People Who Make NY Special

26.2 Miles or Bust: Meet the Late-Blooming Marathoner Who Is Ready to Take New York (Again)

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

Photo courtesy of Birgit Maier-Katkin

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.

For avid runner Birgit Maier-Katkin (yes, there’s a relation!)—who’s traveling from Tallahassee, Florida, to run New York—Sunday’s race is another opportunity to flex those running muscles for 26.2 miles. While Maier-Katkin wouldn’t consider herself a New Yorker, we’d venture to say that running the marathon merits her—and all the runners from around the world who come here for the marathon—the coveted title of Person Who Makes NY Special. We asked her a few questions about what’s on her mind as she prepares for her 22nd full marathon:

What Should We Do?!: What inspired you to run the New York City Marathon?
Birgit Maier-Katkin: I started running in my mid-40s and quickly discovered that I like long-distance races. I ran my first marathon in 2010, and since then I’ve completed 21 full marathons and 7 half marathons. I have also run six ultra-races, which, as the name implies, are longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon. What I like most about long-distance races is that they present an interesting challenge. There is not only the physical demand of running longer but also the challenge of mental resilience. You have to develop strategies to settle into the zone. 

What inspired me to run the New York City Marathon specifically is how big and well-known it is. New York has one of the world’s major marathons. It’s exhilarating to be part of a humongous crowd, to experience the excitement and atmosphere of running with so many other people from around the world. Plus, in New York you get to share the course with some of the greatest marathon runners of our time.

Running a marathon is exhilarating. Once I’m finished, it feels as if I’ve taken a complete break from regular life.

WSWD: What have you been doing to prepare for the marathon?
New York is the fourth marathon I’m running this year. I have been using the McMillan 16-week marathon training plan. Just last month I ran the Chicago marathon. So basically my preparation for New York consisted of training for and running Chicago, followed by four weeks of less rigorous training to get ready for New York. I also like to do a lot of core and strength exercises, as well as yoga, and to focus on healthy nutrition and getting plenty of rest.

WSWD: What’s your strategy going into a race like this?
I work on staying relaxed and finding my zone, which is not always easy with all the excitement and jitters surrounding the race. My first couple of miles are usually pretty conservative; I try to resist the urge to pass other runners. Once I am thoroughly warmed up, I begin to dial into a comfortable race pace. During the last miles I focus on passing other runners or landmarks.

WSWD: What are you looking forward to the most this weekend?
I’m looking forward to the awesome running vibes that fill the air during a huge race. I love the support of the spectators. It means a lot, and their cheering definitely gives me an internal jolt of energy. I also love the international aspect of the world major marathons. Runners come from all over the globe, but we still have so much in common and we find it easy to talk to one another and share the experience of training and running.

NYC TCS Marathon 2016/Photo by Greg Kiger

WSWD: What keeps you motivated?
Running a marathon is exhilarating. Once I’m finished, it feels as if I’ve taken a complete break from regular life. It almost feels like a mini vacation. Mentally, you have to focus 100 percent on the race, which means that regular, daily worries take a back seat. It becomes all about finishing and overcoming physical fatigue. It’s fascinating to get more familiar with your own physical and mental boundaries like this.

WSWD: Having run this course last year, do you have any favorite part or any stretches that you consider especially tough?
I love running through the five boroughs and seeing so many different neighborhoods. My favorite part is reaching Central Park and closing in on the finish line.

WSWD: What is the first thing you plan on doing after you finish the race on Sunday?
I’m going to meet up with family, get a meal, and talk about the race. But only after I put on some warm, dry clothing.

Hear how a first-time marathoner is feeling before the big race and how another New Yorker overcame systemic challenges to lose 100 pounds and become a (fast!) competitor.