The stretch between the 18- and 19-mile marks near the airport has been called the loneliest mile of the Mill Race Marathon.
Eva Cagwin and her husband Roger try their best to make the runners enjoy that mile as much as they can.
The Cagwins fill the mile with signs, ring cowbells and cheer on the marathoners, who are between two-thirds and three-fourths of the way through their 26.2-mile journey.
“We just want to lift them up for one mile,” Eva Cagwin said. “We never walk away from it thinking, ‘Work was a thing we just did.’ We’ve never seen the finish line, but we’re excited about what we do.”
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Eva runs the Flying Pig half-marathon in Cincinnati each May and the Brown County Hilly Half each November. She did the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 2010.
But since the Mill Race Marathon began in 2013, she’s been a spectator for that event. She cheered on runners near the 15½-mile mark the first two years and has set up around the 18½-mile mark the past two years.
“After doing it the first year, we’re like, ‘We need more people out here cheering,’” Cagwin said. “As a runner, I know that spectators are the wind beneath their wings. So over time, this is my give-back to the people that cheer me on over those two (Flying Pig and Hilly Half) events.”
“I’m a middle to back-of-the-pack runner. I’m not a speedster, but I know how spectators can make a difference.”
The first year, the Cagwins, who live in western Bartholomew County, brought their pickup and blasted music, including the theme from Rocky. The second year, they asked runners for inspirational tunes.
Julie Hult, who teaches English at Columbus East, had her students make inspirational and sometimes humorous signs a couple years ago. The Cagwins place those signs along the side of the roads on that 19th mile.
The Cagwins also provide water to the runners, and this year will have Gatorade. And, of course, cowbell.
“This is not the Indy mini with 35,000 people,” Eva Cagwin said. “There’s 300 of them, and we do not leave until the last person comes through with the (police) escort. We do not leave until we cowbell and cheer that last person.”
Chalking the street
Ashleigh Fisher has a unique vantage point to watch the marathon. She lives at 23rd and Sycamore, which is close to where the marathoners and half-marathoners split, right before the 12-mile mark.
Before each marathon, Fisher, her husband Ryan and three kids and neighbor Gretchen Armstrong and Armstrong’s three kids chalk the street with inspirational messages.
“Every year, we have friends and family that run, so originally, we had a chalkboard sign that my boys made for their uncle that was running,” Ashleigh Fisher said. “Someone made the comment about how wonderful it was to see that, and they wished someone had done that for them. I was like, ‘Well, that can be your sign, too,’ and we decided we could do it for everybody in the race. We’re kind of under the belief that everybody needs that pickup.”
The Fishers also play music for first hour or two of the races. Ashleigh Fisher has been trying to get her whole block involved, and she said more of her neighbors have participated each year.
Ashleigh Fisher said she has talked with some of her neighbors about getting whole block together and forming a 23rd street corridor similar to the ones that specators form in the Tour de France.
“I feel like we’ve motivated some runners,” Ashleigh Fisher said. “If they’re walking, and all of a sudden there’s this big crowd cheering them on, they start jogging. Maybe we’ve helped them go those last couple miles.”
Nearing the finish
When runners see George Devidze, they’re usually in a lot of pain.
That’s because Devidze lives at 19th and Lafayette, across from Donner Park, right around the 25-mile mark. Being that it’s only about a mile from the finish, some runners might experience a bit of relief.
Devidze and some of his neighbors are are on his front porch cheering. They play music and have 15 to 20 signs.
“Our signs are usually goofy an humorous, but hopefully encouraging,” Devidze said. “If they’re walking, we encourage them to start running. That turns into a challenge for us.”
But Devidze hasn’t been there for the start of the festivities each year. He has run the half-marathon all four years and joins his wife and neighbors after he is finished running.
This year likely will be different. Since his wife is going to be out of town the day of the Mill Race, Devidze is planning on staying home so he can provide food for the neighborhood and lead the festivities.
“It’s a block party,” Devidze said. “All the neighbors come down. We have drinking games and breakfast and everything. It’s a lot of fun.”