As 7 a.m. approached on Sunday, a crowd of runners stumbled blearily off the Staten Island Ferry in fleece blankets and body glitter. The blankets were for warmth, and the body glitter for morale to help them through the 26.2 miles that lay ahead.
With energy gels and bodega coffees in hand, the crowd made its way to Fort Wadsworth, where thousands of runners congregate each year before running the New York City Marathon.
Speed demons wearing Nike Vaporflys and short-shorts mingled with casual runners wearing “Monsters, Inc.” onesies. Some used their attire to make political statements — flags were plentiful — or personal ones like “It’s my birthday,” which was scrawled in rainbow Sharpie on the T-shirt of a freshly minted 27-year-old. Runners tossed extra layers into donation bins as the morning heated up.
Alexi Pappas, the filmmaker and former Olympian, said she was cheered to see the self-expression on display within a sport that could sometimes feel “very furrowed-brow and grit-forward.” Red and blue bows cascaded past a tattoo of the Olympic rings on her bicep. “I believe that joy and performance are not mutually exclusive,” she said.
Below, a twirl through some of the best looks at the starting line.
Adam Tjolle, 53; and Simon Waterhouse, 53
Edinburgh, Scotland, and Newmarket, England
Where did the hats come from? A.T.: We studied in veterinary school together and just met up here to do the marathon. We thought it would be fun to have some veterinary reference.
How did you decide who would be the horse, and who would be the cow? S.W.: I’m a horse veterinarian.
Are you going to keep them on for the whole race? A.T.: Yeah.
S.W.: I’ve run in a Spider-Man outfit and in a Buzz Lightyear outfit. So the hat is easy.
Do you think you’ll be the fastest runner dressed as a cow today? A.T.: I hope so. That’s the record I’m going for.
S.W.: It’s a small field.
Malina Roberts, 38
Tell me about your nails. Since I started doing marathons, me and one of my friends started doing nail tributes. We’re usually repping New York City, and we’ll put how many miles we’re doing. When I did the Tokyo marathon, I put Tokyo on my nails. And I did Berlin too.
How many marathons have you done? This will be my seventh. And my fourth in New York.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen someone wear to run a marathon? It’s more about what they’re not wearing. I see a lot of people not wearing shoes. I wonder what that’s about. It’s like, they’ve got a little relationship with the Earth.
Stephen Zachensky, 32
How’d you choose your outfit? The jorts are just because I’m ready to party.
Are they made of denim? Absolutely not. I thought about running in jeans, but then I compromised with these bad boys.
Did you do any training runs in them? No. These are like a tuxedo. You only break them out for the big occasion.
Marlinda Francisco, 43; and Mika Shaw, 31
Tucson, Ariz. and Ogden, Utah
Tell me about what you’re wearing today. M.F.: We are part of the Native Women Running team. Our ribbon skirts represent who we are. Each of us has a different color. We’re representing our families and our different tribes.
M.S.: They’re usually longer, but for our run we made them a little bit shorter.
Do you often wear this necklace when you run? M.F.: In the Tohono O’odham Nation, the seashell necklace is what we wear as we’re running. It reminds us that our men used to run to the ocean and bring back seashells. The seashells also remind us how the ocean sounds as we’re running.
Masashi Kondo, 55
Do you usually run dressed as Pikachu? Yes. I first wore a costume for a run 19 years ago, and I got a lot of applause.
Are you going to wear this the whole time? I’m going to take it off during the run. If there’s a child, I will give it to them.
What do you do with the Pikachu hand puppet? Give high-fives.
Alexi Pappas, 33
Has the way you’ve dressed for races changed during your running career? Even when I was competing very hard at the Olympic level, the way I chose makeup and chose my clothes felt like a way of staying on my own team. I first wore glitter on my face three New York City marathons ago, when I was coming back from a really serious hamstring surgery. I wanted people to know that I was OK, and I wanted to remind myself to have fun.
Where did you get a shirt with so many bows? It’s from a brand that also makes dresses for lizards. To me it says that you can try hard but have a sense of humor and have fun. And feel fabulous.
Mark Aaron Polger, 49
What made you choose tie-dye for the marathon? I wear this every single day. It’s not a marathon thing.
Oh! What is it about tie-dye, then? I’ve had a lot of loss in my life, and tie-dye makes me happy. Same with running. Running is therapeutic, even though I’m going to be running really, really slowly.
Interviews were edited and condensed for clarity.