On Saturday at the New York Hilton Hotel, elite runners decorated their water bottles for Sunday’s New York City Marathon. They used pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and tape to decorate their bottles so they can easily spot which water bottle is theirs while they are racing. The runners put water, Gatorade, and other energy drinks in their bottles. Some put their own concoctions that they enjoy. For example, Shalane Flanagan, U.S. Olympic medalist in the 10,000 meters, has her own drink she called “goo brew” that she put in her bottles.
New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization that runs (pun intended) the marathon, takes great care of the runners and their bottles that they decorate. Each runner picks a set of water bottles—up to seven that are placed at the 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K, 30K, and 36K marks during the race. Some athletes bring their own bottles because they are easier to spot or grip.
Runners decorate them so they can easily take them off the tables that are placed along the route. Once they decorate their bottles, they hand them in to NYRR. The bottles go into bins that are marked with where they go on the course, what table they go on, and where on the table they are placed.
Because NYRR wants the playing field to be fair, the organization takes security seriously, ensuring that no one puts anything in the bottles such as performance enhancing drugs. The bins are sealed, placed into a refrigerated truck that is kept in a secret location overnight, and then dropped off where they need to be on the course.
Each runner knows where his or her bottles are going to be on the tables. The bottles have double-sided tape on them so they don’t fall over but are still easy to grab while running. When the athletes are no longer thirsty, they just toss their water bottles on the street to be cleaned up later.
In a suite on the top floor of the hotel with spectacular views of Central Park, the elite runners ate lunch and energy bars, met with reporters, and decorated their bottles, surrounded by family that they brought with them to New York from all around the world.
The athletes all enjoy different aspects of visiting New York City. Abdi Abdirahman of the U.S., who finished third last year, said he likes “the food, different people—especially marathon weekend you see people from all over the world, different cultures, it’s just amazing. That motivates me. My favorite [part] would have to be the food— you can get any food you want in New York City.”
For Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, two-time wheelchair champion in NYC (and 10-time winner in Boston), his favorite part is “training in Central Park.”
Beverly Ramos of Puerto Rico also talked about Central Park being “a perfect atmosphere for runners. Being able to go to a place where everyone actually runs is super fun.” Ramos also enjoys that marathon participants can see all five boroughs of New York City during the race.
Race organizers said that this water bottle decorating event has gone on longer than anyone can remember. In addition to helping runners know which bottle is theirs, it is also a good distraction for elite athletes the day before the race. Even though this event is not well-known, it is an annual tradition for the NYC Marathon runners and a relaxing time for them while they prepare for their big day.
Photographs by Zach Harwayne