The clocks may fall back an hour on Sunday, November 6, but tens of thousands of runners across the city will be conscious of cutting off seconds in beating their marathon time.
Kicking off on Staten Island in the wee hours of the morning (honestly, impressive to wake up that early and then run 26.2 miles), the TCS New York City Marathon spans all five boroughs and is known to be the largest marathon in the world, with spectators cramming nearly every inch of the course to offer support, cheers and some New York spunk.
Professional athletes kick off the course, but hobbyists, running enthusiasts and amateur athletes pack the 26.2 miles across the Verrazano until the finish line in Central Park.
Meet these four inspiring runners and cheer them on along the marathon course on Sunday, November 6.
“Most of my friends do not understand marathoning,” laughs Zackary Harris, a law student living in upper Manhattan. “They’re like, why would you run 26 miles?” Well, for one, they love it and keep pushing themself to beat their time in years of running marathons including New York, Boston, Chicago and Berlin. “I like the high that I get from running, it sets in so easily,” they say.
Harris started running in high school in Missouri, joining the track and cross country team as a freshman. “It was the first time I ever did anything really athletic—when I felt like I had athletic ability,” Harris recalls. But after two years on the team in their conservative town, Harris was done with their unsupportive teammates’ homophobic comments and actions, so they quit.
Two years later, Harris found themself at UC Berkeley, a liberal haven with a vibrant LGBT+ community. “I felt greater security in my own identity, I wanted to be active and running was the most natural thing that came to me,” they recall. They ran miles around campus and in the hills in the East Bay, completing a half marathon by junior year.
“Running makes me physically confident, and I can mentally and emotionally disconnect from the world, process the day-to-day,” Harris says. Now a seasoned marathon runner, Harris wants to continue pushing their abilities, and strive to beat their times.
Last year, Harris ran in NYRR’s first-ever dedicated nonbinary division and looks forward to doing so again in the 2022 New York City Marathon. “I’m excited to see other nonbinary runners, we can all enjoy this moment together and relish in the progress that has been made for nonbinary inclusion in the sport,” they say, noting the five-borough, 26.2-mile race is unlike anything. “Everyone’s out there cheering for you. No matter where you are in the city, there are always people cheering for you. The whole city itself changes, there’s boundless energy.”
Following a traumatic accident in 2018, when Rome Leykin lost his legs after being run over by the L train, he found healing in handcycling. While in a rehab facility, he was introduced to the sport, and the group Achilles International, which supports adaptive running and riding. Every Saturday, he cycles with the group around Central Park and spends his weekdays biking around his neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.
In 2021, Leykin jumped at the opportunity to hand cycle in the marathon, when Achilles sponsored him, and is eager to compete again. One day, he hopes to run the course. And already, he’s participated in prosthetic walking events, with the goal of working up to blades in a year or two.
“Not all above-knee amputees hand cycle,” Leykin says. “My goal is to eventually practice up to jogging and running, that will be the most exciting part.” Still, he’s excited to repeat the marathon course. He remembers crossing Queensboro Bridge in 2021, pedaling with one arm, the other raised in the air as so many people cheered him on, making him emotional. “This year I’ll be focused, I’ll be using both hands as I enter Manhattan,” he says. If he crosses the finish line in under two hours, he’ll qualify for the Boston Marathon, and this may start him off on an international race circuit or even boost him to the paralympic level.
“Adaptive sports are a great reason to interact with and be among people, I’m an outgoing guy,” Leykin says. “It most certainly is full of really, really cool people. I’m happy to be a part of the community.”
He loves helping others get involved, sharing the knowledge he’s gained over the past few years and learning from more experienced athletes. “I lived and am still trying to figure out what that means. One reason is to help and assist others,” Leykin says.
As soon as Leroy Cummins brushes his teeth in the morning, he’s off on a multi-hour run. Usually in Prospect Park or down the Canarsie Pier, near where he grew up in the 1950s. Running has always been integral to Cummins’ life. He started competing as a high school sophomore at East New York Transit Tech and fell in love with the sport. As a young adult, he prioritized his family and career over competitive running, but in the last decade, in his sixties, he found the time to pursue racing again, completing his first marathon at age 70.
“I was never considered fast, but I had stamina,” Cummins reflects on his running career. In 2021, he finished the marathon first for his age group, 70-75 and was encouraged to be racing among so many of his peers. “I’d never run that much at one time,” Cummin says, recalling the sigh of relief when he crossed the finish line. “The marathon was extremely tough, but very competitive and very exciting.”
Now, he’s training to do it all again, but faster.
“I really enjoyed the amount of people on the course, it’s so encouraging, seeing so many people in different neighborhoods,” Cummins says of race day. “You see so many people, of all creeds and color, just cheering you on, holding signs, putting their hands up to get a high five.”
Even when the run gets tough, Cummins stays his course, focusing on stamina, pace and hydration. “Everything I do in life, I try to finish it…unless it’s extremely dangerous,” he says. He likes the challenge of improving on his previous marathon times. “I’m getting older, but I’m getting fitter.”
He likes showing his adult kids that he can still actively participate in fitness. And he knows they enjoy watching him too, as proven by their custom-made shirts last year, cheering on their 70-year-old dad in his first-ever marathon. He doesn’t know how they’ll be dressed to see him race his second, but he’s eager to see his family on the course.
“I always had the fantasy of running the marathon, but it felt unattainable,” says Beatriz Fritschler. She’d spent years cheering on marathoners with her husband on 135th Street, but never having run in her entire life, she never thought she’d be among the masses. Now, she’s about to embark on her first marathon in her hometown of New York City.
Four years ago, Fritschler survived a brain aneurysm rupture, a shocking and life-altering incident that encouraged her to start taking more risks. She found a women’s workout group in her neighborhood and even though the short jog at the beginning was tough for her, she wanted to keep moving. “I thought, If I could die in my bed, I may as well get out there and do what scares me,” she says. She challenged herself to run a mile and was wowed when she completed it. From there, she kept challenging her endurance and felt motivated by what her body was capable of.
Over the past year, she’s been training with NYRR, starting with a fundamental course and working her way up to a more advanced course and now long-distance running. She trains in Washington Heights, the hills building up Fritschler’s strength and the beauty of the Hudson River inspiring her to keep going.
“Running is just an amazing confidence builder,” Fritschler says, noting her running accomplishments inspired her to go for a promotion at work. “I feel bolder now, I’m trusting myself more. I trust that if I’m disciplined and follow a process, whether it’s running or learning a new job, I will succeed in it. What I’m learning in this experience will translate to other parts of life.”
Already, Fritschler chokes up fantasizing about crossing the finish line in Central Park. She’ll be wearing a custom shirt, with her father’s picture on the front (he died of a traumatic brain injury) and the names of her immediate family members, “mi familia” on the back. “I’m looking forward to running for them, knowing that I was able to do something really hard that scared me.”