Runners struggling to make it past the New York City Marathon’s 21st mile in the Bronx got some much-needed encouragement from the borough’s largest running group.
Purple-clad members of the Van Cortlandt Track Club offered high fives and cheered until they were hoarse as more than 50,000 runners flowed up East 138th Street toward the Madison Avenue Bridge.
“That’s it. Pick ‘em up, put ‘em down!” track club member Norris Ogard yelled repeatedly.
Many runners smiled and yelled back as they passed by. Others, hobbled by cramps and exhaustion, had slowed down to a walk.
The local running club includes more than 200 active members and meets several times per week to train on Van Cortlandt Park’s track or nationally famous cross country trail.
Club member Rick Bloomer, dressed in a banana costume, took photos and tracked race times on a clipboard for his more than 60 teammates in the marathon. Two women wore matching foot costumes, complete with blackened toenails. Coach Ken Rolston watched from atop a police barricade and gave pep talks to anyone who needed them.
“This tends to be the most desolate part of the race, so we wanna be here to help,” Rolston said.
The New York City Marathon goes through the Bronx for only about a mile, but that small stretch between miles 20 and 21 has historically been a breaking point. Crowds are often thin in this area. Just as fatigue begins to take over for many runners, they have to pass through quiet, industrial blocks of Mott Haven and then exit the Bronx on a steady incline. This test of character is known as “The Wall.”
Some people believe this breakdown happens because the body burns up all of its glycogen, a compound that stores energy. Others think it has to do with losing sight of what motivated them to run in the first place. The reasons are different for everyone, but many people agreed that “The Wall” is a significant challenge.
“It’s kind of like the Bermuda Triangle. You can’t get there on purpose, but you can find yourself there sometimes,” Jason Saltmarsh, a Road Runners Club of America certified coach, said before the race.