses all its seven bridges once and only once.

To touch all five boroughs, the course has to reach Staten Island to the south, the Bronx to the north and Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in between.  The race does begins in Staten Island, so you not only get that one out of the way but a picture-perfect gateway at the Verrazano Bridge.  And crossing over the Narrows you are in Brooklyn, where the course runs through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Green Point.  The Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek is roughly the midpoint of the race.  In Queens the course runs north up to the Queensboro Bridge where it crosses over the East River to Manhattan.  North on First Avenue to reach the Bronx, through the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River and a one-mile u-turn to head back south.  The Madison Avenue Bridge to cross again the Harlem River, then Fifth Avenue and into Central Park.  The last mile of the race reaches Central Park South to head north one last time and finish outside of the Tavern on the Green.

Of course, another major concern in the design was the topography.  The organizers of the New York Marathon were elite runners themselves and, unlike the commissioners that drew the grid of Manhattan in the early 19th century, knew better than to disregard the ups and downs of the terrain.

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