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For marathon losers, no prizes but next year

November 2, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ The thousands of runners who finished the New York City Marathon Sunday got wrapped in glory while the hundreds who dropped or pooped out along the 26.2-mile course were left with only a silver-foil blanket as a reward for their efforts.

Friends, family and strangers hollered for the estimated 30,000 runners who chased the finish line.

But few noticed those who dropped by the wayside.

Hundreds failed to conquer the marathon’s winding trail through New York City’s five boroughs. For them, there was little consolation.

``Regardless of your time, if you make it to the end you’re a hero,″ said Ed Stone, 30, of Staten Island, who couldn’t complete his first New York City Marathon. ``If you don’t make it, you’re nothing.″

As eventual winners John Kagwe and Franziska Rochat-Moser hurtled to the end in a light drizzle, race casualties piled up a dozen or more miles behind them. Some slinked away to be alone. Some hunted for other dropouts to share their pain and join them in a round of drinks.

``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.

He curled up on the steps outside a barber’s shop and watched the stronger runners sprint by.

``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.″

It was the halfway point of the grueling trek, the Pulaski Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens, that inspired marathoners whose energy had long been sapped to keep trudging through the driving rain. Those with twisted ankles, pulled hamstrings or other ailments knew early they would not see the real finish line and mentally modified the official course and set their sights on the bridge.

``Half is better than none,″ said one runner from Great Britain, whose supportive knee bandages unraveled, halting him in his tracks.

But 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.″

Gadomski said she trained for 10 months and drank only ice water at her 25th birthday party last weekend to keep her ``running machine″ alcohol-free.

``I feel sorry for the people who drop out after making such a commitment,″ she said. ``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 with no chance of finishing.

``I’m crushed. But I gave it my all,″ said Jerry Curtain, 29, of Manhattan, walking and nursing a free beer he picked up at a mid-course bar after he decided to pack it in. The sweep bus crept by.

``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.″

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