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How supporters help runners get to the finish line

When Kristina Hanrahan crossed the finish line, she turned to her boyfriend, Brad Verrico, who met her at the last mile and ran alongside to cheer her on. She gave him a kiss.

Spectators hold signs during the Gore-Tex Philadelphia Marathon.
Spectators hold signs during the Gore-Tex Philadelphia Marathon.Read more

When Kristina Hanrahan crossed the finish line, she turned to her boyfriend, Brad Verrico, who met her at the last mile and ran alongside to cheer her on. She gave him a kiss.

"I wanted to say thank you for all his support," said Hanrahan, 43, of Kennett Square.

She hadn't seen anything yet.

Verrico, 46, also of Kennett Square, spun her around. There was her family and his, holding a sign: "Kristina, will you marry me?"

Down on his knee he went, ring in hand. She broke into tears. The crowd applauded.

The Philadelphia Marathon is where runners give everything they have to achieve their Rocky moment, and where those who love them give all they've got, too.

"We love Philadelphia," said Verrico, an environmental consultant who met Hanrahan, a project manager for Bank of America, at the marathon three years ago. "I couldn't think of a place that would be more appropriate. It's a great way to celebrate our love for each other and our love for the city."

More than 25,000 runners participated in Sunday's Gore-Tex marathon, about half of them in the half marathon and the rest going for the full 26.2 miles. More than twice as many spectators were estimated to have lined the race route amid heightened security.

"Everything went according to plan," Mayor Nutter said. "People came earlier than they might normally have come because of the enhanced security. Folks cooperated tremendously well."

There seemed to be no dampening of enthusiasm. Along the course, spectators blew horns, rang bells, and waved signs - anything to propel runners on to the next mile.

"Hurry up. We're hungry," Dean Turner, 44, a cyber-schools executive from Baltimore, wrote on a sign he made for his wife, Wendy, 42.

Turner came to watch the race with their sons, Josh, 9, and Alex, 11; Robyn Guerrasio, the wife of his childhood friend and coworker, Marc Guerrasio, 45, who also was running; and the Guerrasios' two children, Riley, 10, and Mason, 8.

Race day, both Dean Turner and Robyn Guerrasio said, is the culmination of 20 weeks of support families give their loved ones as they train.

"They have to do a lot of early morning, long runs. It's up to us to hold down the fort," said Robyn Guerrasio, 41.

Riley Guerrasio was happy to fulfill his task, making a sign that read: "The key to winning is running mad, and I know you can do that, Dad."

In January, the runners are off to Walt Disney World in Orlando for a long race weekend. The resort is hosting a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon on consecutive days.

"They're doing something called the Dopey Challenge, which means you run all four races," said Robyn Guerrasio, who will accompany her husband.

Extreme challenge is something Robin Sullivan knows well. She has spent a lot of time on the sidelines, cheering on husband Mark, 53, one of only two people who have run the Philadelphia Marathon all 22 years that it's been held.

They are among 169 marathons the graphic designer and running coach has logged, including the Boston Marathon in 2013 when terrorists struck. And Robin, who has run some 38 marathons herself, has been there for 167 of them.

"Even if I'm not out there running, in my head, I'm with him," she said.

The high school sweethearts are from Freeburg, about an hour north of Harrisburg.

Mark Sullivan said he started running as a way to compensate for a job that was largely sedentary.

His best time was 2 hours and 39 minutes. On Sunday, after contending with some strong headwinds along the river, he finished in about 2 hours and 53 minutes. He plans to come back next year.

"I want to stay with it as long as I possibly can," he said.

Organizations also came out to support groups of runners. Team in Training, which raises money for blood cancer research, cheered on 85 runners who raised $200,000 for the cause.

"It's our way of saying thank you for all the money they raised in helping to find a cure," said Margarita Cianchetta, campaign manager from Hazlet, N.J., who stood along Arch Street as runners whizzed past.

She and two fellow cheerleaders donned green and purple tutus. Greg Niland, a colleague from Roselle Park, N.J., wore a cone hat, blew a whistle, and rang a cowbell.

"Are we having a good time?" he yelled, running into the crowd to join some of the group's runners for a short jaunt.

Tess Walsh, 43, of Syracuse, N.Y., has run a lot of races all over the country, but her favorite place is Philadelphia.

"It's the crowd support," said Walsh, who works in a psychiatric emergency room.

They hand out tissues. They give gummy bears. They offer hugs. The frat house guys at Drexel University supply beers to runners as they pass. But what really gets her, she said, is how strangers see her name on her placard and yell it out.

"Everybody's yelling, 'Go, Tess,' " said Walsh, who ran the half marathon, her 20th.

For Hanrahan and Verrico, the marathon will always be the place where love sprints eternal.

No date for that wedding yet.

First Hanrahan has to nurse her aching feet.

The only thing that kept her going at the end, she said, was knowing she'd see Verrico at mile 25.

"He's like my carrot incentive," she said. "It's always been so cool that he's been so supportive of this."

As for that marriage proposal?

She said yes.