The New York City Marathon can be a loud race to run. There are bands playing along nearly every mile and hordes of people who come to cheer, especially on the home stretch to the finish line in Central Park. While the noise and cheering can be invigorating, those aren’t the sounds that Spencer Hansen, a first-time marathoner, is looking forward to. It’s the silence that he’s anticipating. Or the possibility of silence. Spencer is a lone runner. He runs by himself, without an iPod. And although he has run all over Brooklyn and into Manhattan during his training, he’s never done it with 64,000 other runners. And it’s the sound of those runners, racing across the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge during the first two miles of the race that he is most looking forward to. There are no spectators along the bridge, leaving the participants to listen to their music or their podcasts, their bodies or their minds as their legs warm up and their feet propel them towards the crowds that are anxiously awaiting their arrival in Brooklyn. The thought of starting the race on the bridge, suspended in space, running with so many other people towards the same place is intriguing to Spencer. “I can’t wait to hear what it sounds like,” he says.
What Spencer can wait for, apparently, is his turn to run the NYC marathon. He’s been waiting for four years. The first three years he entered the lottery and didn’t get in. But the powers that be let 4-time applicants in without a fuss, rewarding their persistence with an automatic entry. Still, Spencer says when he found out he’d gotten in this year it was kind of an, “Oh, great” moment. The excitement had worn off over the previous years. He’d gotten his hopes up and then been rejected so many times that he wasn’t really looking forward to starting the same training schedule for the 4th time in 4 years. So he put off training until May, and then was somewhat begrudging about it. As he was approaching his 30th birthday, the whole running a marathon thing was starting to feel cliche.
And yet the marathon appeals to Spencer beyond the running aspect of it. He’s been a sporadic runner since high school, only entering one race since he graduated — a post-Thanksgiving 6-miler that he did as consolation for not being able to run NYC. But Spencer is a bit of an adventurer and, he says, “One of the greatest things about running in New York is that you can explore. You aren’t under the ground, you aren’t on the train, and geographically it is small enough that you can see a lot.” On his long training runs, Spencer is able to get far enough from home to really explore the City. He’s run down the coast of Brooklyn along the Shore Promenade, and around the perimeter of Lower Manhattan as well. The bridges — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Williamsburg — are like the mountains he used to run in when he was a student in Utah, he says. “There are no other mountains here, so the bridges are kind of the peak.”
There is one route he has taken where he runs along the perimeter of Greenwood Cemetery to a neighborhood called Kensington, which has a high population of Orthodox Jews. From there he goes into Sunset Park, which is predominantly Hispanic, and through Brooklyn’s Chinatown, which, he says, feels more authentic than Manhattan’s Chinatown. Coming back up through Sunset Park there is a hill where the skylines of the city come into view: first downtown Brooklyn, then Midtown Manhattan, then Lower Manhattan, and finally New Jersey. It’s amazing to watch the neighborhoods change so quickly, Spencer says, to see the skylines come into view, and to know that so few people — so few New Yorkers — ever get to experience those views.
The adventures of tomorrow will not only be running through parts of the city he’s never seen before with people he’s never seen before, but trying to find the people he does know amidst the crowds. While he has several friends who will pop up along the route to wish him well, and he’d like to acknowledge those who have come out to cheer him on, he’s most looking forward to seeing his wife, Angie, and their two kids. Spencer knows that Angie has her own marathon task to complete during that time with getting the kids around the city, keeping them happy and fed and warm in the chilly fall weather. So although they’d both like to see each other at several checkpoints along the route, they’re going to have to be satisfied with a single meeting along 4th Ave., just a few blocks from their apartment. Spencer will run the remaining 20.2 miles on his own. Angie will be there to meet him at Lincoln Center when he emerges from the finish line and they’ll make their way home together, quietly.
Wish them luck!