Connected by a series of bridges and interlocking the five boroughs, the 26.2 miles that make up the annual TCS New York City Marathon are known all over the world for their difficulty and their diversity.
To honor the 45th running of the race, The Huffington Post spoke with dozens of past and present New York City marathoners about the most moving moments of their experiences: the miles and monuments they will never forget, the quilt of cultures that, as a whole, represents what multiple runners deemed the best day of their lives.
Below, a map of the marathon route tracks both the physical and the emotional journeys runners undertake on race day, plotting their memories mile-by-mile onto the locations at which they occurred. Scroll in, scroll out or click a red marker on the map below to learn about the experience from the runners themselves, living vicariously through their poignant recollections of Marathon Sunday.
Mile Zero at the Bridge: Stars and Stripes, Sinatra and Sneakers
Bari Melker, one-time NYCM runner: There’s great energy before [the race begins]. Everyone’s trying to pump each other up and stay warm … Even for such a big city and such a big marathon, when you’re standing there at the start, everyone really cares about the people around them.
Jennie Kelly, one-time NYCM runner: [Standing] with tens of thousands of people, shivering cold and nervous, listening to the national anthem -- it was emotional and motivational.
Katie Spear, one-time NYCM runner: The start was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be. I didn’t cry, but a lot of people around me were crying ... they do a really good job of pulling at your heartstrings. They fire the cannon and as soon as it starts, they play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as everybody’s starting to move forward towards the bridge.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: Get Ready, Get Set ... Walk.
Spear: You can’t start running immediately, it’s kind of a pack, it’s a little bottle-necked. You start walking, then jogging, then running. I remember I looked around and everybody was holding up their cell phones and taking videos -- a lot of people were in tears -- silent tears.
Adam Arthurs, one-time NYCM runner: There are just thousands and thousands of people, and everyone’s pretty pumped. I’m sure it’s never warm, but it was fucking freezing [in 2013]. It was like 20 degrees and windy … so you’re just standing there trying not to die of cold.
Jamie Mittelman, one-time NYCM runner: Going over the Verrazano Bridge, the wind was just howling, going 30 miles per hour. I remember just thinking, “Well, this is going to be a challenge today. This is Mile 1 and there are 30 mph winds, how am I going to feel at Mile 25, Mile 26?”
Miles 3 Through 12: Entering and Embracing Brooklyn
Natalie Azzoli, one-time NYCM runner: I was a mess the whole time. It was just so emotional … You turn the first corner [after the bridge], and there are all these posters and people screaming your name, and the waterworks start.
Di Marco: It’s a huge party. You have no idea [until you experience it] ... You don’t even feel like you’re running … Everybody cheers you on. You feel like a superstar. For one day, you feel like the most famous person in New York. They make you feel like you’re the star, because they keep screaming your name.
Azzoli: At Mile 5 I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m running way too fast, slow down.” You’re so happy and pumped up that you’re not pacing yourself. I realized I was already starting to hurt after Mile 5, so I was like, “Dude, calm down, you have 20 miles to go.”
Natalie Jackson, one-time NYCM runner: I remember getting to about Mile 9 and thinking, “I’m still in Brooklyn, why am I still in Brooklyn? That means there are still three boroughs to go.” I just remember being in Brooklyn forever and ever and ever.
Arthurs: There are just so many people. People are out with their families, people are playing music, basically it feels like the entire borough is tailgating the marathon.
Mile 13: Halfway Through Hell, Halfway to Heaven
Mary Kelly Mires, one-time NYCM runner: I hit a wall at Mile 13 or 14 and just remember being like, “Holy crap, I’m only halfway done? How am I ever going to make it?”
Joey Mejias, one-time NYCM runner: [For the next] three miles all I thought in my head was, "I wanna go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go home" ... [A lot of] thoughts including "Why the f**k am I doing this?" started crossing my mind.
The Queensboro Bridge: The Bane of the Boroughs
Di Marco: Oh my God, everyone hates that bridge, and that’s what you have in mind as you’re running up it. Everyone gets so nervous. The first year I ran it, my head started spinning from anxiety, that’s how bad it got. I was like, “I can’t do this! I’m going to get on the bridge and I’m going to die!”
Michael Ring, 19-time NYCM runner: My first [marathon] I threw up all over the Queensboro Bridge, then crawled all the way over the bridge, just hoping there was some sort of aid station at the bottom … It was a long day.
Azzoli: The emotions that come out of people at this race are wild ... I’m so cheesy and positive -- we were coming over the bridge and we just did  miles. I wasn’t running with any friends, I was by myself, and so I’m like looking around like, “We did it ... Only  more to go!” and, like, crickets, no response, people are looking at me like, “Shut up, no one cares, we have so much further to go!”
Spear: Someone told me that when you run over Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan to turn off your music and listen. So I did. And all you hear around you are just feet hitting the pavement. Then as you get closer and closer to First Avenue, you start to hear the crowd, and that was just the most amazing roar.
First Avenue: Witnessing The Wall Of Sound
Di Marco: It’s called the "Wall of Sound" because the cheering along First Avenue is just nuts ... Both times I started crying there when I was going downhill, as I started to hear people screaming ... You can’t even think about the pain because there is too much cheering, too many happy people.
Arthurs: It’s a bunch of 20- or 30-year-olds who are s**tfaced yelling at you, and the crowds are dozens and dozens deep. That entire stretch is awesome.
