So when marathon officials approached him about ideas to spruce up the 2010 race, which will celebrate the race's 25th year, Cerney knew just what to do.
"My first idea was to make new mile markers," Cerney said. "When running, you look for little things to pick you up. I've run the marathon before, so I know what makes runners happy."
Cerney is busy constructing what the marathon coordinators hope will be the most unique mile markers in the world.
Best known for his large wooden cutouts of field workers along Highway 68 in Salinas, Cerney has been making cutout murals since 1990, but he has never tackled this many signs at one time. Each of the 28 signs will stand 7 feet high and 4 feet wide, and will be designed to humor and motivate runners.
"Once the runners see one sign, they will be anticipating the next one," Cerney says. "Hopefully, this will keep them going."
Cerney knows that distractions can help ease a runner's pain during the grueling race.
After the race in 2009, the marathon coordinators began working with Cerney to brainstorm ideas for the signs.
"We gave him free rein to create what he wanted," race director Wally Kastner said. "He came to the table with 14 or 16 ideas of his own and we added a few ourselves."
Cerney proposed scenes such as a runner hitting the wall — a brick wall, that is — at mile 20.
"Everyone knows the Kenyans are great runners," Cerney said. "So funny signs like that would get a laugh out of the runners."
Cerney will construct a sign for each mile in the race, one for the halfway point on the Bixby Bridge, and one for the finish line.
Each sign is available for sponsorship at $1,000. Sponsors have the opportunity to be depicted in the sign they purchase.
"The money will go toward paying John for the signs," Kastner says. "All but seven signs have been sold, but we are sure we will sell all of them."
So far, Cerney has cut out a few signs and has begun the process of building the supports.
"I'll probably have them all done by February," Cerney says. "Some of the signs take two days to build, others take up to five days. Some of the people in the signs are recognizable in the running community, so you have to get the painting just right."
The previous mile markers — silhouettes of cellos — stood the test of time for 24 years, and Cerney expects his new signs to last more than 50 years.