NEW YORK — Each of the 37,000 or so participants in today's New York City Marathon has a simple goal: finish the grueling race through the Big Apple's five boroughs.
But the competitors from 100 nations and all 50 states have widely varying motivations.
Ryan Shay wants to end a 23-year American drought. So, too, do Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman, who hope a victory for their adopted nation would inspire a U.S. resurgence in long-distance running.
Ivonne Mosquera, who is blind, is competing as an inspiration to those who can't. World record holder Paul Tergat hopes for a win on the world's biggest stage. Matt Conroy, with his fourth child on the way, is raising cash for charity and fulfilling a long-held dream.
On a day when New York's normally chaotic pockmarked streets are turned into a giant pedestrian mall — lined with 2 million spectators and more than 100 bands — the reasons for running range from personal to patriotic.
"To have an American win on U.S. soil in a city that has such a patriotic history, especially after September 11, would be astonishing," says Shay, a Michigan resident and Notre Dame alum. "I think it would just get a lot more people to notice the sport."
There has been no U.S. winner of the New York City Marathon since 1982, when Alberto Salazar won his third straight title. The first 13 New York races were won by American men — but none since. The drought is even longer for American women, since 1977, and is unlikely to end this year.
When Keflezighi finished second last year and Shay was ninth, it marked the first time two American men had been in the top 10 since 1993. Keflezighi also was a surprise silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics. That has led to a sense of tempered optimism among U.S. runners.
"Any time you have an American win a major marathon like New York it's outstanding," says Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea who moved to the U.S. as a sixth grader and starred as a distance runner at UCLA. "It will happen eventually, and it will transcend the sport."
The men's winner of the race, whose primary sponsor is Dutch financial services company ING, will get $100,000. The women's winner earns a marathon record $130,000.
Tergat, a Kenyan who will be making his New York debut, is trying to become the ninth straight African to win the men's race. Tergat, who set the world record of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 55 seconds at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, has prepared by running about 170 miles a week — including marathon-length training runs.
"You have to do the mileage — the better you'll be in terms of taking the punishment of the marathon," says the 36-year-old Tergat, who plotted his New York strategy from a lead car at the 2003 race.
Mosquera marvels at Tergat's workouts. She's happy to get in three road workouts totaling about 25 miles a week, plus spin classes, Yoga and weight training. There's simply no more time, since the Stanford-trained mathematician works full-time in membership and development at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 28-year-old Colombian, who also has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, is connected to a guide by a foot-long tether — "usually a shoelace," she says. She'll be aiming to finish in under four hours.
"I like to really think about being out there as an inspiration for not just runners with disabilities, but also for women and especially for Hispanic women," she says. "It's a special thing to be able to be in any marathon. This is really a sport in which we are able to compete alongside the elite athletes."
Competing alongside the top runners has become less realistic for Conroy as the year has gone along. He spent January to April training intensely for a triathlon in Switzerland, but then cut his workouts in half when his wife, Patty, became pregnant with their fourth child.
A lawyer specializing in commercial litigation — one of 2,223 attorneys signed up for the race, by the way — the 36-year-old Conroy has bought a bigger house and now is trying to sell his current house in suburban Rockville Centre. His weekends are focused on holding open houses instead of training.
"I've done very little running in the month of October. I've been trying to sell my house for baby number four," Conroy says.
He's already gotten $4,500 in pledges for Fred's Team, which raises money for pediatric cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Conroy's family rooting section will be near mile 18, not far from the hospital where young cancer patients also will cheer him on — if he makes it that far.
"I've been dying to do it for 20 years. Ever since I set foot in New York, I've wanted to run up First Avenue and down Fifth Avenue," he says. "I have some doubts about my condition. I'm in good shape to run 13 miles, but I don't know if I can sustain it for 26 miles."