The NYC Marathon, Gone Virtual

Take a look at Prabhu’s virtual New York City Marathon experience.

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By Marianne Prabhu

The New York City (NYC) Marathon attracts thousands of runners from all around the world to compete in its legendary five-borough 26.2 mile course every year. Athletes begin on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island and enter Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, before crossing the Pulaski Bridge into Hunters Point, Queens. From there, they cross the Queensboro Bridge and run along First Avenue on the Upper East Side. After that, runners cross the Willis Avenue Bridge in Mott Haven, Bronx. Finally, competitors re-enter Manhattan along Fifth Avenue, eventually entering Central Park, where they cross the finish line.

Despite the grueling distance, marathon races have become increasingly popular over the past few years. 53,627 runners completed the NYC Marathon in 2019, setting a world record for the most number of finishers in a marathon.

Due to the pandemic, the New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization that holds the NYC Marathon, announced on its website that all in-person races would be canceled indefinitely starting March 18. The NYRR later announced that all remaining in-person races would be cancelled for the rest of the year, including the NYC Marathon, on October 7.

The NYRR finds itself in familiar territory since this is not the first time the NYC Marathon has been canceled (the marathon was canceled in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy). As a result, the NYRR has been very flexible in creating a race alternative for marathon enthusiasts who were disappointed by the cancellation. This year, the NYRR offered athletes across the world the opportunity to take part in a virtual marathon free of cost from October 17 to November 1 in lieu of the NYC Marathon. Finishers are mailed the iconic finisher’s medal in celebration of their accomplishment. The NYRR’s creative approach was met with generally good reception as over 24,000 runners from 125 countries around the world participated in the virtual marathon, one of them being biology teacher Marianne Prabhu, who completed the virtual marathon in a time of 4:18.14.

Prahbu’s love for running began when she was a lifeguard in high school. Though she spent most of her time in the water, her true passion was on the running course. “I would keep my fingers crossed our head guard would [hold] running [workouts] when the water was cold,” Prabhu explained.

Though her high school days are long over, Prahbu has maintained an active lifestyle of “short runs, spinning, and other workouts.” She completed two half marathons last year, along with Assistant Principal of World Languages, Art, and Music Francesca McAuliffe, who is also an experienced runner. In fact, Prabhu cites McAuliffe as the person who encouraged her to participate in the 2020 NYC Marathon after “[raving] about how much she loved [it].” She also cited the boy’s swim team, which she coaches, as another source of motivation. “It [the boys’ swim team] made me yearn for a sense of personal accomplishment I haven't really experienced since I was a swimmer,” Prabhu said.

Thus, Prabhu entered a NYRR lottery for a chance to compete in the NYC Marathon through Stuyvesant and sure enough, her name was pulled.

While many athletes were discouraged to train as a result of the restrictions imposed during the pandemic, this didn’t seem to stop Prabhu, as she continued training for five months. “The real marathon was canceled,” she said. “There was nothing else to do, so why not keep at it?”

Though the marathon was undoubtedly far from what Prabhu had imagined her first marathon experience would be like, she nevertheless found silver linings in her experience. “Luckily, I had a friend meet me to run the last four miles, and she kept me going. [Biology teacher Marissa Maggio] also joined me on a Citibike and got strangers in the park to cheer for me. They helped keep a smile on my face and distracted me from the pain,” Prabhu happily recounted. “[I] got by on the satisfaction of knowing that [I] had accomplished something that pushed [me] to [my] limit.”

As most marathon runners can attest, completing one’s first marathon is an amazing achievement—a testament to the power of resilience and positivity in times of uncertainty. “Any goal is attainable if you break it into manageable steps. Whether it be a race, a project, professional or personal goals, everything is doable,” Prabhu encouraged. “Keep at it, adjust your plan, adjust your timeline, but never adjust the goal!”