The ING New York City Marathon is the exact opposite -- 47,000 runners traveling through dense city neighborhoods lined with screaming people. I signed up for New York earlier this year when I realized my 3:14 time in last November's Seattle marathon automatically got me into the race.
We quickly saw that traveling across the country for a big city marathon requires a good deal more planning and money than signing up for a local ultra. Upon a friend's recommendation, we ended up renting someone's apartment through the website HomeAway. I felt a little bit nervous, though, on the logistics of showing up at an apartment rather than the lobby of a hotel. After the ferry arrived in Staten Island, we climbed aboard buses to take us to the start line camp. Thanks to advice from friends, I wore raggedy sweats over my running clothes for the wait on Staten Island.
The long morning could have meant complete exhaustion before the race even began, but thankfully, the excitement level among runners kept everyone awake. Just before the race began, a singer performed the National Anthem, and then New York Mayor Bloomberg spoke to us.
While the scenery of the race wasn't particularly interesting (one city street after another), the crowds made for constant visual stimulation. In the ultramarathon world, runners can spend most of the race on their own, or with just a few other runners.
Since I haven't made road marathons an athletic focus as of late, I'm not sure if I'll ever run one that fast again.
Alas, he wasn't among those chosen, but being the good guy he is, he immediately said he'd come along as support crew.

Given that Marathon Weekend is one of the biggest for visitors in New York over the entire year, hotels jack up rates. The owner emailed me to tell me to put down $300 on PayPal as a deposit and bring the rest in cash when we showed up at the door that night.
Though the location was noisy and hectic, we were smack in the middle of everything, and very close to Central Park.
Everything moved along promptly, meaning that even though I was in Wave One (a 9:40 start time), I'd still have hours to kill before the gun went off. From then on, we were standing amidst other runners, unable to grab any last bites to eat from the free giveaways or use the bathroom one last time. I chatted with a number of friendly people from all over the globe as I waited, and thought how everyone seemed so much more friendly and talkative than at the Boston Marathon start. He told us that today's race included the biggest number of runners yet, and that we'd lucked out with the best weather as well. Unlike other road marathons I'd done in Washington state, the crowds of runners at the New York City Marathon never thinned out much.
Someone held a sign reading "Runners are the 99 percent!" A gospel choir belted out tunes in front of a Brooklyn church.
The last five miles felt very long and painful indeed, reminding me that I haven't completed a road marathon for an entire year. Like Boston, it requires major time and money in order to journey to all the way from Seattle. Forest land permits or simple logistics of single track trail usually limit events to several hundred people, and many ultras attract far fewer. I received several recommendations from friends for places that typically cost under $200 a night.

Ear plugs came in handy every night, especially because our neighbors seemed to be fond of blaring techno music at 1 a.m.
Runners start at Staten Island and run through all five boroughs of New York, finishing in Manhattan. I felt extremely jealous of the men, as many simply used the side of the corral as their personal urination station. I only felt my pace slowed by the masses during the first half mile, but for every mile after that, I felt I needed to constantly be aware of people slowing down, grabbing water, or darting in front of me. Though I'd managed even splits during my PR in Seattle last year, this time around I slowed significantly in the latter part of the race, and every hill felt much longer and steeper than they should have. And a handful of days sight-seeing, eating, drinking, catching cabs and subways, and otherwise spending money as tourists in New York. Organizers have developed an intricate system of schlepping all the athletes to the start line in the wee hours of the morning, and then staggering the starts. My outfit and the slowly-rising sun kept me warm as a friend from Colorado and I sat on a street curb, catching up on life to kill time. Though I hadn't written my name on my shirt, many other runners had, and I heard their names constantly by the crowds.
I crossed the finish line in Central Park in 3:26, just behind Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. I figured I'd forget about having to pee as soon as the race started, and indeed, I was right.

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