At 20 miles, Salazar and Gomez realized that they had met before, and shook hands, exchanging a word or two in Spanish. Salazar began to feel the need for a faster pace. "The only guy in the field I knew I'd have a hard time beating if it came down to the last half or quarter mile was Rodolfo," he said. So Salazar ran the 21st mile up some stiff hills in 4:57. Graham dropped off, and suddenly this was a very Latin affair.
Gomez stayed on Salazar's back, thinking that the headwind they faced as they turned south for the run into Central Park was hurting him a lot more than it had helped when it was pushing. He is a bounding runner, slighter than the six-foot, 144-pound Salazar, and his expression occasionally seemed frantic at the effort it took to stay near.
Salazar runs like no one so much as Bake McBride, with a kind of hunched posture and low knee lift, but the middle of one's footstep is where the most power lies, and against the wind Salazar moved easily away: by 10 yards at the 21½-mile refreshment station, by 40 yards at 22 miles, by 100 yards as he entered Central Park with three miles to go. "I knew I would win then," he said later. "It was a different feeling from a hard race on the track. There you hurt most of the way. Here it was really bad only the last two miles. I was surprised. I thought I'd have to kill myself to do 2:10." He ran through swirling dry leaves to finish in 2:09:41, clipping 28 seconds from Rodgers' course record and becoming the only other American ever to go under 2:10. In addition it was also the fastest first marathon ever run.
Rodgers himself hadn't lost hope after his fall. He worked himself into seventh with nine miles to go, and fifth with six. "I felt good to 20 or 21 miles, but I struggled then, had to grind. People would shout, 'He's got two minutes on you,' and I would think, 'If he's got that, he'll break my American record.' It was agonizing."
Gomez held second in 2:10:14, Graham took third in 2:11:47, Wells was fourth in 2:12:00, and Rodgers finished fifth in 2:13:21. The first thing he did when it was over was ask Salazar's time. Learning it, he reeled back. "It's shocking when a guy runs 2:09:41 in his first try," he said. "I've run more than 30, and I've only run one faster than that. And it took me three years to learn how to run the thing...." It seemed he walked away more battered by the significance of Salazar's run than by his own fatigue.
Jack Waitz, Grete's husband, waited at the 25-mile mark, where he knew she would need him. He called to her that she was on record pace, to keep on enduring. "I thought, 'Oh, you should know how tired I am,' " Grete said later. "If it feels like that, I know one of these a year is enough."
She crossed the line in 2:25:42, a minute and 51 seconds better than her record, in 74th place overall, then was embraced by the long and none too tender arms of the police, who hustled her to the interview area. "I have not had a moment to think, to feel anything but crushed by people," she said, growing faint.
Catalano had run the first 16 miles accompanied by her husband and coach, Joe. He then took a shortcut to the 24-mile mark. With Waitz out of sight, Catalano's goal was to become the second woman ever to break 2:30. "With two miles to go I looked at my watch," said Joe. "I saw that in order for her to make it, she had to keep a 6:30 pace. I yelled, 'Six-thirty! Six-thirty!' and she got pumped."
"I'm no sprinter," said Patti, "but when I got near the end and saw the clock reading 2:29:20, hoo, I ran as hard as I ever could." She reached the finish line with a face that showed all the toil of the previous hours, and all the reward, as she was timed in 2:29:34, lowering her American record by 1:23.
The winners were gathered in the sudden warmth and gentility of the Tavern on the Green and began to reflect. Waitz and Salazar chatted, finding themselves kindred spirits, both saying they would not run again in a marathon for a year, both asserting the importance in long races of training and racing on the track; both equally calm, equally sure. Here they were, the woman who has cut the world women's record by 8:30 in the last two years and brought it to a point 37 minutes faster than it was in 1970, and the man who clearly has the best chance to break the men's record of Australia's Derek Clayton (2:08:34), which has stood since 1969. And they seemed alike, too, in both carefully rationing a deep reservoir of discipline that only they can judge.