A bad day in front of millions

Because she is so recognisable, with her thick wraparound shades, Marla Runyan could not suffer anonymously. All three times she slowed to a walk, the acutely verbal New York fans shouted encouragement to her — not the kind of stick-to-it-girl sympathy that a world-class athlete wants to hear.

"Every time I was walking, I felt so ashamed," Runyan said after finishing a disappointing 20th in the New York City Marathon. "I just wanted to hang my head."

Runyan was one of the crowd favourites on a glorious, warm day in the five boroughs and 100 nations of New York. Many people lining the streets know she is legally blind and has made herself a mainstream Olympic athlete. People in Bay Ridge and Greenpoint and the Bronx tend to like an underdog.

Like all the other elite runners on the course, Runyan tuned out the colours and the banners, the buildings and the faces that make the marathon the finest single sporting day in the city. But she could hear the many accents imploring her to keep going.

"Such a diverse unification of people, all cheering you on," she said, despite her disappointment in her legs. Runyan, 34, suffers from a hereditary condition called Stargardt's disease, which caused her retinas to begin deteriorating at age 9. She cannot drive a car or read normal-size newspaper type, but she can work her way through a crowded news media centre, as she did after her race, stopping to help herself at the buffet after a close-range inspection.

New York Times News Service