By Joseph Neighbor
Many individuals throughout Columbia University Medical Center are training to run the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 3. Some are first-time marathon participants; others are marathon veterans. Some are running to raise money and awareness for health-related issues, others for the sheer satisfaction it brings. These profiles celebrate the effort and dedication of members of the CUMC community as they train for the world’s largest marathon.
Pablo Goldberg: Six-Time NYC Marathoner
Melanie Bernitz: Motivated by Student Runners
Arthur Palmer: New York Marathon is “Hometown Race”
Fiona McMahon: Fulfilling Her Dream to Run the NYC Marathon
Jamie Hager: Inspired to Run by Her Mother
Kate Gallagher: Training Should Include Humor
Jason Fisher: Marathon is a “True Demonstration of the Human Spirit”
Marathon Veteran Stephanie Wu
Wendy Goldberg: Running to Benefit the MDA
First-Time Marathon Runner Carl Bazil
Lauren Kelly: Running Long Distances in Many Countries
Ryan Perdomo: Running for Himself and the Patient Community
Pablo Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Children’s Day Unit at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, began running almost 30 years ago, as a medical student. But it wasn’t until 2004, when he joined New York Road Runners, that he became competitive. He has since run the NYC Marathon five times.
“I run the NYC Marathon because it is the biggest in the world and the closest to me, and it feels like a fantastic accomplishment every time I can do it,” he says.
Dr. Goldberg started training at the beginning of summer: short runs in the morning, a cross-training regimen of yoga and biking during the week, and long runs on the weekend. He advises neophyte runners to train properly. “Treat your bodies carefully. Get yourselves stronger,” he says. “The marathon is a big strain: Take it seriously!”
Melanie Bernitz, MD, MPH, began running shortly after moving to New York in 1999 to do a residency in family medicine at CUMC. She is now executive director of the Student Health Service, a faculty member in the Department of Medicine at P&S, and a two-time participant in the NYC Marathon.
“Both marathons were wonderful experiences—not only the personal sense of accomplishment,” she says, “but the experience of running through New York with more than 40,000 other people and being inspired by the other runners and the tremendous crowd support.”
Dr. Bernitz’s training consists of two or three moderate runs during the week, a long run on the weekend, and gym work on the days between. Running, she says, relaxes her and allows her to do her best thinking. She has adjusted her diet to five small meals a day.
After breaking an ankle in 2011, she set her sights on a return to the NYC Marathon.
“A marathon is a mental goal as well as a physical one, and with motivation and commitment pretty much anyone whose mind is set to it can run the marathon,” she says. “I wanted to be able to run the marathon again, so I set myself this challenge. Many of our students run, and they were a tremendous motivating factor.”
Arthur Palmer, PhD, the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, ran track and cross country in high school, but he didn’t run a competitive race until 35 years later, when a cousin and Yale colleague urged him to sign up for the Hartford Marathon. He has since completed three other races, winning the 55–59 age group in Philadelphia last year with a personal record of 2:52:20.
“Once I started running,” he says, “I wanted to run the New York City Marathon because it is one of the major marathons and my hometown race.” He had been set to run the New York City Marathon last year before Hurricane Sandy caused its cancellation. Now he will get his chance.
Dr. Palmer adheres to a 16-week training schedule that includes a tempo run, an interval session, and one long run a week. He also belongs to the Central Park Track Club, with which he does his intervals and tempo runs.
“My main advice would be to join a running club or training group. It is much easier to do these runs with others. New York has many running clubs; all runners should be able to find a club or group that matches their ambitions for the marathon, from finishing a first one to trying for a personal record.”
Dr. Palmer, a P&S faculty member since 1992, is also associate dean for graduate affairs.
Second-year doctor of physical therapy student Fiona McMahon has long had the goal of running the NYC Marathon. This may be the year her wish comes true.
“I think the hardest part of marathon training is taking the initial leap and signing up,” she says. “It’s pretty intimidating to put yourself out there and attempt something with a reputation for being so difficult.”
