stood at the start of Sunday's New York City Marathon without his gloves.
"Won't need 'em today," he said ruefully, trying to catch a glimpse of
Manhattan through a thick, unseasonably warm haze. It was 61�, well above
Rodgers' beloved chill. "I am freaked out over this weather," he said.
"Today I think it's going to be Garry's race."
the Olympic 10,000-meter finalist from Minneapolis who had battled Rodgers for
20 miles last year before succumbing to stomach cramps, stared across at
Rodgers. "I don't concern myself with anyone but him," Bjorklund
Others were more
expansive. "There simply is no finer place in the world to start a
race," said Great Britain's Chris Stewart, third in both 1976 and 1977.
"It's not merely scenic, it's functional." Indeed, after the starting
gun, the broad delta of 28 lanes leading away from the Staten Island toll plaza
gathered in the 10,000 runners of this largest marathon in history and sent
them up the western slope of the Verrazano Bridge, which links Staten Island
and Brooklyn, without mishap.
In the two
previous years that the New York marathon had passed through the city's five
boroughs (from 1970 to 1975 it clung to the safe confines of Central Park), the
race was permitted only the right three lanes of the Verrazano, the world's
largest suspension bridge. This year the runners were given the bridge's entire
upper level, and experienced male marathoners were assigned the right half. New
Zealand's Kevin Ryan led a quickly unraveling knot of contenders, Rodgers and
Bjorklund among them. To their left were the women and novices. Separated by a
steel wall, they would not join until the 2�-mile point, where it was hoped the
fields would be scattered enough for the women to blend in without damage to
their pace. In previous mass races, women have faced the frustrating choice
either of starting to the rear of the pack—thus sacrificing a minute or two in
the bouncing, dancing shuffle to the starting line itself—or beginning in the
front ranks and having to sprint to escape being trampled. Last year defending
champion Miki Gorman, an 88-pound butterfly, was jostled into a frantic early
pace, tired, and was well off her course record of 2:39:11. This year the 1,100
women entrants (up from the 88 of two years ago), who were contesting their
national AAU championship as well, calmly established their own rhythms and
sailed into Brooklyn in high spirits.
Marty Cooksey of
Orange, Calif., the Avon International Champion, moved ahead. Confident and
extraordinarily fit, she hoped to approach 2:30, a time that would shatter the
2:34:48 world record of West Germany's Christa Vahlensieck. Vahlensieck herself
lurked behind, as did Norway's Grete Waitz, the World Cup 3,000-meter champion
trying her first marathon. Waitz's only expectation was to finish. "I've
never run more than 20 kilometers," she said. "I came because I wanted
to see New York."
As the two rivers
of runners flowed off the bridge and joined, the vibration was palpable. The
impression was of a medium-sized town up and on the move, affirming the view
that distance running may be a mark of our entire species, not just of a few
members. The rumbling footfalls conveyed as well a sense of the enormity of the
organizers' responsibilities once such a mass is set in motion. Some 4,600 of
these men and women were attempting their first marathon. Race Director Fred
Lebow of the New York Road Runners Club had constantly urged entrants not to
run if they had any doubt they would finish. "In 1967 when I started
running," said Lebow, "there was no one to tell me what to do, no book
to read. Now you can smother in literature, go deaf at running clinics. There
is no excuse for a runner not to be informed and prepared. Even so, three of
our entrants died between signing up in July and the race. The law of averages
tells you some more are capable of it today." In reaction, Lebow boosted
the number of medical attendants from 100 to 300, placing them in 20 areas,
while 21 water stations would dispense more than 250,000 paper cups of
Now Lebow, riding
in a pace car ahead of the leaders, realized that 250,000 cups wouldn't be
enough. He began calling to the crowds along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to bring
more water. Few moved, for to the spectators 61� hardly seemed hot. It seemed
perfect. The day thus was a test of runners' wisdom.
feeling good," said Ian Thompson of England, the fastest man in the race
with his 2:09:12 run in 1974. So Thompson burst ahead before five miles,
leading Ryan, Rodgers and Bjorklund. As they ran through whirlwinds of dry
leaves blown up by helicopter prop-wash, Rodgers felt uneasy. "I was bummed
out," he said. "The road seemed rougher and more uneven, the crowds
bigger than last year. And Garry was right beside me. I began to get this sense
of a duel developing—at six miles! That's suicide. I wanted to tell him to be
calm, to save his competitiveness, but of course I couldn't do that."
The Hispanic and
Italian crowds in the Gowanus area beat at them with cheers. It seemed as if
every third man held a squealing child overhead. "New Yorkers are quick to
applaud people they see overcoming adversity," said a spectator, "even
if they've brought it all on themselves."
That may explain
why for months Lebow has been accosted about a dozen times a day by healthy,
beaming people of assorted race and sex who exclaimed, "You're the person
who's brought this city together again."