Originally published on NYCityLens.com.
By Amy Chyan
They don’t qualify for the elite men’s or women’s running group nor do they run on pace with the other 47 000 marathon runners. The last of the runners—the stragglers—power through at their own pace, determined to finish the 26.2 miles of the 2011 New York City Marathon.
By late afternoon, the stragglers on mile 16, located at First Avenue and 59th Street, had company: cleaning crews that swept and cleared garbage left on the road. And they were cheered on by a handful of spectators, who stuck around purposefully to keep them running until the finish.
“I wait for these people every year,” said Ryan Ross, 23, who with Mike Hallovan, 60, shouted runner names and motivational words at each passing marathoner.
Hallovan, a five-time marathon runner, never stopped cheering. He’s been a New York marathon spectator for over 20 years and each year, he waits for the last of the runners. Hallovan and Ross were the only two left at the corner of 59th Street at 4:30 p.m.
Hallovan watched eagerly for the next runner to pass by and clapped encouragingly at every single one, often calling them out by name. Many runners display their names proudly on their running top—written in marker or with different colored tape. No font was ever too extravagant, too big or too bright. The only fear was their family and friends would not be able to see it.
“I’m calling out the names,” said Ross, as he paused for the next runner to approach. “I really like that!”
It wasn’t difficult to spot a runner on the mile since the streets were now empty except for the cleaning crew. A simple fist pump and wave from the runner showed solidarity and appreciation.
“The elite runners crossing the finish line are so inspiring,” said Hallovan when asked why he stayed behind to cheer for the leftover runners. “But equally inspiring are those who cross it last.”
Mile 16 is an important mile in the marathon. It’s the first point of entry for marathon runners into Manhattan. Prior to mile 16, runners complete an uphill mile over the Queensborough Bridge without any spectators. The re-emergence of spectators start at mile 16.
“If you don’t get goose bumps coming down the bridge, then you’re not human,” said marathon runner Trip Owens, 34, who completed his 20th marathon Sunday and headed back to mile 16 to cheer on the remaining runners. “Hearing the cheers when you enter is the best feeling. It’s a natural high.”
The last runners weaved between cleaning trucks and sanitation workers before being asked by police to run on the sidewalks. They also had to dodge a sea of green Gatorade paper cups that littered mile 16 as the race died and the engines of the cleaning trucks roared. As the trucks slowly moved down the street, sporadic cheers by left over groups of spectators echoed through the once densely packed block.
“Somebody has to look out after these people,” said Hallovan. “It mind as well be me.”