Ms. McMahon has been running since high school and previously completed three marathons in her home state of Maine. To balance the academic demands of school with her rigorous training regimen, she uses her long weekend runs to catch up on podcasts and the news, as well as to mull over course material.
She advises fellow students who are considering signing up to be mindful of their diet: “It’s pretty easy to fuel yourself with dollar pizza, but that won’t get you through weeks of running long distances.”
While every marathon is special, she believes this year’s is uniquely important because it will be the first marathon after Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon tragedy.
“Marathoners are family, and I am honored to be with them this year as we move forward.”
Jamie Hager, a program manager in epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, was inspired to take up running in 2005 after her mother, a breast cancer survivor, ran a half-marathon. Since then she has run four half-marathons and several races between 5K and 10 miles. This year she will participate in her first full marathon.
“Crossing the NYC Marathon finish line has always been a goal,” she says. “Even as a spectator, there is a euphoric feeling and sense of community on marathon day.”
Ms. Hager began her training officially in April: three weekday runs, two days of yoga and spinning, and a long run on Saturday morning, either in Central Park or across the Brooklyn Bridge and up the West Side Greenway. She credits “an awesome playlist, tropical punch ShotBloks, ice baths, and post-run bagels” with getting her through these long runs.
“Whenever a run gets tough, reminding myself how lucky I am to be healthy and strong enough to be outside running helps me push through,” she says. “You’ll never regret the miles you run, only the miles you don’t.”
Though last year’s marathon in Harrisburg, Pa., was her first, Kate Gallagher is no neophyte. Since picking up running in 2009, she has completed 30 half-marathons and hopes to do her first ultramarathon in May 2014. In the meantime, she is training to participate in the country’s most celebrated race: the NYC Marathon.
Ms. Gallagher came to CUMC three years ago as a project director for the WICER grant in the P&S Department of Biomedical Informatics. In addition to running, her training includes spinning and weights twice a week and yoga five times a week to keep her body limber. “Training for a marathon is an incredible experience,” she says. “Find a program that works with your schedule, have people you enjoy running with, and then enjoy the journey. There are good runs and tough runs. A sense of humor is a must!”
Jason Fisher: Marathon is a “True Demonstration of the Human Spirit”
After moving to the city in 2011, Jason Fisher joined New York Road Runners and soon set himself the goal of running in the NYC Marathon.
“After watching hundreds of marathoners complete the 26.2 mile trek at Columbus Circle, I thought, ‘Wow, they must feel so good about themselves right now!’” he says. “I found the whole occasion to be inspiring—a true demonstration of the human spirit and something in which I definitely wanted to be involved.”
The third-year College of Dental Medicine student was not a runner in high school, and his training regimen is somewhat unorthodox: “I don’t have one. I like to run when I feel like it, as fast as feels right, and as long as feels right.” He doesn’t want it to turn into a chore; for him, it is a welcome respite from daily stresses. So far, he has completed three half-marathons: twice in Brooklyn and once in the Grete’s Great Gallop in Central Park.
Mr. Fisher gained entry to the NYC Marathon by participating in the Road Runners 9+1 program, which involves running nine races in a season and volunteering at one. For anyone considering a run, he says: “Go for it! And just in case, bring a Metrocard!”
Stephanie Wu, an occupational therapy student, is something of a marathon veteran. She has run the Vancouver Half Marathon and the National Half Marathon (both as a representative of the DC chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society), the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, the 2010 NYC Half Marathon, and, this year, the Brooklyn Half Marathon.
Her participation in the 2013 NYC Marathon, which she described as “the most diverse and energetic combination of runners and spectators in the marathon world,” has been a year coming: She had trained to run last year, but the race was canceled following Hurricane Sandy. To her training she brings to bear a wealth of running experience, including the palliative power of Vaseline (for sneaker rub), the importance of training in the same outfit in which you intend to run (to avoid chafing surprises), and a meticulous fitness regimen of Brazilian capoeira, yoga, and runs of varying length, beginning roughly four months before the marathon.
