Long distance running is addictive, says Suparna Rajaram.
"It is about overcoming your doubts and experiencing something entirely new," says Rajaram, 43, a professor in psychology at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
Rajaram ran the ING NY Marathon November 5; she was one of approximately 37,000 people of different nationalities who traversed 26.2 miles through the five boroughs.
On a bright, unusually summery day with temperatures hovering around 44 degrees, an estimated two million spectators lined the route on both sides to cheer on the runners.
"For just one day, it seems that the entire city is connected," says Rajaram, who ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Virginia last year. She had, last year, attended the NY Marathon as well but as a spectator, cheering on her husband.
"One of the most inspiring parts of running a marathon has to do with watching other runners - of all ages, sizes, abilities (and disabilities), and goals (charity, health, overcoming personal setbacks)," she says.
"Suddenly, the marathon turns into a microcosm of the world, of life."
On Sunday, Brazil's Marilson Gomes dos Santos was the dark horse who became the first South American to win the men's race, beating Kenyans Stephen Kiogora and (defending champion) Paul Tergat. Among women, Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia won her second straight title, although America had pinned its hopes on top marathoner Deena Kastor.
The crowd favorite though was celebrity cyclist Lance Armstrong, who ran in the midst of a group, smiling and chatting easily over the early part of the race until the pressure began to tell, and he settled down to focus on the grim business of completing the race.
Armstrong, who said at a news conference that the race was the "hardest physical thing I have ever done," attained the self-imposed goal of doing the run in under three hours. Supermodel Kim Alexis and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee also ran, while New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg turned up to cheer.
While the marathon has two official charities, Team for Kids and Fred's Team, several other organizations and foundations fielded their volunteers to raise money for charity. Therese Minehan, 30, who is from Sydney, Australia, ran to raise money for Asha for Education.
Why Asha? "This goes back to my love and respect for India, the culture, the people and my first trip to Bombay in 2004," says Minehan, who interned for Shahrukh Khan's production company, Dreams Unlimited, that year.
"I was disturbed by the large number of children who could not go to school because of the poverty they were in," she says. "This is my channel to help as many children as I can be educated and be given the chance we have been given."
Her goal is to raise $20,000. In addition to running the marathon, she will host a fundraiser November 10, called Comedy Chaat; 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Asha for Education.
Among the regulars at the New York marathon is Rashmin Master, 53, who was set to run for the 10th time this year. Master runs to set an example for his two sons, Dev, 20, and Deep, 17, both college-level swimmers.
Speaking to India Abroad November 3, moments after he had picked up his chip and bib for the ING event, Master said this time was special because he was running for the memory of a friend, Hemant Shah, an orthopedic surgeon who passed away recently.
Unlike most runners, who begin with a few miles, gradually raise it, do one huge run of 20 miles or so a few weeks before the event and then begin tapering off, Master practices round the year. He runs 6 am to 7 am every day, and another 10 miles every Sunday.
Raman Gandhi, a New Yorker, who finished in four hours and 39 minutes, agrees the training is arduous and can get boring.
"I had to keep loading up my iPod," he says. "I just had to."