People Who Make NY Special

26.2 Miles or Bust: Jerome Nathaniel Will See You at the Finish Line

How are runners feeling about the NYC Marathon? What Should We Do!? talked to three of them!

Photo courtesy of Jerome Nathaniel

This coming Sunday, more than 50,000 runners will stand at the starting line of the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon, ready to take on one of the world’s most prestigious races. And, in our minds, each one of them is a Person Who Makes NY Special. While we couldn’t chat with all 50k of them (next-year goals!), we did sit down with three runners—ranging from a first-timer to more experienced pavement pounders—to learn what keeps them motivated and how they plan on reaching the finish line come November 4.

Jerome Nathaniel has run the marathon a few times, but that may not be his greatest physical accomplishment. As an overweight high school senior, he lost nearly 100 pounds and changed his life forever. Read on to find out how the senior program manager at City Harvest—a NYC organization that helps feed New Yorkers in need—shed the weight; how he preps for the big race; and how you, too, could have “26.2 miles of play.”

What Should We Do?!: Have you run the NYC Marathon before? How many times? How many marathons have you run in general?
Jerome Nathaniel: This will be my third marathon in a row. All three were the NYC Marathon.

WSWD: What motivated you to run the marathon?
Nathaniel: I grew up being prehypertensive and overweight due to poor food options in my community, the marketing of unhealthy foods, the culture of a more indoors/sedentary lifestyle for safety reasons, and other systemic issues that lend itself to the hunger-obesity paradox. It wasn’t until I visited Italy with my high school for spring break in 2005 that I began to lose weight as a product of traveling in a land of smaller-portion sizes, safer streets, and active designs in public spaces. After losing almost 100 pounds that year from eating better and boxing, I wanted to do what every other classmate joked about me doing for three years: I joined the cross-country team. Fast-forward to many moons later, and I remain committed to running as a symbol of my health doing an about-face.

WSWD: What are you doing/have you done to prepare?
Nathaniel: I run all year round in the early mornings, but I really pick up the training around July. With the run length varying upon what stage of training I’m in, I do a shorter run (4 to 7 miles) on Tuesdays; one hour of intervals plus stairs and hills at Fort Greene Park on Wednesdays; run 7 to 10 miles on Thursdays; box or do the step-master machine at the gym on Fridays; rest Saturday; do my long run (16 to 24 miles) on Sundays; then yoga or a light pace on the step-master machine on Mondays. I also lift weights every other day after work during training to try to maintain the muscle mass I typically lose at the height of the marathon season. I aim to make training as monotonous as possible so that the marathon will be one huge running party. Hence, I run the same two routes (West Side Highway and the Williamsburg Bridge) and listen to the same playlist for my entire training camp.

WSWD: What’s your best time? What is your goal for this marathon?
Nathaniel: Three hours and 50 minutes. In a perfect world, I beat that time this year. But I accept that the third time in a row may feel more challenging. Game on!

The hardest [part of the race] is mile 23-ish before you enter Central Park. It’s when you hit a mental wall of: “Wow, I’m still running with all these humans.”

WSWD: Do you have a strategy going in?
Nathaniel: Focus on having fun! When it feels like work, the race will outwork you. But if you fall back in love with the marathon like it was the first time, then it will translate into better running. My version of fun is having the most amazing playlist of rap, R&B, gospel, and Top 40 to represent different emotions throughout the race and important people in my life. Throw in some dancing while running and smiling, then you have yourself 26.2 miles of play!

WSWD: What are you looking forward to the most?
Nathaniel: Running with my humans across my city! I have family and friends in every borough. The race feels like a tribute to my hometown.

WSWD: Do you have a lot of friends and family coming to cheer you on?
Nathaniel: Sure do. My dad jokes that he feels bad for us runners, because he has the most fun of the year on the sidelines with our family and friends!

WSWD: What keeps you motivated?
Nathaniel: Remembering how I transformed my health despite systemic hurdles.

WSWD: Where is your favorite place to run/train?
Nathaniel: West Side Highway is a real treat! Then Fort Greene Park. I get to balance my runs with dog-watching!

WSWD: What are the best parts of the NYC course? The hardest?
Nathaniel: The two best parts are Bed-Stuy/Williamsburg at the 9th/11th miles. The crowd is electric and the hip hop is amazing! The hardest is mile 23-ish before you enter Central Park. It’s when you hit a mental wall of: “Wow, I’m still running with all these humans.” There’s definitely more gospel in my playlist at that point.

WSWD: What music do you listen to while running? What songs get you pumped up?
Nathaniel: I talked about music for all these questions because music is my life! I listen to a good mix of hip hop, Top 40, and old school, and R&B and gospel. You don’t want “pumped” music for the whole race, because you’re going to experience difference emotions throughout those four hours that require difference medicine to balance your running pace. But when I need a good jolt, I listen to Mobb Deep, DMX, Shyne, and my guilty pleasure, Roy Jones Jr. (yes, he’s an old boxer…but I’m the only person who actually bought his album).

WSWD: What’s the first thing you plan on doing after you finish?
Nathaniel: Take a miserable hour-plus train ride back to Bed-Stuy, eat egg foo yong, and drink three IPAs with my close friends.

Good luck, Jerome! Check back before the race to cheer on another determined marathoner.