At 133rd and Fifth Avenue, a giant tape deck boomed the theme from "Chariots of Fire." In Brooklyn, a bar advertised "Fred's Bathroom." On the East Side, they either passed out "No Nukes" flyers or wore beautiful minks.
And at the end, you got to run under the same giant, computerized time-clock as Alberto Salazar, with thousands of people cheering. Then you got your gold medal with the red, white and blue ribbon.
For anyone who has ever had Olympian fantasies, the New York City Marathon takes care of them all. It doesn't matter if you finish back in the pack; 2 million New Yorkers line all 26.2 miles, screaming and yelling and saying you're great.
The race began at 10:40 a.m. on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The gun went off and nobody moved. Too packed. Over there was a "San Jose -- Home of the Medfly" T-shirt. Over there was a man spray-painted green. And there, a T-shirt that said "Lisa." "Come on, Lisa!" the crowd yelled to her for 26.2 miles.
The greyhounds were up front. You can tell from the network helicopters, keeping pace with Salazar's sub-5:00 miles. It wasn't exactly encouraging, back in the pack in Queens, to see the helicopters hovering over the finish in Manhattan.
The marathon is a wonderful tour of New York and its neighborhoods. In Brooklyn's Williamsburg section, a jazz band plays under the trees. Farther along, the Hasidic Jews came out in their long black coats, black hats, and side curls to quietly cheer everyone on. The 59th Street Bridge had a sensational view. Running over the East River, you could see the Chrysler, Citicorp, and Empire State buildings, almost glistening under the clear morning sky.
Around the corner along First Avenue in Manhattan, the crowd handed out oranges, chewing gum, candy and tissues. One man had thoughtfully peeled a banana and held it in his outstretched hands. There was water and ERG -- a sugar replacement drink -- at every mile or so. There was a certain machismo about grabbing a cup from someone's hand, gulping the liquid while still keeping your pace, then slinging the cup dramatically toward the ground.
Just before the Bronx it got grim; 20 miles is the "wall." The runners got quieter. "The second half of the race starts here," said one. There were a few walkers and a few bent over, kneading muscles and gritting teeth. But the crowds continued, screaming whatever was written on T-shirts: " "Go Texas!," "Go Bank of New York!," and, to some French runners, "Vive la France!"
By 102nd Street and Fifth Avenue, at 23 miles, the runners turned up a little hill into Central Park. It might as well been Mount Everest. Still, the crowd got thicker and noisier. It was an amazing thing to behold -- so many New Yorkers, not normally known as a friendly group, cheering on strangers as if they were as beloved as the Mets or the Yankees.
Then the finish. The crowds got huge and thunderous, waving banners and signs. "I'm Fogarty's wife," read one of them. Smiling volunteers passed out silver, tin foil-like body-insulating blankets. Then, moving along in the lines, you saw 50 people holding out open chilled bottles of Perrier.
By that time, everyone had been draped with a medal. "Congratulations," each volunteer said to every runner. "Great race."