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Watching The 2009 ING New York City Marathon In North Brooklyn: One Fan's Perspective
"It's a great day for New York" & "Paula's F------ awesome"

by: Tim Loh
Nov. 1, 2009

Editor's Note: writer Tim Loh ran cross-country and track and field for Fairfield High School in Connecticut and the University of Notre Dame during his first two years in college.  A student at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, he works at a small paper in Connecticut and is a full-time fan of the sport.

*Message Board Thread on Race
*LRC: Absorbing the Post-Race Elite Vibe: Injuries and Wind Challenge Humbled, Grateful Pros

North Brooklyn, NY - Eddie Galeski lunged forward, propping his weight onto his left leg. He clapped his hands together and bounced impatiently.

     “I'm waiting for Paula Ratcliffe to come through,” he said. “Paula's f------ awesome.”

       Galeski, 51, was waiting outside his apartment on the corner of Leonard Street and Greenpoint Avenue. The spot is in the neighborhood of Greenpoint, which is New York’s largest Polish enclave, along Brooklyn’s northern tip.

      Three hundred meters away, the New York City Marathon climbs the Polaski Bridge and drops into the borough of Queens. Along the way, marathoners pass the halfway mark.

     At 10:15 on Sunday morning, the women leaders were approaching Greenpoint. Galeski stood ready in a backwards Yankees hat, sweatpants, blue t-shirt and basketball shoes. The air was cool and damp, about 50 degrees, and Galeski bounced to keep warm. Everyone else was in a jacket or sweater. A helicopter swirled overhead. 

      “She’s comin’, she’s coming’,” Galeski said, bending forward and slapping his hands. He held his arms out over the road. “Come on Paula!”

       The New York City Marathon is as much a celebration of the city’s wealth of cultures as it is a battle for top distance runners around the world. The course runs through all five of the city’s boroughs—Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx—which each are filled with a patchwork of neighborhoods that house various ethnic and cultural groups.

      In Brooklyn alone, runners pass through areas that are predominantly Asian, Hispanic, African American, Orthodox Jewish, yuppie, hipster and Polish. Almost all produce an impressive array of passionate and knowledgeable fans.

     Except, perhaps, for the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. There, “Parking Verboten—Marathon flyers hang on trees and telephone poles in Yiddish.

      “This is a very religious neighborhood,” a policeman told me a couple of hours before the race. As he spoke, school buses lined with Hebrew characters collected boys with yarmulkes and shuttled them to early-morning school sessions. 

     “It’s largely an inconvenience for them,” the policeman went on. “Head up towards Greenpoint for the fun stuff.”

      By and large, the fans that lined the streets as I headed north were both surprisingly large and surprisingly passionate.

       Some were even surprisingly versed in distance running. Take Galeski, for one, who had just whipped out a pack of Marlboros.

      “Smoke?” he asked.

      “No thanks,” I said. 

       He looked down the block and fired up a cigarette. A rock band on the corner was playing a Billy Joel song. “Doesn’t get any better than this,” he said, breaking into a jig. “I love my block and I really like the marathon.”  

      He went over his game plan.  “After Paula comes through I'll go back inside and watch TV,” he said. “Then I'll come back and watch the men’s leaders. Then I'll go inside to watch them finish on television. And then I'll come back out for the crazy people in Halloween costumes.”

        He let out a puff of smoke. “It’s a great day for New York,” he said.

        Across the street was a four-story apartment building. Three balconies filled up with people as the women’s leaders approached the 20-kilometer mark on Manhattan Avenue. Several people were dressed in Halloween costumes and most had drinks in their hands.

         “I’m envious of them,” Galeski said, pointing and waving. He then lamented the fact that cops these days don’t allow him and his friends to bring beer cases and lawn chairs to the sidewalk to watch the race like they used to.  

        “Those people have got the right idea now,” he said, pointing to the apartment.

        I asked for an update. “So you've been watching the race on TV?"

         "Yeah," he said.

          "How’s Paula doing?" 

          "She’s in the lead," he said.

          "You think she'll win?" 

          “Of course.”

           “How about for the men?”

           “I think one of the Kenyans,” he said.

          "What about Ryan Hall?"

          "Ahhh. He's gonna fade by the 15 mile mark," Galeski predicted.

          The cheering grew louder around the corner on Manhattan Ave.

            “She’s coming! She’s coming!” Galeski said.

           A line of motorcycles turned the corner onto Greenpoint Avenue and drove past us. Then the front pack of women came around and ran by. Radcliffe was a few meters behind the leader.

          "Come on Paula, catch her!" Galeski yelled. "Catch her, Paula!"

          Once they’d passed, Galeski excused himself to go inside and watch the remainder of the race on television. I moved on to the Pulaski Bridge to wait for the men’s leaders. Then I ran ten minutes south, took two subways into lower Manhattan and took a taxi up to Central Park.

           Luckily, I got there just in time to see Paula Radcliffe finish in fourth. Then Meb came in first, not a Kenyan. And Hall hadn’t faded badly at all. 

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