“Running a marathon is something no one can take from me and it doesn’t rely on anyone else,” she says. “It is just you, your training, and race day.”
Wendy Goldberg has been with Columbia University for 12 years, working her way up from an intern position to her current role as research operations manager in the Department of Neurology. This year she will run her first marathon, with the goal of raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “I administratively support Columbia doctors and their staff and see the amazing work they do on neuromuscular diseases,” she says. “MDA continues to support them, and I would be honored and delighted to contribute to this cause.”
Ms. Goldberg began running two years ago and has been diligent about her training. “I spoke to runners, read books, and even did the New York Road Runners classes—all of which provided me with useful advice,” she says. Her routine consists of five runs a week, which she does with a rotating cast of friends. “The social side makes it much more enjoyable, as they motivate you.”
She now has a few races under her belt, with distances ranging from 5K to half-marathons. She qualified for the NYC Marathon through the 9+1 program, then immediately focused on improving her endurance.
“I believe it’s best to work on endurance and just enjoy the journey,” she says. “Do not focus too much on time. Dream of the amazing feeling you’ll have when crossing the finish line. People tell me there are no words to describe it.”
Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD, the Caitlin Tynan Doyle Professor of Neurology and director of the Division of Epilepsy and Sleep, will run the NYC Marathon this year to benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Metropolitan New York. Though it is his first marathon, his relationship with running has deep roots, from when he was a student at MIT, running and drawing inspiration from the Charles River basin.
Dr. Bazil came to CUMC in 1983 as an epilepsy fellow and began running in Manhattan. “For nearly 20 years, one of my favorite runs has been along the river from Columbia’s Washington Heights campus to my apartment in the West Village,” he says, “a route that has become nicer as the parks have been completed.”
Before he began training, his longest run had been 12 miles; on the advice of friends who have completed marathons, he has been progressively increasing the distances of his weekly runs. “It’s amazing how much support you get once people hear you’re going to run in the marathon.”
Dr. Bazil serves on the professional advisory board for the Epilepsy Foundation, which he will represent in the marathon in November, Epilepsy Awareness Month.
In addition to managing the hazardous materials program for Columbia University, Lauren Kelly has traversed the country and ventured as far as Europe to run marathons. Philadelphia, Big Sur, Las Vegas, Paris: All told, she has participated in hundreds of races, from 5Ks to full marathons. One year, she ran three full marathons in an eight-month span. This year will be her eighth time participating in the NYC Marathon.
“We are blessed to live in a country where running is a luxury, where you are safe to run in parks and the woods without fear. There are so many people who would love the chance to run, but cannot because of physical limitations. I run because I can and for all those who simply cannot experience that freedom.”
Her training regimen is modeled on the book “Run Less Run Faster,” amended and modified by her 23 years of running experience. “I have been running a long time,” she says, “so I listen to my body and sometimes stray from the prescribed schedule a bit.”
It was just a few years ago that Ryan Perdomo, chief clinical research coordinator at CUMC, realized that he needed to fight harder to win what had become an ongoing struggle with obesity and hypertension. His solution: running.
“I felt that I needed to change to be a better and healthier me,” Perdomo says. “At first, running was very difficult. Now it’s something I do for health reasons, as well as for pure enjoyment.”
Mr. Perdomo’s training was what he calls “unorthodox,” because he was admitted to the ING NYC Marathon just two months ago. Since then, he’s fit 8- to 13-mile runs into his schedule a few times a week. He says what helped him most in training was the GPS tracker that taught him how to pace himself.
Beyond supporting his own health, Mr. Perdomo is running on behalf of the Eric Trump Foundation and Harboring Hearts—organizations that provide short-term housing, emergency funding, and emotional support for heart patients and their families referred by NYP Heart.
“These organizations have worked with many families from NYP/CUMC, so my run for their cause will help expand programs and have an impact on the patient community,” he says.