The Crush of the Crowd: Bottlenecks at the NYC Marathon

A crowd watches the 2017 NYC Marathon outside of Five Leaves restaurant in Green Point, Brooklyn on Nov. 5, 2017. (Photo by: Emilie Ruscoe)

On marathon morning, registered runners aren’t the only ones who wake up to an alarm and prepare to hit the streets. More than 1 million spectators line the 26.2-mile route through the five boroughs to cheer on the racers.

Though there is plenty of roadside to go around, not every inch of sidewalk draws the same crowd size. Certain spots along the route – the places with perfect vantage points, beloved eateries and great music – inevitably attract throngs of spectators to cheer, dance, nosh and bond over the course of the race.

“Every year, the marathon is a huge day for us, particularly because we get mobbed normally on brunches,” said Nate Boley, manager of Five Leaves in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a popular brunch spot on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street near the marathon’s halfway mark.

“When you add an extra 250 people trying to steal chairs and stand around while we’re working, it tends to get extra out of control,” Boley said.

To keep things running smoothly, Boley plans ahead. “We add a couple of extra people to the floor to help with the large crowd,” he said. Changing the flow of the restaurant can be a “slippery slope” when things get especially busy, but it’s worth it for Five Leaves. “A lot of people want to camp and watch the runners, so we play a bit of a game with everyone,” he said.

Marathon runners round a street corner in Green Point, Brooklyn, on Nov. 5, 2017. (Photo by: Emilie Ruscoe)

A few miles south, Park Slope’s neighborhood block associations congregate for bake sale fundraising on the turf at J.J. Byrne Playground near where the runners pass the park on Fourth Avenue.
Manny Miravete and his son Julian, 8, usually watch the marathon after Julian gets out of his weekly Sunday morning basketball practice at the 78th precinct.
“Usually on marathon Sunday, we go and there are some spectators lined up and some musicians lined up, but the first runners haven’t come through yet, and then we’re in there for an hour and a half for basketball,” Miravete said. “And when we get out, that’s when see see the hoards of people coming through.”
Miravete and Julian took extra steps to ensure they wouldn’t miss a friend running in the race. By using an app to track their friend’s progress, they were ready to cheer her on when she ran past.

Across the river in Manhattan, Abdul Ati, who operates a smoothie cart at the entrance of Central Park on Columbus Circle, arrives at his usual spot early to accommodate the crowds.

Ati has worked Columbus Circle since 2013, and the marathon is one of his biggest sales days of the year. Marathon spectators like smoothies, he says, and his big sellers on marathon day are No. 21 and 1 on his menu: A “fruitti-tutti”- made with banana, mango, pineapple and strawberries- and a healthier version that replaces the strawberries with kale. The day can be exhausting, but Ati doesn’t mind. “I love it, actually,” he said.

Marathon spectators on the other side of town eat healthy too. At Under the Bridge restaurant on the corner of First Ave. and 59th Street, owner and manager Christos Xirogiannis says his patrons order salads as they watch the runners descend from the bridge and turn the corner to head north. Xirogiannis, who is Greek, calls the marathon one of his proudest days of the year.

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