Mile 17, on First Avenue just north of 75th Street, is starting to fill up. It’s 10:30 a.m. on Marathon Sunday and the tavern’s namesake, the 17th mile marker of the New York City Marathon, just steps away on the avenue, is nearly desolate.
The runners are still miles away. But a small number of spectators leans on the metal barricades, encouraging the few athletes hustling by on wheelchairs or handcycles.
By the time the leading pack of elite runners appears, the bar is bustling. At 11:30 a.m., Jan Crozier is finishing a bowl of soup as the TV screen above the bar shows Kenyan runner Mary Keitany crossing the finish line in Central Park. Crozier, 78, reflects on a time when female athletes were barely recognized for their accomplishments. She’s happy they’re getting their due.
Crozier, an Upper East Side resident since the 1980s, also remembers past marathons and the security that accompanied them. Roadside checks have never stopped her from getting around, she says. “I’m an old lady who knows how to weasel her way,” she says.
Jamal Thomas is checking IDs at the door. He might be the only person on the premises who is underage. The 20-year-old is on his second shift in less than 12 hours. “I only got like three hours of sleep,” he says. He left his other job at 3 a.m., got home to the Bronx at 5 a.m. and raced to his first-ever shift at Mile 17 at 10 a.m.
He’s already been standing watch a couple of hours, but Thomas insists he isn’t tired. Like the runners racing on First Avenue steps away from his perch by the front door, he sometimes hits a wall, but he’s not there yet. “I’m used to it. Keep my legs healthy,” he says.
On the avenue, a sea of neon jerseys bobs and bounces up the avenue. There’s another nine miles to the finish line.
By around noon, the cheering and the clanging of cowbells are constants. Beth Rudolph has flown in from Pittsburgh to catch a glimpse of her brother, Mark, running his sixth marathon. He passed by a few minutes ago, but she’s staying to cheer for other racers. “They’re looking for a smile, and, hey, I can offer that,” she says leaning against the barricade.
Rudolph wants to inspire the runners. And their feat, she says, in turn inspire her. Encouraged by her brother, she ran the Pittsburgh Marathon. She’s not yet sure she when or whether she’ll try another race. “Running a marathon is like watching a soap opera; you have your highs and your lows,” she says. A man runs by, carrying a bronze Eiffel Tower replica twice his size. The crowd cheers louder.
At 2 p.m., Mile 17 is packed. Three different football games are showing on the tavern’s TVs. The staff, themselves racking up miles inside the crowded bar, dodge patrons while dishing out beers, french fries and other fare.
At one table, Rosemarie and Bob Rizzo guard zip-close bags labeled “mid-race” and “post-race.” The bags hold small bottles of electric yellow Gatorade.
They go outside, lean against a barricade and scan the crowd of runners for their daughter, Amy Remick. They wave cutouts of Remick’s face on a stick. It will make it easier for Remick to find them, they say.
“This is what she needs,” Rosemarie Rizzo says of the bags of Gatorade. “She’s almost here.” She scans the crowded First Avenue field for her daughter.
“This is the perfect spot,” says Kristen Lackaye, also holding a likeness of Remick’s face. When they’re not scanning their phones, looking for an update on Remick’s progress, Lackaye and her friends shout encouragement to the racers.
A tearful woman walks past. The runners are starting to slow down. “You got this!” yells Aileen Foglietta. She, too, is brandishing a picture of Remick’s face. When Remick finally arrives, everyone gets a hug and a picture. Her mother hands her a bag of Gatorade before her daughter dashes off again.
At 3:45 p.m., police are letting cars cross East 72nd Street. A few stragglers pass up the avenue, and the sidewalks are nearly deserted now.
Inside Mile 17, Sunday night festivities have a ways to run.