NYC Marathon Runners Arrive Early to Acclimate to Stench

The New York City Marathon is still days away, but some out-of-town runners began arriving as early as last weekend—to give their bodies time to adapt to the city’s smells.

“It’s important to acclimate,” said Chet Baker, a four-time NYC Marathon finisher from Wyoming, who got in town Monday. “If you come from a place with fresh air, you don’t want to show up in New York, like, the day before the race. The change is just too abrupt.”

“Whoof,” he added.

New York, a densely populated city home to 8.6 million people, packs an olfactory punch that can shock the systems of newcomers. The smell reaches a peak during hot, humid summer months but remains potent even in the mild temperatures of early November, when the marathon happens. Visitors to the city are welcomed by a mélange of odors including, but not limited to, garbage, urine, horse and dog manure, body odor, vehicle exhaust, hot grease, rodents at various stages of decay, and ethnic cuisines too numerous to mention.

And that, experts note, is before they descend into the subway.

For those unused to it, the experience is a sensory overload.
— Stanley Getz, odorologist

“For those unused to it, the experience is a sensory overload,” said Stanley Getz, chief odorologist at the American Institute of Smell. “The body needs time to adjust and recalibrate.”

Arriving days or even weeks early adds substantial cost to a visiting runner’s trip, but some say it’s well worth it.

“My first New York City Marathon, I didn’t do any smell-acclimatization beforehand,” said Baker, the Wyoming marathoner. “Big mistake. I spent the first 24 hours dealing with nausea, headaches, and loss of appetite.”

Such symptoms are common, experts say; others may include dizziness, irritability, and, more rarely, nosebleeds from chronic nostril-pinching.

“Every year since then,” Baker said, “I’ve arrived well in advance. Shelling out for the extra nights in a hotel is well worth it.”

Another option: Sleeping in a commercially available “stench tent” during training. Such tents mimic race-day conditions by gradually releasing foul-smelling air into a sealed environment while the user sleeps.

The tents are prohibitively expensive for most middle-of-the-pack amateurs. But for elite runners who live and train outside New York, they’re practically a necessity.

“I sleep in my stench tent every night for the final three weeks of my (New York City Marathon) training,” said Oscar Peterson, a 2:16 marathoner who divides his time between Flagstaff, Arizona and Portland, Oregon. “So by the time I step out of my taxi in midtown and take my first real breath of New York City air, I’m already completely acclimated.”

“New York,” he said. “There’s no place like it.”