A marathon training run can be a very long time to hang out with yourself. When your training buddy is recovering from surgery and the length of your run outlasts the length of the Hamilton soundtrack, sometimes finding other ways to distance yourself from your thoughts turns into a matter of extreme importance. And so, somewhere around mile six of my Saturday-morning 19-miler, I found myself playing a little game:
How many people will I pass in the next three hours that I’ve raced with in the past? (Or at least, how many are wearing shirts indicating that that’s the case?)
Over the course of nineteen miles from south Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge, up the West Side Highway, into Central Park and around the reservoir, and back down to Bryant Park, I saw ten different race shirts that I also have in my drawer of workout clothes. At first, I saw a handful of people wearing the black shirt from the 2015 Brooklyn Half, which I saw a few more times throughout my trek. But I also saw two Brooklyn Half shirts from other years, two from NYC Halfs, a 2014 NYC Marathon shirt, a Staten Island Half shirt, an Oakley Mini-10K tank, a UAE Healthy Kidney tech tee, and my favorite—a Vermont City Marathon shirt.
It’s not a secret to my running friends that I can get a little emotional on a long run, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there is almost nothing I love more than seeing another runner sporting a shirt from a race I did out of state. Part of what I love about running, and marathoning in particular, is that while it’s an individual challenge and often a solitary activity, there’s a feeling of camaraderie among runners. In a group of people each having their own experience and all going through the same difficult, weird, rewarding race, it’s hard not to feel some connection to those around you. Vermont City 2016 was a particularly strange experience, given that due to extreme heat, the race was called off midway through. When I saw a woman in Central Park in her Vermont City tee, I was totally tempted to stop her right there to ask her all about her experience.
In the past, I’ve reminisced about the Philly Marathon with a woman I found myself twinning with on the corner of Sixth Avenue somewhere in midtown. I’ve tossed a “Nice shirt!” at a woman matching me in an NYC half tee at mile four of Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon. And I’ve pointed with joy at the t-shirt from that Flying Pig race as I looped Central Park with my best running pal. It’s just a moment, and it’s so simple, but it can be so cool to see that indicator of shared experience and feel a quick connection to that stranger, especially in a city full of so many strangers. It’s a bit like seeing someone wearing your college logo, but even a little more specific.
Which race shirt did I see most? Let’s just say if I wasn’t already planning on next year’s Fifth Avenue Mile, I sure am now. Gotta join the club!
Kelly McGauley lives in Brooklyn, works in Manhattan, and often runs back and forth between the two.