The New York City Marathon, one of the city’s largest events, will return each November with a reduced but still sizable field, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday.
The race takes place on its usual date, the first Sunday in November, with around 33,000 runners instead of the typical 55,000 leaving the starting line the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge in Staten Island. The 42 km race through the five boroughs, months after teams and fans have returned to ballpark and arenas, is expected to mark a milestone in New York’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s the North Star,” said Ted Metellus, the race director, of the return of the marathon. “It’s the thing that says we’re back.”
The announcement comes as New York continues to emerge from the pandemic restrictions that led to it the cancellation of last year’s marathon. With vaccinations rising and coronavirus cases falling, the city and state continue to end or relax the rules for everything from eating out in restaurants to going to stadiums and fitness centers.
City officials and health experts have been discussing the scope of this year’s race with the leaders of the New York Road Runners, the organization that owns and operates the marathon, for months.
Officials agreed to reduce the size of the field this year to prevent overcrowding, though any plan to control the crowds along the course – and any restrictions that might be placed on them – remain unclear.
The smaller field will help reduce the number of people on the ferries and buses that take the runners to the starting village of Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and create more space for social distancing between participants once they arrive.
The officials plan to start the race with a staggered start, sending runners out onto the track every few seconds, one at a time. The process, which will take several hours, has been used by the Road Runners in smaller races for several months.
However, the change also extends race day and requires the city to close the streets longer than usual.
In order to compete, runners must test negative for coronavirus or provide proof of full vaccination in the days before the race. However, organizers have yet to establish guidelines about when tests take place, who pays for them, and what the consequences are for someone who pays tests positive. Runners are not required to wear masks during the course.
Those requirements could change, Metellus said, as organizers oversee changing guidelines for the centers for disease control and prevention, as well as state and local mandates.
“These changes are going to dictate a lot of the changes that we’re seeing in this case,” said Metellus, who predicted the lead would evolve by race day.
At the moment, the organization said it had reevaluated almost anything that could lead to crowding, including rethinking support stations that are normally set up on every mile of the course and redesigning the drop-off and pick-up of bags. First aid stays at each mile marker, but the drinking stations may be further apart and the volunteers follow different safety guidelines. And while runners are still able to drop off a bag of their belongings, they cannot bring their bags to the start.
A field of more than 30,000 runners offers plenty of space for everyone who had registered for the 2020 race before it was canceled or who decided to reschedule to 2021. (Approximately 54 percent of the 30,000 early registrants for the 2020 race chose the 2021 race).
The organization is still considering how to fill all positions in the race but has decided not to hold a new drawing. Other ways to participate in the race include runners who complete a certain number of New York Road Runners events and volunteer, and runners who have completed 15 or more New York City marathons. Registration for those who qualify for guaranteed entry takes place in the second week of June.
The organizers are also planning a sizeable contingent of charity runners who pledge to raise approximately $ 3,000 for a select organization when they participate.
Many charities rely on the marathon to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, New York Road Runners also rely on charities for a significant portion of their income, as the charities pay about three times as much as a single runner to secure a spot in the race. The 2020 race individual entry fee was $ 295.
The organizers expect a high level of interest in vacancies. The Boston Marathon, scheduled for October 11th, was oversubscribed by more than 9,000 runners, all of whom met the qualification standard for their age groups.
Officials from the New York Road Runners had predicted back in the spring that the race would take place in 2021 without revealing the size and scope of the event. New York’s event will be part of an unusually crowded calendar of grand marathons, a situation that will force top runners to make difficult decisions about where and when to race.
Marathons in Boston, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo, which usually take place in February, March and April, have been postponed to fall this year and include races in Berlin, Chicago, New York and Washington. Elite runners usually only run one race in spring and one in fall. The Berlin Marathon (September 26th), the London Marathon (October 3rd) and the Tokyo Marathon (October 17th) are scheduled to take place before the New York race in November.
Organizers cannot plan exactly how New Yorkers will react to their beloved marathon, which returns to all five boroughs. While there have been significant changes to the class experience, including limiting the locations for mass gatherings, “it’s still New York City,” Metellus said. “The city will still live and breathe.”