NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, November 1, 2015, 2:49 PM
Alexi Pappas climbed aboard a Ford pickup truck idling on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge just ahead of the field of professional runners at the start line of the New York City Marathon.
Seats mounted in the bed of the truck faced backwards, so photographers, race officials and other lucky people could relax while watching the runners pound onward through an alleyway of cheering fans.
“We are privileged to witness so much suffering,” said Pappas, the NCAA All-American who is a rising star in the distance-running world who is considering a future entry in the marathon. Currently focused on qualifying for long-distance track events for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, she has also done improv comedy, made a film, and graduated from Dartmouth.
Organizers invited Pappas, 23, to ride in a photo truck in part because they hope to entice tomorrow’s distance running celebrities to participate in an event that could always benefit from a little more American star-power in an era where it is dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Distance running is a sport that is looking for the next transcendent personality and New York Road Runners, which organizes the event, is actively trying to build the sport’s new heroes. Two days before the race, NYRR aired a screening of Pappas’ film, “Tracktown,” at its new, visitor-friendly pavilion near the finish.
On Friday morning, Pappas won NYRR’s “Dash to the Finish Line,” covering the 5K (3.2-mile) distance in 15 minutes, 59 seconds.
On the marathon course two days later, Pappas posted selfies and action shots to Twitter, waved to the crowds, and watched the lead group dwindle from 11 to nine to four, until there was only race winner Mary Keitany of Kenya.
“It’s like watching your big sister getting ready for the prom,” she said. “She’s doing her hair, and you’ve got this frizzy hair.”
As the truck made its way through five boroughs, one of the photos she’d posted to Twitter spread because ESPN personality Darren Rovell had retweeted it, noting that the truck also carried Marlins Man, the Florida attorney semi-famous on the Internet for appearing at major sporting events wearing an orange Marlins hoodie.
To Pappas, the real celebrities were Keitany and the Ethiopians who finished second and third, Aselefech Mergia and Tigist Tufa.
“To be that close is electric and amazing,” said Pappas at the end. “It was really inspiring to watch women that I’ve seen train or race from afar close up.”
As the photo truck pulled into the roaring finish stadium a few hundred yards ahead of Keitany, it was diverted off the course just before the finish line. When it pulled to a stop, Pappas made a sprinter’s dash for a portable toilet.
After emerging, she said the experience of riding the famous course had been like “looking into the future.”
“I fell in love with the city as we drove through it,” she said, “making eye contact with more people than I’ve ever made eye contact with in a day.”