The Newtown Pentacle

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NYC Marathon, 2008

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When advised by medical practitioners that I should run, I admonish them. I am from Brooklyn, and without someone or indeed- something- chasing me, I walk at my own pace. Thus, I am fascinated by the NYC marathon, which crosses the ancient heart of the Newtown Pentacle on its course. All of the coverage you see of this event is usually manhattan centric, but it actually rolls through some interesting places.

NYC Marathon leaving Pulaski Bridge by you.

Pulaski Bridge, NYC Marathon 2009, corner of Jackson ave. and 49th ave. – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Pulaski Bridge is the 13.1 mile point in the New York Marathon, for which it is closed to vehicular traffic annually. Runners exit Greenpoint, speed over the Newtown Creek, and head for the Queensboro bridge. They spend 2.5 miles in Queens. 

From wikipedia

The New York City Marathon (ING New York City Marathon for sponsorship reasons) is a major annual marathon (42.195 km (26.219 mi) whose course runs through all five boroughs of New York City. It is one of the largest marathons in the world, with 37,850 finishers in 2006. Along with the Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon, it is among the pre-eminent long-distance annual running events in the United States and is one of the World Marathon Majors.

NYC Marathon, 2007 02 by you.

Down Under the Queensboro Bridge Onramp- DUQBO- during the 2007 NYC marathon. – photo by Mitch Waxman

When they hit Queensboro, relief for the 2.5 miles of pain that the runners remember as Long Island CIty becomes intellectually closer, and most of the runners redouble their determination and effort. There is a significant Police Dept. muster, in DUQBO, including auxiliary and cadet officers. The cops are involved, from their point of view, in a 25 mile long rerouting of vehicular and pedestrian traffic across multiple municipal and jurisdictional districts. Rerouting the millions of vehicles denied easy access to Manhattan, ensuring that FDNY can move ambulance and fire units seamlessly around the event, mustering and deploying the hundreds of traffic officers- as well as dozens of specialized units ranging from Equestrian to Aviation… This is no marathon, this is a military operation.

Come to think of, so was the story which inspired all future marathons, and lent them its name- in Greece.

from wikipedia

The Battle of Marathon (Greek: Μάχη τοῡ Μαραθῶνος, Māche tou Marathōnos) took place in 490 BC during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The first Persian invasion was a response to Greek involvement in the Ionian Revolt, when Athens and Eretria had sent a force to support the cities of Ionia in their attempt to overthrow Persian rule. The Athenians and Eretrians had succeeded in capturing and burning Sardis, but was then forced to retreat with heavy losses. In response to this raid, the Persian king Darius I swore to have revenge on Athens and Eretria.

Once the Ionian revolt was finally crushed by the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade, Darius began to plan to subjugate Greece. In 490 BC, he sent a naval task force under Datis and Artaphernes across the Aegean, to subjugate the Cyclades, and then to make punitive attacks on Athens and Eretria. Reaching Euboea in mid-summer after a successful campaign in the Aegean, the Persians proceeded to besiege and capture Eretria. The Persian force then sailed for Attica, landing in the bay near the town of Marathon. The Athenians, joined by a small force from Plataea, marched to Marathon, and succeeded in blocking the two exits from the plain of Marathon. Stalemate ensued for five days, before the Athenians (for reasons that are not completely clear) decided to attack the Persians. Despite the numerical advantage of the Persians, the hoplites proved devastatingly effective against the more lightly armed Persian infantry, routing the wings before turning in on the centre of the Persian line.

The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece, and the Persian force retreated to Asia. Darius then began raising a huge new army with which he meant to completely subjugate Greece; however, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, indefinitely postponing any Greek expedition. After Darius died, his son Xerxes I re-started the preparations for a second invasion of Greece, which finally began in 480 BC.

And, yeah, I know- the “in greece” link is the Battle of Thermopylae, and is highly stylized.

IMG_0878_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

Queens Plaza – photo by Mitch Waxman

The interesting part of the marathon, to my eye, is what’s happening around it. Queens Plaza devoid of vehicular traffic, for instance. But NYC has been making great effort and spending big money on Physical Education and Culture since the early days of Progressivism.

from (this goes to a really cool page, click this link)

Amateur boxing lessons at the West 29th Street Gymnasium, December 11, 1941.  Courtesy of Parks Photo Archive, Neg. 21056.

