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Energy of family, fans pushes NYC Marathon runners to finish

Men's race winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, of Eritrea, and

Men's race winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, of Eritrea, and women's race winner Mary Keitany, of Kenya, pose together after the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 Credit: AP

This story was reported by Maria Alvarez, Valerie Bauman, Scott Eidler, Alison Fox and Deon J. Hampton. It was written by Eidler.

Competitors in Sunday’s NYC Marathon endured the mental and physical pain of its 26.2-mile course, drawing energy from friendly and unfamiliar faces in the crowd.

For Jackie Franklin, 24, a Glen Cove native wearing a shirt bearing her name, the cheering of strangers gave her a lift when she “really needed it.”

Nicole Freeman, 28, a software engineer from Holtsville, had run with a sprained ankle and swollen knee. She was hurting, but sight of the Queensboro Bridge and First Avenue left her feeling “electric,” she said. “I never saw so many people cheering.”

For the 50,000 competitors, encouragement from friends and fans fueled spurts of endurance in difficult moments.

On stoops and streets, New Yorkers blasted live music, rang cowbells, and shouted names and silly words of encouragement.

In a city of 8 million, many said they found watching the marathon a respite — and show of unity — at the end of a divisive political season.

“We’re all cheering for the same thing,” said Margaret McNally, an educational consultant from Boerum Hill.

Those at Central Park’s finish line witnessed history when 20-year-old Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea, a nation in northeast Africa, became the youngest person to win the men’s competition. He finished in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 51 seconds.

Kenyan runner Mary Keitany, 34, won the women’s competition for the third consecutive year, finishing in 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 26 seconds.

Marathoners include competitors in the wheelchair and handcycling divisions, as well as select ambulatory athletes with disabilities. Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the men’s wheelchair division, and Tatyana McFadden, of the United States, won the women’s competition for the fourth consecutive year.

Some fell short of expectations. Stanley Biwott of Kenya — who was last year’s defending champion and this year’s favorite to win the elite men’s competition — failed in his quest for victory when he dropped out of the race before reaching the 15k mark.

Earlier in the day, Nilsya Villarreal, 30, of Bellmore stood in front of her native Panamanian flag to root on marathoners near the Queensboro Bridge.

Villarreal said she wanted to support runners from her homeland in addition to her fiance, Ramses Cano, 35, who trained for much of the year and ran a marathon last month in Colombia.

“I’m going to go crazy when he runs by,” Villarreal said.

Frank Zimmel, 43, a Brookhaven Town resident, was tracking his brother on the marathon’s mobile app. Waiting near the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, his brother was just coming over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“This is the first time we’ve ever seen him run the marathon,” said Zimmel, whose 7-year-old son, also named Frank, sat on his shoulders. “You put your mind to anything, you can do anything.”

Zimmel then asked his son if he wanted to run the marathon one day, but the younger Frank shook his head no. His uncle, he pointed out, trained every day.

The marathon came two days after the fatal shooting of NYPD Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, 41, of Greenlawn. Norman Cerullo, 41, of Stony Brook, said he was running in memory of his father, an NYPD officer killed in a Brooklyn shootout in 1978, and hoped that people would not forget the lives of police officers slain in the line of duty.

“I never ran in a race before, but I had my father with me,” said Cerullo, who penned his father’s badge number on his fist. He had raised $5,000 for the New York Police & Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.

Family and friends greeted finish-line runners who held up their loved ones as they limped onto Central Park West.

“It’s tough,” said Matt Waters, 26, of Manhattan. “There is nothing like it.”

Waters was on his way home walking by himself for a few blocks south to meet his parents and girlfriend. “I’ve got a pot of chili waiting for me,” he said.

At the finish line, Holtsville’s Freeman said that while she experienced pain in her knee during a stretch in the Bronx, near the end, “I was really jazzed about it.”

“My mantra was ‘chase dreams.’”

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