NYC Marathon: Stragglers battle exhaustion

Shannon Flynn, 13, waits along 59th Street for her mother to enter the final stretch of the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. Flynn and her family arrived in New York City from Raleigh, N.C., to cheer on her mother, who completed the race in six hours. Photo by Kathryn Kattalia

Standing in the fading daylight among a few hundred spectators still loyally clanging cowbells along 59th Street, 11-year-old Elizabeth Flynn huddled against her 13-year-old sister Shannon, too tired to cheer, too cold to care.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” she asked, pulling up the faux-fur-lined hood of her brown parka over her head.

Her father, Joe Flynn, laughed nervously.

“Think about how your mom feels,” he said. “She’s tired and cold and not to the finish line yet.”

Peering into the growing darkness, Flynn checked his phone once again for a message from his wife — anything to let him know she was still alive and well as she continued to make her way along the 26.2-mile course.

“I don’t think we would have missed her,” Flynn told his daughters. “Keep looking.”

About 45,000 runners competed in Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon, competing in the ultimate test of endurance as they made their way through the five boroughs, starting in Staten Island and eventually plodding down the final stretch through Central Park to the finish line.

For the world’s elite runners, it was a triumphant display of strength after an intense two and a half hours. But for the many stragglers hobbling down Fifth Avenue during the final hour of the marathon, it was a ruthless battle as mental stamina vied against complete physical exhaustion.

“It’s all about having the right mindset,” Flynn said. “You have to look at it and say, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ ”

Flynn, who helped his wife train for months back home in Raleigh, N.C., said she’s no stranger to the marathon scene, having completed three others including the ING Miami Marathon and several half-marathons. He said her average time usually falls around five hours and 15 minutes. As the clock inched closer to the six-hour mark, however, Flynn was starting to worry.

“She started along with the third wave of runners,” Flynn said. “I tried calling her phone a few times, but she didn’t answer. She’s concentrating, I guess.”

He watched as the once-swollen crowds pressing against the barricades began to slowly disperse, leaving in their wake a trail of discarded signs and Gatorade bottles.

“It’s starting to clear out,” he said.

As Flynn continued to scan the incoming runners for a black Northface fleece and a smiley face T-shirt — his wife’s outfit of choice for the day — his cell phone suddenly gave a sharp buzz. His wife was coming down Fifth Avenue. Keep a look out, he told the girls, smiling much easier as tension drained from under his eyes. She’s coming.

If runners aren’t finished by six o’clock, the straggler bus comes to pick them up,” Flynn said. “My wife woke up the other night from a nightmare that she had to be picked up by the straggler bus.”

Elizabeth gave a sigh of relief, happy to finally get out from the cold.

Not this time, anyway,” he added.