As in the Tour, the leaders were preceeded by cameras
slightly slower than handcycles, we passed the chairs around mile 20
As noted yesterday, I spent Sunday volunteering as an escort for the elite handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon. In lieu of today's post, please enjoy the column I wrote for Tuesday's Saratogian, and some photos I took Sunday morning.
It was freezing cold on Sunday morning, so while waiting for our charges to arrive, myself and other escorts spent time holed up in a hospital waiting room, where it was nice and toasty. Mmm... toasty. Escorts work in teams, and my partner for the event was Doug, an NYC-based racer who rides with CRCA/Organic Athlete. Getting to know a new person added to the fun of the event.
Following the marathon, I went for a quick jaunt up to the Pallisades, by which time it was warmer, and pleasant. All in all, it was a great day on the bike.
Escorts are lined up and ready to go
A duo from the the front of the line jumps off to flank this racer
I jumped the line, which turned out to be a good thing
NEW YORK CITY — Nothing can makes me cringe quite as quickly as the thought of loosing the use of my legs.
For 35 of the elite athletes competing in Sunday's New York City Marathon, the inability to use one's legs is not an unpleasant thought, it's reality.
Before the 39,000 runners took off across the Verezano Narrows Bridge, athletes in wheelchairs and handcycles begin their race, held on the same course.
Both the wheelchairs — which the athletes propel by pushing on their high-tech chairs' two rear wheels — and the handcycles — which are propelled by turning a hand crank akin to a bicycle's drive train — make use of wheels strikingly similar to bicycle wheels.
Early leaders in the wheelchair race
Kurt Freanley, on the left, won the event for the third-straight year
As in 2007, a team mate helped him set a fast pace early in the race
Racers in both events also use tactics similar to those seen in bike races, with both chairs and cycles drafting off each other to cheat the wind and banking through turns.
And, both the chairs and cycles can cruise.
The winner of this year's men's handcycle race, Arkadiusz Skrzypinski, 33, of Poland, completed the 26.2-mile race in 1:35:26, an average pace of 3:38 per mile, or around 16 miles per hour.
By way of comparison, the winner of the men's marathon, Marilson Gomes Dos Santos, of Brazil, finished in 2:08:43.
Because the chairs and cycles go off 35 minutes before the first runners, the course, while closed to traffic, is not yet completely clear of traffic, pedestrians and errant pigeons.
That's where I came in.
For the second year in a row, I volunteered, along with about 70 other cyclists, as an escort for the elite disabled athletes.
Each handcycle or wheelchair in the elite division was accompanied by two cyclists, who rode slightly ahead of the athlete on either side of the road to ensure that no one interfered with his or her race.
Just as with the elite runners, there is glory, prizes, and money on the line for the elite disabled athletes, and having someone's race interrupted — or prematurely ended — by an errant pedestrian would hurt what is a premier race for disabled athletes.
Aside from the fun of riding through New York City on closed streets, volunteering for events such as this is a good way to update one's Karma, so I was happy to make the trek down to the city.
Richard Rosenthal, center, does not like parties
He makes it all happen
Here, he's giving us final instructions
For the athletes — disabled and not — the race starts with a long uphill grind over the Verezano Narrows Bridge. The cyclist escorts are staged on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, and as the chairs and cycles come flying off the bridge, we sprint to catch up to them and assume our flanking positions.
Each year, escorts are given strict instructions that we are not to speak to, cheer for, or otherwise encourage or communicate with our racer. We are there only to ensure that he or she is able to run an interference-free race.
Even so, it's hard not to get caught up in the race's excitement.
As we waited at the start, we saw Skrzypinski come flying off the bridge, leading the handcycle race (the slightly slower wheelchairs had started earlier and were already ahead). Two escorts jumped out of the queue to catch him.
A couple moments later, two more cycles came flying by and my partner for the morning, Doug, another racer based in New York City, and I took off.
We were soon busy waving, blowing our whistles and yelling at pedestrians as our racer, Rob Martin, 42, of New Zealand, flew down Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue.
We could see Skrzypinski ahead as we raced toward Queens, and it was all I could do not shout at Martin to go faster, we were almost catching him. But of course, that would have been a breach of protocol.
Of all the neighborhoods we raced through, Green Point and Williamsburg, both in Brooklyn, kept us escorts the busiest. Here, residents seemed to be under the false impression that the roads had been closed for their convenience, and walked into the middle of the road without as much as a glance to check for traffic.
Much whistle blowing ensued.
Then there were men and women who entered the street, in a seeming act of defiance, clearly aware of the race in progress, but with an attitude that their crossing the street without any delay was the most important thing in the world.
No amount of whistling, arm-waving or yelling would move these obstinate individuals from their course. I finally took to pointing my bike directly at them. That seemed to put a little more spring in their step.
The race ended for me in Manhattan's Central Park. The racers fly south on the park road, before exiting the park at 59th Street, then race across town to Columbus Circle, hanging one last right-hander into the park, and cruise to the finish.
With barricades and police in the final mile, escorts are no longer required, so we ended our ride at 59th Street.
Martin went on to finish second, in 1:37:07. I'd like to think that having Doug and I clear the path for him made his race a little easier.