Monday, November 10, 2008

Biking the New York City Marathon
Bicycle Escort for Wheelchair Athletes at the New York City Marathon
By Ann Marie Miller

I am very pleased to share with you a very “different” Race Report – a report of my experience as a Bicycle Escort for Wheel chair/Handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon.

Several weeks ago, Richard Rosenthal invited me to serve as a volunteer “Bicycle Escort” for the wheelchair/handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon because of my experience in bike racing and as a coach and group ride leader. The “bicycle escorts” assist the wheelchair/handcycle racers by serving as “rolling marshals” on the course, giving the spectators notice of the athletes approaching and watching for any hazards on the course. I embraced the opportunity to "give back" to the local cycling community, network with other cyclists and see the 5 boroughs from a different perspective.

I had no idea the bike escort group would include such a diverse group of cycling enthusiasts! Besides networking with many of the local racers I expected to see there, I was impressed with the diversity of the other bikers. I was honored to be included in a group ranging from an Emmy-award winning actor, to leaders in the civic and business community to concert musicians - a real reflection of the palette of New York culture and business!

We met the other riders at 6:15am at 59th & 5th Ave. to ride together to the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, were we organized, received our final assignments, and waited for the wheelchairs and handcycles to arrive after their start at 8:30am, well ahead of the actual marathon start. Cyclists were paired with one on each side of the road to lead the athletes, and blow a whistle to warn pedestrians and spectators that the wheelchair athletes were approaching. I think I was more nervous about escorting the handcyclist than I would be about doing a criterium in New York City! The handcyclists can hit speeds of 22-24 miles per hour on the flats, and since the event is "draft-legal", there can be "packs" of handcyclists, making it tricky to negotiate the bike escorts and groups of athletes!

Although there was a strong headwind from the north blasting us in the face as we rode up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, the ride went very smoothly. It was great seeing the crowds gathering in advance of the runners, and hearing some of the bands along the course. My partner & I were assigned to the first female hand cyclist, who stayed together with another male handcylist for most of the race.

The bike escorts were diverted from the course at the exit from Central Park Drive to 59thSt. (Central Park South) so we did not pass through the finish area with our athletes. “Riding” the New York City Marathon course with the wheelchair athletes was a great experience, and I’m sure all of us bike escorts were as impressed with the grit and determination of these athletes as we’d have been with any world class athletes.

Richard Rosenthal does a great job coordinating the bike escorts, and the entire marathon support team is amazing. I was very proud to volunteer and help with this epic New York City event as an ambassador for Cadence Cycling and Multisport. I'm looking forward to helping with this event next year, and if you are interested in serving as a bike escort, please let me know.

I have attached a photo of the Bicycle Escort team (I’m over on the right side, 2nd row, crouching halfway down, partially hidden in the shadows.)

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