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Sarah Pileggi
October 29, 1979
A great, jostling horde of 11,553 started the New York Marathon, but, for the fourth straight year, Bill Rodgers was all by himself at the finish
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October 29, 1979

Rush Hour In The Big Apple

A great, jostling horde of 11,553 started the New York Marathon, but, for the fourth straight year, Bill Rodgers was all by himself at the finish

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However, going up the steep ramp of the lacy old bridge he slowed visibly, and it looked for the first time as if he might be laboring. The sun broke through as he approached the Manhattan side, where spectators holding balloons and drinking Bloody Marys waved at him from the terraces of $1,000-a-month apartments. Coming off the bridge into the warm embrace of the huge cheering crowds lining First Avenue, Pfeffer maintained his lead, but finally, behind him, Rodgers was beginning to make things happen.

Rodgers had teamed up at the two-mile mark with the English middle-distance runner, Steve Kenyon, and the two had worked their way through the field together. "Steve had a watch and we paced each other," said Rodgers later. "He knew many of the European guys, so he could identify them for me. He'd point and say, 'That's so-and-so,' and tell me what he'd done in races, and then we'd pick them off, one at a time."

In this almost cruelly efficient manner, Rodgers made his way through the crowd until finally, at the 21-mile mark, in the Bronx, he saw Pfeffer. "I didn't even know he was in the race until 15 miles," said Rodgers.

Coming back into Manhattan and down Fifth Avenue and through Harlem, Pfeffer was tired and looking it, while Rodgers, his blond hair dark with sweat and his right arm characteristically flailing, drew ever closer. In Central Park, at 23.3 miles, Rodgers finally passed Pfeffer and cruised in from there for his fourth consecutive victory in the race.

"When I caught him I stayed with him for a bit," said Rodgers. "He was tired. When I reached him, it took him a while just to turn his head and look at me."

Rodgers had run exactly the kind of race he wanted to run, at a pace he could maintain and still have something in reserve against heat from above or behind, neither of which materialized. He finished in 2:11:42, a minute and 33 seconds behind the course record he had set in 1976 but 1:26 ahead of the struggling Pfeffer, who, it turns out, had entered the race on a whim.

"I was going to run Fukuoka [ Japan] in December," Pfeffer said dejectedly. "I may still. But I was lying in bed yesterday morning at home, thinking of this race, thinking, 'I can win that thing.' I felt kind of left out, you know. So I caught the first plane and was here by two in the afternoon."

Kenyon finished third, in 2:13:29, and was happy, though until he reached the finish line and saw Pfeffer for the first time, he had thought he was second. Shorter was seventh in 2:16:15, his best marathon since this race in 1976.

All of them were near the finish line, and Rodgers, at least, was cheering when Grete Waitz, the Norwegian schoolteacher who insists she has always been, is now and ever will be a track runner, not a marathoner, crossed the finish line in 2:27:33, almost five minutes faster than the world record she set last year in New York, and 11 minutes faster than any other woman in the race. Only three days earlier she had predicted, when pressed, that in a few years women would probably be able to run a 2:28 marathon. "I went out faster this year," she said. "Last year I knew absolutely nothing about marathons, so I kept back in a pack with some other girls. At about 13 miles I saw I had a 1:14, and I knew if I kept it up I might get 2:28 or 2:30. But I didn't expect 2:27."

"She's pretty outrageous," said Rodgers admiringly. "I saw her come across the line, and, well, she's inspirational."

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