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For marathon losers, no prizes but next year

November 3, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ When the estimated 30,000 runners in the New York City Marathon lined up at the start, everyone’s goal was to make it to the finish line, 26 miles and 385 yards away.

But after the race began on a winding trail through the city’s five boroughs, thousands of runners decided to aim for the halfway point of Sunday’s trek, the Pulaski Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens.

These were the marathon dropouts. Some were quite disappointed in themselves. Others satisfied they’d done their best. And yet others who said they would lie rather than say they could not finish the race.

``There is no pain like being beaten by the marathon you’ve trained for,″ said Abraham Vega, of Brooklyn, who could ``go no more″ at the 11-mile mark he reached just as drizzle became a downpour about three hours after the race’s 10:40 a.m. start.

``I hope I can make it two more miles,″ he said. ``Maybe I’ll get a haircut so I’ll look good when I pass out at the halfway mark.″

Ed Stone, 30, of Staten Island, also dropped out.

``Regardless of your time, if you make it to the end you’re a hero,″ he said. ``If you don’t make it, you’re nothing.″

For Les Waniewski of Sacramento, Calif., who ran a marathon alone for the first time after his partner in four previous races took ill, half a marathon is no prize.

``What am I going to do, go to work and tell the guys I did half?″ he said. ``No. I’ll lie and say I did it all, of course.″

Those who really did do it all paid tribute to physical training and a good dose of determination.

``I don’t understand how you can train for months and drop out,″ said Tara Gadomski, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. ``I wouldn’t have entered if I didn’t think I could finish.″

``I feel sorry for the people who drop out after making such a commitment. You tell everyone you’re running. Your mom’s at the finish line and you drop out at mile 12. Then (your mother) has to jog back 14 miles to help you. It’s really sad.″

And as Gadomski bolted into the strait leading to the Pulaski Bridge, along crawled one of several sweep buses _ dubbed the ``sag wagons″ by runners in the know _ to pick up the stragglers who could not finish.

On the buses, people shared their injury stories or blamed their failure on the rain. They munched protein-packed chocolate bars and recited the number of calories in bananas, apples and bagels. But they didn’t talk much about the race.

As one sweep bus crept by, it passed Jerry Curtain, 29, of Manhattan.

``I’m crushed. But I gave it my all,″ said Curtain as he walked slowly, nursing a free beer he picked up at a bar near the bridge after he decided to pack it in.

``It’s over, Jerry,″ said a friend who declined to give his name. ``We’ve been passed by the sag wagon. But there’s always next year.″

Perhaps the dropouts would’ve finished the race had they listened to Sam Gadless’s words of wisdom. The 90-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., is the oldest marathon runner.

``Don’t drop out. Get yourself up, and get back in it. Make up your mind to run your best race, train hard and be positive,″ Gadless said the day before the race.

Gadless finished the race in eight hours and 10 minutes, running it with his son, Lou, and grandson, Steve.

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