Competitive running played a dominant part in my life, from my first race in Venezuela in 1978 (see here), to my last, in 2003 in the UK. In all I ran in 350 races. I was very fortunate in being able to remain relatively injury-free during that period.
When I started competing, the Nirvana of marathon running was Boston, for which a qualifying time was required, and New York, where so many world records were made. So, with the goal of attaining a Boston qualifying time of sub-2:50, I entered in the 1980 Cleveland marathon.
But before I left for Cleveland, my friend Fidel Rotondaro and I decided to organize a group to go to the New York marathon later that year, in October (see here for the article about Fidel). We split up the responsibilities – Fidel with the transportation and me with the race entries and the accommodation.
Earlier that year, I had completed my first marathon in 3:09:45 in Miami, in what felt relatively easy, but a goal of 2:50 would be a marked increase in pace. As it turned out my pacing was almost perfect, as I finished Cleveland in 2:49:52, with eight seconds to spare. That Boston qualifying time resulted in a flattering write-up in one of the main Caracas newspapers.
On the way back to Caracas, I stopped off in New York and went to the New York Road Runners office. There I met Fred Lebow, the founder. He introduced me to his assistant, who would be my contact for any problem with runner entries. He also recommended me to an hotel, close by the race finish, where later I made a block booking of rooms.
So, in October we all set off to New York. Fidel had arranged for a bus to transport us from the airport to the hotel. I will never forget the spontaneous singing of New York, New York on the bus, as we drove into the city.
The morning of the race, it was very cold. The last buses to the start, on the other side of the Verezano Bridge, left long before the roads closed and there was a lot of hanging around, waiting for the start, with frequent visits to the toilets or the ‘longest urinal in the world’.
But eventually the race started and for me it flowed like a dream. I was running at a pace to beat 2:45 and it was feeling easy. When I entered Central Park with only a few kilometers to go, I turned up a gear and finished in 2:42:36.
I only ever beat that time once, in Miami, in 2:37:27. I was quite convinced that I was eventually capable of sub-2:20, but a dusk collision with a bollard in a park and a new job that involved a lot of travel to Central and South America, placed my running ambitions on a back burner, where they have remained.
That year in New York, Alberto Salazar broke the world record and Grete Waitz, from Norway, won for the third time. She went on to win the NY marathon a total of nine times. Fred Lebow was struck down with brain cancer, but in remission, ran the 1992 marathon in 5:32, together with Greta Waitz by his side. Fred Lebow died in 1994. Later, Greta Waitz had her own losing battle with cancer and she died in 2011.
These days, I don’t often hear that melody – New York, New York, but when I do, it is always the memories of that era that come flooding into my head.
Those were good times…