Recreation in Parks
Since the ancient Greeks (or even earlier) there has been a strong link between physical health and general wellbeing. For nearly 100 years, the Parks Department has been at the forefront in supporting a healthy city and putting the “recreation” in “Parks & Recreation.” From the early bathhouses to the anti–obesity programs of today, the Parks Department’s focus on active recreation has supported the goal of a healthy citizenry and positive social and moral conduct…

IMG_0901_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

Near Queens Plaza – photo by Mitch Waxman

Volunteers and well wishers, of both corporate and individual stripe, line the streets. This is actually a dangerous place to be, as at any moment, 200 pounds of human meat may accidentally run into you. Accordingly, NYPD aggressively enforces a margin of safety between runners and crowd, as is their stated mandate and mission- protect and serve.

from wikipedia

The physical culture movement of the 1800s owed its origins to several cultural trends.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution, there arose a perception that members of the middle classes were suffering from various “diseases of affluence” that were partially attributed to their increasingly sedentary lifestyles. In consequence, numerous exercise systems were developed, typically drawing from a range of traditional folk games, dances and sports, military training and medical calisthenics. Many of these systems drew inspiration from the classical Greek and Roman models of athletic training and were organized according to more-or-less scientific methods.

Physical culture programs were promoted through the education system, particularly at military academies, as well as via public and private gymnasiums.

Increasing levels of literacy, the increasing democratization of printing and the relative affluence of the middle classes spurred the growth of a genre of magazines and books detailing these systems of physical culture. Mass production techniques also allowed the manufacture and commercial sale of various items of exercise equipment. During the early and mid-1800s, these printed works and items of apparatus generally addressed exercise as a form of remedial physical therapy.

Certain items of equipment and types of exercise were common to several different physical culture systems, including exercises with Indian clubs, medicine balls, wooden or iron wands and dumbbells. Combat sports such as fencing, boxing and wrestling were also widely practiced in physical culture schools, and were touted as forms of physical culture in their own right.

By the later 19th century, the ethos of physical culture had expanded to include exercise as recreation, education, as preparation for competitive sport and as an adjunct to various political, social, moral and religious causes. The Muscular Christianity movement is an example of the latter approach, advocating a fusion of energetic Christian activism and rigorous physical culture training.

IMG_0967_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

A neverending stream of humanity, emblazoned with signage and logotypes, course past. Many are in the final stage of enacting some personal and tragic journey, or running to memorialize the name of a lost loved one, or to celebrate some event. Many have charitable contributions tied to the miles and miles of pavement they cross. Most just run for the human challenge presented by the concrete realities of New York City. At least that’s what the messages were in a series of Nike and Footlocker ads that I worked on for a major metropolitan ad agency just a few years ago.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I walk (scuttle, actually). These people are nuts.

from wikipedia

The terms to jog and jogging as referring to a form of exercise, originated in England in the mid seventeenth century. This usage became common throughout the British Empire and in his 1884 novel My Run Home the Australian author Rolf Boldrewood wrote “your bedroom curtains were still drawn as I passed on my morning jog”.

In the United States jogging was also called “roadwork” when athletes in training, such as boxers, customarily ran several miles each day as part of their conditioning. In New Zealand during the 1960s or 1970s the word “roadwork” was mostly supplanted by the word “jogging”, promoted by coach Arthur Lydiard, who is crediting with popularizing jogging. The idea of jogging as an organised activity was mooted in a sports page article in the New Zealand Herald in February 1962, which told of a group of former athletes and fitness enthusiasts who would meet once a week to run for “fitness and sociability”.

IMG_0924_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

As they progress, cheering crowds villify the thought of surrender, admonish fatigue, and buoy the athletes to further exertion.


Around the world, the word “marathon” evokes images of New York City. Before the New York race began, marathons were modest events run by a few athletes and followed by a few fans interested in the limits of human endurance. New York Road Runners and marathon co-founder Fred Lebow changed that. Today many marathons are huge media events that take over entire cities around the globe. None is as prominent as the ING New York City Marathon, but all city marathons are modeled on it. Modern marathoning owes its start — and its world-class status — to New York.

The first New York City Marathon, though, was a humble affair. In 1970, 127 runners paid the $1 entry fee to NYRR to participate in a 26.2-mile race that looped several times within Central Park. Fifty-five runners crossed the finish line

IMG_1003_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon, Dead by Choice band – photo by Mitch Waxman

All along the route, bands were assembled and were allowed to play both amplified music and drums- normally a violation of the city’s strictly enforced Cabaret Law. Entertainers, street performers, and representatives of the local Ethnic Societies all had their spots staked out early. 