Spear: They warn you in training that First Avenue can kill you, because the adrenaline from all the excitement gets you pumped up and you start to run faster -- inherently you just want to move.
Wayne McDonnell, one-time NYCM runner: There’s just something about looking up First Avenue and just seeing a sea of humanity that’s just like an extra shot of adrenaline.
Miles 20-21: Surviving the Bronx
Azzoli: Everyone hates [the part of the course] up in the Bronx.
Melker: The one piece of advice I got going into it that I thought about was, when you’re running up First Avenue, just think, “Just get into the Bronx, get into the Bronx, get into the Bronx.” Then once you’re in the Bronx, just [say to yourself], “Get the fuck out of the Bronx, get the fuck out of the Bronx.” And that’s really what I was thinking of.
Arthurs: The adrenaline’s wearing off, the crowds are dying out … It starts to get really tough, both physically and mentally.
McDonnell: The last 6.2 is all mental … You try to think of things to distract you from the pain you’re going through.
Runner Joey Mejias makes his way through a leg of the race.
Annie Keating, two-time NYCM runner: [My knee had given out earlier in the race, so] in the Bronx, I ended up screaming out in pain, and [someone had to lead] me over to the side of the course ... I wasn't ever really concerned about not finishing -- as long as I could walk or hobble, I knew I was going to make myself finish. I told myself that quitting just wasn't an option, no matter how painful it was or how much I wanted to give up.
Katerina Caban, one-time NYCM runner: I could’ve quit [then].
James Johnstone, one-time NYCM runner: The fact that there were bands on every corner [was huge]. At about Mile 21, I went around a corner and there was one band playing "Rock & Roll" by the Velvet Underground and then the next minute there was someone playing David Bowie and Queen ... [The music] really picked me up [when] I was about to collapse.
Lee Langston, two-time NYCM runner: [Y]ou’re like, "Well, I’m definitely going to finish at this point, I’m not injured, I should have no problem finishing, but at the same time, do I really have to actually finish this thing?”
Bharat Narang, one-time NYCM runner: I felt I was just gliding along without focus … It felt as though I was just sailing endlessly.
Mile 22: Crossing Harlem, Silencing the Doubts
Arthurs: I remember feeling pretty good until probably around Harlem. When I was starting to come back down into the Park, I remember looking at my GPS watch and thinking, “Shit, I’m running really slowly now.” Then I wasn’t feeling so hot.
Spear: [This] is when the pain became surreal ... I think there was at least about a quarter mile to half a mile where I was just like, “This is so fucking stupid, Katie, this is the dumbest thing, I don’t know why [running] this was so important [to you].”
Fifth Avenue: Climbing the Incline, Diving Down Through Midtown
Spear: You don’t realize that Fifth Avenue is a hill until it’s Mile 23 and you’re like, “Holy shit, this is a hill.” You’re like, “This was flat [a couple of days ago]!”
Di Marco: The worst part -- the worst part! -- is when you get to Fifth Avenue ... It just plain sucked… If you focus on the pain, you’re never going to finish it. You get so emotional, your brain just doesn’t even function anymore. You don’t even remember your name at that point.
Miles 24-26: A Stroll Through Central Park
McDonnell: [Finally entering the park] was extraordinary … I kept on telling myself that in [just a few miles] I’m going to be able to call myself a marathoner and no one’s ever going to be able to take that away from me.
Caba: I was just a ball of emotion. [I was asked], “What are you going to say when you cross the finish line?” and I’m like, “I hope they don’t catch me saying the F-bomb or something.” [It was] definitely the craziest feeling ever.
Jackson: I had been trying not to cry for the past three miles, because you’re exhausted but then you realize you’re going to make it, and that’s this huge thing. I was running in honor of a friend that I lost to cancer, so I would start thinking about that while I was running and it just got that much more emotional. There’s a lot going through your head right at the end.
Di Marco: Whenever I’m in the park, I can say without exaggeration, it’s an out-of-body experience.
Ring: [My first marathon], when I got to Central Park, I made a decision. I decided that I needed to keep running as long as I was conscious. I was just so exhausted that I said, "No more water stops, no more nothing, just keep running."
Narang: At around mile 25.5, I knew the end of the marathon was in my hands … I was smiling as though I won a trip into space … [That was my] runner's high.
Kelly: [I was just thinking], "Where is that finish line?!"
The Finish Line: Disbelief at "Tavern on the Green"
Kelly Mires: I was like, “Holy crap, I just made it 26.2 miles.” Really, I had never thought it was something I’d be able to do, and truly it was one of the hardest things I have ever done but also one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Jackson: [I was thinking], “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe my body tolerated that. I can’t believe I just did that. And I want to sit down now.”
Raina Hafer, two-time NYCM runner: When I crossed the finish line I literally hugged the first volunteer I saw and started crying.
Di Marco: I remember crossing [the finish line] and just being like, “This is the best day of my life. After today" -- I know it sounds cheesy and nuts, but -- "there is no feeling that can compare.” You might be undertrained, it might be your first marathon, you could be 60-something and running really slow, sometimes it’s not your day, but the crowd in New York will make you finish.
If you want to experience the “tailgaiting” crowd firsthand, you’ll find plenty of company along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, First Avenue in Manhattan and the pathways in Central Park. Runners always want to feel more energy in the Bronx and Harlem, so grab a subway and head up north if you want your voice to be heard.
HuffPost Sports salutes all the New York City Marathon runners, past and present!
Also on HuffPost: