The first Sunday of November means only one thing for New Yorkers: marathon day, with its tinfoil-strewn streets, cheering fans in all five boroughs and a palpable energy as exhausted but proud finishers flood the city.
This year the NYC Marathon turns 50, but instead of some 50,000 participants hitting the hard pavement of our city, the New York Road Runners, which organizes the 26.2-mile run, expects about 25,000 participants in what will be called the Virtual TCS New York City Marathon, taking place from Oct. 17 until Nov. 1.
It’s still a far cry from the 127 runners who kicked the event off in Central Park on a hot day in September 1970 — just one of whom was a woman, and 55 of whom finished the race.
“You can imagine when it was such a small group of people, we all essentially knew each other — if not by name, at least by sight,” said George Hirsch, 86, chairman of the board of New York Road Runners, who spectated the inaugural race.
It may not be the 50th anniversary celebration everyone hoped for, but it still promises to be a great run.
“It’s unique and kind of cool,” Hirsch added of the virtual aspect, “but it’s not the same as 50,000 [runners] at the Verrazano Bridge waiting for the gun to go off.”
And while runners may not be soaring through the boroughs, they will have their own backdrops from around the globe.
“Our Virtual TCS New York City Marathon will connect the global running community at a time when more and more people are running as a way to stay healthy during these difficult times,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners.
Here are the inspiring stories of six runners ready to conquer the NYC Marathon in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
He plans to juggle the whole way
Jack Hirschowitz grew up fascinated by the circus and its arts, but don’t call him a clown.
The 75-year-old Namibia-born psychiatrist, who lives on the Upper West Side, will run the virtual marathon on its final weekend — while juggling.
Referred to as “joggling,” Hirschowitz first got into the unusual combination some 25 years ago at a juggling convention in Las Vegas. Most years since, he’s run short-distance races against other jogglers — for which he’s earned a number of gold, silver and bronze medals. In sum, he’s joggled about 50 races, some of which include marathons in London, Paris and Rome.
“[Running is] a sport that . . . [connects] you with people, and combining it with juggling has made it a lot more fun,” said Hirschowitz, adding that it’s also earned him a bit of attention while he’s out training. “People smile and make comments, and I enjoy that as well.”
‘Combining it with juggling has made it a lot more fun.’
One of those people is television host Nev Schulman, who — while training for the marathon himself — encountered Hirschowitz in Central Park in August and took a video of him, which he shared with his 1.6 million Instagram followers.
“So this guy’s just out for a casual 6-mile run while juggling — in training for his thirteenth . . . New York City Marathon,” Schulman said in the video, which earned nearly 100,000 views. “This is what it looks like to be super awesome.”
Hirschowitz will run the entire trek in Central Park, keeping it casual because there won’t be anyone there handing out water.
“I’m not going to worry about the time,” he said.
Hirschowitz ran his first New York City Marathon in 2008 — participating in each one since, and only once without juggling. What’s more: Everyone in his family juggles — and Hirschowitz plans on joggling this marathon for a second time with his 50-year-old son Barak, one of his three grown children.
“You want your kids to follow your footsteps in some way — this isn’t exactly what people think about,” said Hirschowitz.
She’s running for all those she lost this year
Despite suffering multiple personal losses this year, Kellie Alberici will run her first marathon on Nov. 1 to show others that no hurdle stands too high.
“For me, the marathon was a way to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” said the 29-year-old Forest Hills resident. “I want to show people you really can do anything you set your mind to.”
In February, Alberici registered to run the marathon as part of Fred’s Team, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s marathon program, to raise money for cancer research. At the time, her mother, 63-year-old Sue Alberici, was battling the disease and receiving treatment at the cancer center. In March, everything changed.
That month, her 69-year-old uncle, Addie Alberici, died of cancer. Several weeks later, a close friend, Joe Lewinger — a colleague at the Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates, where Alberici had previously studied — died of COVID-19 at age 42. On May 4, Alberici’s mother lost her battle to cancer.
‘I think I’m gonna definitely be crying.’
All the while, Alberici was furloughed from her job at ZogSports — and laid off in June. That month, the in-person marathon was canceled.
“It was a string of awful things that were happening at the time,” said Alberici — now a physical education teacher at the Mary Louis Academy — but she realized that she could still pursue a marathon. “I felt like I owed it to my mom and my friend Joe and my uncle . . . it gave such purpose to the running. I felt like I was doing this for other people.” Alberici added that she continues to fund-raise, having brought in more than $7,000 to date.
Along with a friend, 31-year-old Katie Hannon, the two began training — and will run the virtual marathon together. On Nov. 1, beginning at 9 a.m., the pair will run their roughly five-hour, slightly longer 26.7-mile course, dubbed “Sue’s Marathon” after her mother, from Nassau County into Queens. Besides passing by the homes of family members, they’ll run past Lewinger’s home in Garden City South, Alberici’s mother’s grave at St. John Cemetery in Queens and finish in front of her parents’ home in Glendale. More than 50 friends and volunteers will join in, handing them water and even holding out a tape for them to cross the finish line.
“I think I’m gonna definitely be crying,” said Alberici of her run, “but I think it’s mostly going to be happy tears — thinking about finishing it in honor of the people we’ve lost.”
She’s completing her 42nd consecutive NYC Marathon
In her younger years, Connie Brown would run up and down the basketball court during games — and swim laps until someone had to tap her on her shoulder to say, “You’ve already done your mile.”
At age 76, she’s still going the distance. Brown will run her 42nd consecutive New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 — keeping to a course of loops within 8 miles of her home in Sarasota, Fla. That sky-high number makes Brown the event’s leading woman “streaker,” or someone who has completed 15 marathons in a row.
“I’m so appreciative of the fact that I can still do this,” said Brown, who works as a real-estate broker.
The Brooklyn native, who later lived upstate in Putnam County, got her start in 1978, after becoming involved in a running group in 1976. She completed her first three marathons before moving south in the summer of 1981 — then returned to New York each year to fit in another race while visiting family.
“And eventually I realized I had a streak — I never really thought about it,” she said.
In earlier years, there were fewer runners and far more men than women participating. Another standout aspect: running through then-seedy neighborhoods, with “drug addicts, alcoholics cheering on the side of the road,” she added. Later, at the 2001 marathon, participants wore shirts with images of friends and family who died on 9/11.
If there’s one thing that’s remained constant through it all, she said, it’s the spirit of the spectators.
“What I notice the most is how much they’ve been able to keep it the same type of experience,” she said, adding that the day’s overall theme is one of support.
On Nov. 1, Brown will begin her trek at 3 a.m. to avoid the Florida heat, with a goal of finishing within six hours. She aims to finish “feeling good,” and plans to keep the energy going for years to come.
“As long as I’m blessed enough to keep going, I’m gonna go,” she said.
This front-line worker just wants to finish
Angela Wint was the final recorded finisher of the 2017 NYC Marathon, her first-ever race, and she’s not letting COVID-19 stop her from participating in the historic 50th-anniversary event.
“I was psyched to do the marathon,” said Wint, a 46-year-old medical assistant at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.
“You have no control during this time — I don’t know what happens tomorrow — but you have control of the run.”
Training for the big race was a way to keep her sanity during the emotionally draining pandemic.
“I had to do something, and the running helped. It was such a stress reliever,” said the East New York resident, who’s running on Nov. 1 with the group Black Girls RUN!
“I would get off work and go out for two hours, sometimes just walking,” she said. “I’d decompress from the day, run it out and get the aggression out.”
While the training has been going well, Wint isn’t hung up on her time. “My only goal is to finish,” she said, whose previous finishing time was 8:44:21.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since 2017. Even if it’s not how I imagined it, I’m still doing it. It’s not a washout.”
He’s running in on all fours
Devon Levesque has been bear-crawling for fun his whole life.
Now, the 28-year-old fitness guru is keeping up his playful childhood pastime for 26.2 miles.
He’s planning to complete the marathon on all fours on Nov. 1, starting in Brooklyn and ending in Central Park, to help raise awareness for mental health.
The health and wellness advisor and former partner at Performix House started training for his first marathon in 2019 in honor of his father, who committed suicide when Levesque was a teen.
‘This drives me more to help people not to keep things bottled up.’
While he was disappointed that the pandemic forced the official marathon to cancel, the chiseled athlete insisted that addressing mental health issues now is more important than ever.
“This drives me more to help people not to keep things bottled up,” said Levesque, who so far has raised $100,000 for FitOps, which helps veterans fight mental health through fitness.
The social media sensation, with some 427,000 Instagram followers, will crawl on hands and knees with his back parallel to the ground as he adjusts the traditional marathon route and meets fans along the way.
“There’s zero chance I won’t finish,” said Levesque, who will embark on his journey at 5 p.m. and estimates it will take him 24 hours to complete.
“I’ll have a margarita when it’s over.”
He’s not letting a traumatic brain injury get in the way of his dreams
For some people, every step can feel like a miracle.
But for Mauricio Blandino, who has a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a fall down a flight of stairs nine years ago, that’s especially true.
The 63-year-old jeweler from Jackson Heights was never a runner until he heard an inspiring speech from Achilles International, an organization that pairs disabled people with guides in athletic events.
“Running gave me a second life,” said Blandino, who still suffers balance and coordination issues.
Those haven’t stopped the avid runner from completing a triathlon and 11 marathons in the years since.
With his trusted guide, he plans to run the virtual NYC race in Central Park starting at 7 a.m. on Nov. 1.
“We know where all the bathrooms and the water fountains are,” he joked, noting that the support from the streets to motivate him will be missed.
“The training with my wonderful Achilles coach, support runner and friend Anthony, has given me a set of goals to aim for, something that’s so important during these times,” said Blandino.
To prepare, he’s completed grueling hill workouts and long runs week after week — all while masked to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will have so much to be thankful for when we reach the end of our run at the sight of the finish line,” he said.
“I hope this gives hope and the sense of possibility for other challenged individuals,” he said, adding that this marathon will have added significance because of this year’s tests. “It will be the most meaningful one.”