More than 100 live bands stationed at regular intervals along the course will motivate and entertain participants and spectators alike. A special stage at Columbus Circle sponsored by Continental Airlines will provide inspiration for the final .2 mile, and there will be live entertainment at the finish line as well.

IMG_1041_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon, accordion man – photo by Mitch Waxman

Long Island City’s longtime residents always seem to have a good natured chuckle when one of these “City” events rolls through. This gentleman and his wife set up chairs, and he was playing the “toura loura loura” brand of music on his accordion to the runners. He also played an instrumental version of “eleanor rigby“, which was both ironic and funny. 

The winners of the 2008 marathon were-
the male champion Brazilian Marílson Gomes dos Santos, who ran the course in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 43 seconds-
and British Paula Radcliffe won the female prize for her 2 hour, 23 minute, and 56 second run.

IMG_1078_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

In 2008, the New York City Marathon was only thought to have killed two. Reports were later revised to three.

from wikipedia

The 2008 marathon events were marred by the deaths of three marathon participants:
Carlos Jose Gomes, 58, of Brazil fell unconscious shortly after completing the race in 4:12:15. An autopsy revealed that he had a pre-existing heart condition and died of a heart attack.
Joseph Marotta, 66, of Staten Island, N.Y. succumbed to a heart attack hours after he completed his fourth New York City Marathon. He walked the course in 9:16:46.[
An unidentified 41-year-old man who collapsed at the marathon died on 15 November.

The 2008 marathon events were marred by the deaths of three marathon participants:

Carlos Jose Gomes, 58, of Brazil fell unconscious shortly after completing the race in 4:12:15. An autopsy revealed that he had a pre-existing heart condition and died of a heart attack.

Joseph Marotta, 66, of Staten Island, N.Y. succumbed to a heart attack hours after he completed his fourth New York City Marathon. He walked the course in 9:16:46.[

An unidentified 41-year-old man who collapsed at the marathon died on 15 November.

IMG_1085_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

The official website for the Marathon is found here. They are currently gearing up for the annual incarnation of the event- scheduled for November 1st, All-Saints Day 2009.

The way other cultures will be celebrating the day are ingenious, and varied. Incidentally, Nov 1st is also called Samhain, by some, but I would be surprised at any bonfires lit in the Newtown Pentacle.

from wikipedia

In Portugal and Spain, ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Mexico, All Saints coincides with the celebration of “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), the first day of the Day of the Dead(Dia de los Muertos) celebration, honoring deceased children and infants.

In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives.

In Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Catholic parts of Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.

In the Philippines, this day, called “Undas”, “Todos los Santos” (literally “All Saints”), and sometimes “Araw ng mga Namayapa” (approximately “Day of the deceased”) is observed as All Souls’ Day. This day and the one before and one after it is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted.

In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

IMG_1261_nycmarathon.jpg by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

November 1st is, incidentally, also the anniversary of the abdication of the last Ottoman Sultan in 1922- Mehmed VI, which was the end of a 25 century struggle between east and west that truly began at The Battle of Marathon. It’s also World Vegan Day.

For the whole marathon series in a slideshow click here. I was down there shooting between 12 and 2, if you’re one of the runners, contact me for access to full resolution shots.

NYC Marathon, 2007 by you.

NYC Marathon – photo by Mitch Waxman

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 30, 2009 at 1:43 am

6 Responses

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  1. […] Mitch Waxman wrote an interesting post today onNYC Marathon, 2008 « The Newtown PentacleHere’s a quick excerpt […]

  2. […] here:  NYC Marathon, 2008 « The Newtown Pentacle Share and […]

  3. […] – photo by Mitch Waxman The 2009 NYC Marathon came hurtling through Long Island City just this past Sunday, which was November the First- which is also the celebrated anniversary of the abdication of the last Sultan of the House of Osman, and World Vegan Day. A fairly detailed posting about the 2008 Marathon which has lots of history on the race and running, as well as discussion of the Physical Culture movement, can be accessed here. […]

  4. […] for 2008 marathon coverage- and discussion of the physical culture movement, click here. […]

  5. […] holidays that transcend temporal distance and cultural extinctions, the remarkable October 31-Nov. 2 period, the end of december and first week of january, middle-late march, and the last week of […]

  6. […] (November 1st for instance), February 2nd seems to be one of those special dates on which things just seem to […]

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