A short while later, Guida dropped out. Not the legally blind Runyan, who never had run a marathon until Sunday. She kept going, her fluid strides leading to the top U.S. finish fifth overall behind women's winner Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya.
"I'm very pleased with how I did," said Runyan, the first Paralympian to compete at an Olympics. "You never know if you prepared properly, how the weather will affect you, how the distance will affect you."
With temperatures in the 40s and a slight headwind, Boston Marathon champion Rodgers Rop overcame pain in his side to finish in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 7 seconds, helping Kenya gain its first sweep of the men's and women's titles.
Christopher Cheboiboch (2:08:17) also second in Boston and Laban Kipkemboi (2:08:39) gave Kenya the first 1-2-3 men's finish for a country since the United States did it in 1975.
Olympic bronze medalist Chepchumba ran the 26.2 miles in 2:25:56 and was first across the finish in Central Park, because the elite women started about 30 minutes before the men. Los Angeles Marathon champion Lyubov Denisova of Russia was 21 seconds behind. Olivera Jevtic of Yugoslavia was third, despite cutting and bruising her elbows and knees on a late fall. Esther Kiplagat of Kenya was fourth.
Runyan was next in 2:27:10, 36 seconds ahead of defending champion Margaret Okayo, who set the course record last year but had lower-back problems.
"She never ceases to amaze me," said Runyan's father, Gary. He traveled from Camarillo, Calif., to watch the race on TV at a restaurant near the finish line with her husband and coach, Matt Lonergan.
Runyan's time was the 10th fastest ever in a marathon by an American woman, all the more impressive considering she's accustomed to running much shorter distances. She was eighth in the 1,500 meters at the 2000 Olympics, broke the U.S. record for the indoor 5,000 in 2001, and won the U.S. outdoor title at 5,000 in 2001-02.
"I really enjoyed it until 24 miles," the 33-year-old Runyan said, laughing. "It surprisingly didn't feel as long as I thought it would. I felt very good even through 11 miles, 14 miles. The pace was conservative and that was probably ideal for me."
A degenerative eye condition known as Stargardt's disease limits her sight to about 15 feet, although she can't read a watch, for example, while she is running.
Organizers arranged for a cyclist to ride near Runyan, telling her split times and when turns were coming. During the race, the yells could be heard: "We're approaching the bridge in 150 meters!" or "The pack is intact!" or "Your bottle is there at the end!" Runyan did have a problem with drinks, missing hers at Mile 12.
It helped that the course was less crowded because of the earlier start for women. A few times, Runyan faded, only to find a burst that carried her within range.
"Had the men been there, I wouldn't have been able to do that," she said. "It did make it easier. I've run road races where everybody's out there. It becomes annoying with men around you, because their stride and their cadence is so different
"And I'm not able to distinguish men from women in a pack or at a distance."
Runyan was 10 seconds behind at the decisive moment Sunday: Jevtic and Kerryn McCann of Australia tangled at a turn in the 21st mile. Both fell facedown, one on top of the other. Jevtic, running her first marathon, got right up and moved just off the shoulders of the leaders. McCann scraped her knee and wound up seventh.
The commotion allowed the front-runners to break away. Runyan didn't know about it until Lonergan told her after the race.
"Finishing fifth in this field, especially, was a long shot. Obviously, we saw a lot of strange things out there," Runyan said. "That's the marathon unpredictable."
She expected to have to run faster to accomplish her goal of a top-10 finish.
"It was actually even a little slow for her," Lonergan said. "I actually thought the rest of the field would have gone out faster. Marla wasn't necessarily a favorite. The favorites didn't do what they were supposed to do."
Until the end, that is. Chepchumba and Denisova were stride-for-stride into the 24th mile, when the Kenyan made her move. She pulled off her gloves and threw them down as if to say, "OK, no more kidding around!" With that, Chepchumba pulled away.
She won marathons at Tokyo in 2000, and London and Chicago in 1999. But she's always come up short here, finishing fourth in 1995, third in 1996, and fourth in 2001.
"I've been trying and trying and trying," Chepchumba said. "This time was my time."
Rop became the fourth man to win at Boston and New York in the same year. That makes him 2-for-3; his only other marathon was New York last year, when he had muscle cramps and finished third behind Tesfaye Jifar (who dropped out at the 15-mile mark with stomach problems Sunday).
Rop made his first serious move on the downhill stretch just after the leaders crossed the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan about two-thirds of the way through.
While others would occasionally pull alongside him, he was clearly in control.
Notes: The top U.S. man was Meb Keflezighi (ninth, 2:12:35). ... Last year's top U.S. man, Scott Larsen, stopped in Mile 3 with a foot injury. ... Rop won $120,000 (including $40,000 for a time bonus), Chepchumba $105,000 ($25,000 bonus). Each won a new car. ... The 32,185 starters were about 1,600 more than last year.
Results, New York City Marathon
1. Rodgers Rop, Kenya, 2:08:07
2. Christopher Cheboiboch, Kenya, 2:08:17
3. Laban Kipkemboi, Kenya, 2:08:39
4. Mohamed Quaadi, France, 2:08:53
5. Stefano Baldini, Italy, 2:09:12
6. Mark Carroll, Ireland, 2:10:54
7. Gert Thys, South Africa, 2:11:48
8. Matt O'Dowd, England, 2:12:20
9. Meb Keflezighi, United States, 2:12:35
10. Stephan Ndungu, Kenya, 2:13:28
1. Joyce Chepchumba, Kenya, 2:25:56
2. Lyubov Denisova, Russia, 2:26:17
3. Olivera Jevtic, Yugoslavia, 2:26:44
4. Esther Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:27:00
5. Marla Runyan, United States, 2:27:10
6. Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2:27:46
7. Kerryn McCann, Australia, 2:27:51
8. Lornah Kiplagat, Kenya, 2:28:41
9. Ludmila Petrova, Russia, 2:29:00
10. Milena Glusac, United States, 2:31:14
Results from the Xinhua News Agency