With 47,438 starters Sunday, the New York City Marathon again was far more than an elite race increasingly controlled by male and female pros from Kenya and Ethiopia. It was something of a Venn diagram -- the professionals over here, the great crowds of ordinary citizens over there, and all of them taking a common 26-mile, 385-yard dare.
"Wow, that was really hard," said Lauren Fleshman, the 30-year-old national 5,000 meter champion who finished an impressive 16th in her debut marathon in 2:37:22. Fleshman had quoted women's world record-holder Paula Radcliffe of England, who said the "beautiful thing about a marathon is you've got these thousands of people going through the same range of emotions."
Fleshman, despite her status as a professional runner, felt she could identify with the other 47,000-plus foot soldiers. "I wanted to test my will and my toughness," she said. "There was a moment when I felt, 'Maybe I'm going to get away with this.' "
Molly Pritz, a 23-year-old former Bucknell runner who is rising on the American distance scene, also was running her first marathon, and finished 12th in 2:31:52. "Ever since I started running, I wanted to be a marathoner," she said. "I didn't know anything about marathon running, but this has been a goal, this has been a dream."
For this annual Running of the Humans through New York's five boroughs, there were participants from around the world -- more than 3,000 apiece from Italy and France; almost 2,000 teachers, more than a thousand bankers, more than a thousand doctors. Where they were all the same was in facing the potential for physical difficulty. Even Meb Keflezighi, the 36-year-old naturalized American who won New York in 2009 and was the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, had to make an emergency stop around 22 miles on his way to a 2:09:13 sixth-place finish -- the best among American men -- ahead of 30-year-old Staten Island native Ed Moran's 10th-place 2:11:46.
"I stopped going into Central Park," said Keflezighi, who vomited briefly and then carried on. "Then . . . when I started running again, [people] started cheering, so I kind of dug deep. That's what New York is all about.
"It's not always about winning. It's getting the best out of yourself."