As 7 a.m. approached Sunday, a crowd of runners stumbled off the Staten Island Ferry, clad in fleece blankets and body glitter. The blankets were used to keep them warm and the body glitter was used as a morale booster to help them cover the 26.2 miles that awaited them.
With energy gels and bodega coffees in hand, the crowd headed to Fort Wadsworth, where thousands of runners gather each year before running the New York City Marathon.
Speed demons carry Nike Vaporfly and short shorts mixed with casual runners wearing “Monsters, Inc.” jumpsuits. Some used their attire to make political statements – flags were plentiful – or personal statements like “It’s My Birthday,” which was scrawled in rainbow Sharpie on the T-shirt of a young man from 27 years old freshly minted. Runners tossed extra layers into donation bins as the morning warmed up.
Alexi Pappas, the filmmaker and former Olympian, said she was excited to see self-expression on display in a sport that could sometimes seem “very frowny and brave.” Red and blue bows cascaded past a tattoo of the Olympic rings on his bicep. “I believe joy and performance are not mutually exclusive,” she said.
Below, a roundup of some of the best looks from the starting line.
Adam Tjolle, 53 years old; and Simon Waterhouse, 53
Edinburgh, Scotland and Newmarket, England
Where do the hats come from? AT: We went to vet school together and ended up here doing the marathon. We thought it would be fun to have a vet reference.
How did you decide who would be the horse and who would be the cow? SW: I am a horse veterinarian.
Are you going to keep them on for the entire race? AT: Yeah.
SW: I ran in a Spider-Man outfit and a Buzz Lightyear outfit. So the hat is easy.
Do you think you will be the fastest runner dressed as a cow today? AT: I hope so. This is the record I am aiming for.
SW: It’s a small area.
Malina Roberts, 38 years old
Tell me about your nails. Since I started doing marathons, a friend of mine and I started doing nail tributes. We typically represent New York City and will list how many miles we drive. When I did the Tokyo marathon, I put Tokyo on my nails. And I went to Berlin too.
How many marathons have you done? This will be my seventh. And my fourth in New York.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen someone wear to run a marathon? It’s more about what they don’t wear. I see a lot of people who don’t wear shoes. I wonder what this is about. It’s like they have a little relationship with Earth.
Stephen Zachensky, 32 years old
Westchester, New York
How did you choose your outfit? Jorts are just because I’m ready to party.
Are they denim? Absolutely not. I thought about running in jeans, but then compromised with these bad boys.
Have you done any training with them? No, they look like a tuxedo. You only take them out for special occasions.
Marlinda Francisco, 43; and Mika Shaw, 31
Tucson, Arizona and Ogden, Utah
Tell me about what you’re wearing today. MF: We are part of the Indigenous women running team. Our ribbon skirts represent who we are. Each of us has a different color. We represent our families and our different tribes.
MS: They are usually longer, but for our race we made them a little shorter.
Do you often wear this necklace when running? MF: In the Tohono O’odham Nation, the shell necklace is what we wear when we run. This reminds us of our men running to the ocean and bringing back shells. Shells also remind us of the sound of the ocean when we run.
Masashi Kondo, 55 years old
Do you usually run around dressed as Pikachu? Yes. I wore a costume for the first time 19 years ago and received lots of applause.
Are you going to wear this all the time? I’m going to take it off during the race. If there is a child, I will give it to them.
What to do with the Pikachu puppet? Give high-fives.
Alexi Pappas, 33 years old
Has the way you dress for races changed during your running career? Even when I was competing really hard at the Olympic level, the way I chose my makeup and clothing felt like a way to stay on my own team. I first wore glitter on my face three New York City Marathons ago, when I was coming back from very serious hamstring surgery. I wanted people to know I was okay and I wanted to remind myself to have fun.
Where did you find a shirt with so many bows? This is a brand that also makes lizard dresses. To me, that means you can try hard while still having a sense of humor and having fun. And I feel fabulous.
Mark Aaron Polger, 49 years old
What made you choose tie-dye for the marathon? I wear this every day. This is not a marathon story.
Oh! So, what about tie-dye? I’ve suffered a lot of loss in my life and tie-dye makes me happy. Same with running. Running is therapeutic, even though I will run very, very slowly.
The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.