Lottery Drawing Is the First Hurdle for Marathon Runners

Oct. 20, 2017. Moriah Gaynor prepares for a run on the Williamsburg Bridge. (Photo by Allie Weintraub)

There are many routes to snagging a spot on the starting line of the New York City Marathon.

New York Road Runners, the marathon’s organizers, fill an estimated 34,000 spots with guaranteed entries. Time qualifiers, charity fundraisers and people who have run the marathon 15 times automatically get spots. Anyone who finishes nine specific races throughout the year and volunteers or donates $1,000 to Road Runners’ Youth and Community Services programs is also guaranteed entry. The other 16,000 spots belong to runners the organization randomly selected from over 98,000 entries in February.

Both Nick Costello, 33, and his wife, Molly, tried their luck with the lottery for the first time this year. After the drawing ended, the couple saw a $255 charge to their credit card, but at first didn’t know who got accepted, said Nick Costello, who moved to New York City from Australia four years ago.

The next day, they discovered it was Nick Costello who beat the odds. Two weeks later, the couple found out Molly Costello was pregnant with their first child, due five days after the marathon.

The high stakes encouraged the couple to agree that Nick Costello would run even if the baby was born before the marathon.

Nick Costello applied in the NYC-metro area pool for people who live within 60 miles of the city. There are also national and international pools.

Moriah Gaynor, 22, applied for the the national pool as soon as it opened in January. A senior at the University of Florida, she already planned to move to New York City after graduating in May.

A self-described “incredibly unlucky person,” Gaynor was about to give up on selection day as she repeatedly checked her status online.

“So it was a complete shock when I signed on at 4 p.m. and saw I was accepted,” said the first-time marathoner.

Then reality set in. Gaynor thought, “Oh my god, I just committed to something in a state I don’t live in, ten months away. This is insane.”

Nov. 5, 2017.  Marathoners jog as they approach the 19th-mile marker. (Photo by Allison Weintraub )

The third category—international applicants—includes runners from around the world.

When Mexico City resident Hector Huerta, 45, applied for the marathon, he already had experience running big-city races—and being rejected by them.

“For London, I have received maybe five rejection e-mails,” Huerta said. “So it is very, very frustrating. For Berlin I have received two, I think. For New York I had received three before.”

This year, Huerta landed a spot in New York but on September 19, his training was derailed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the Mexican state of Puebla that killed over 300 people in surrounding areas, including Mexico City. Huerta and his brother volunteered to remove debris from buildings that the earthquake destroyed.

“It’s hard and it’s very shocking,” Huerta said. “You are removing debris and seeing personal things. Clothes, toys, et cetera.” He said volunteers were able to pull some people out alive, but there were also many corpses. Huerta became depressed.

“I did not run. I did not train for three weeks,” Huerta said. “But then I thought, OK, well, I have this commitment, let’s do it the best I can.”  

Despite a nontraditional training regiment, Huerta completed this year’s marathon.  Moriah Gaynor finished the race as planned as did Nick Costello, whose wife, Molly, did not go into labor.

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