October 26, 2009 / 10:07 AM / in 8 years

Marathoners: fit folk at the back of the pack

<p>Paula Radcliffe (C) of England and other competitors start the New York City Half-Marathon in New York August 16, 2009.Jeff Zelevansky</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - No doubt the running stars will shine when they sail to victory on Sunday in the New York City Marathon. But not everyone can be the leader of the pack.

With more than 40,000 runners expected to cross the finish line of the ING New York Marathon many will be happy to bring up the rear.

"My goal is to finish the marathon," said Marie Spodek, of Woodbourne, New York. "My second goal is not to be the last in my age group."

Spodek is running her first marathon at age 66.

She is one of 781 seniors who will tackle the 26.2-mile run through the five boroughs, according to New York Road Runners, which stages the annual event.

"It's not going to be fast," Spodek said of her race, which she'll run with both knees bandaged. "I'll be out there for between six and 13 hours. My husband will be stationed at about 13 miles with hummus because I've got to arrange for food."

Spodek is fitness-conscious. She has studied yoga in India and favors grass-fed meat and whole grains. But she thinks marathon training has elevated her to top form, mentally and physically.

"I've been more pleasant to my children, more tolerant with my mother. I've dropped two jean sizes, and I think I can see better," she said.

For Charissa Fay, a Manhattanite who put the marathon on her lifetime to-do list, the goal is to have fun.

"I am realizing an enormous dream in the city I love," said the 39-year-old. "Whatever happens I will feel like a winner."

Fay, like Spodek, says marathon training is its own reward.

"It really gets my metabolism going, so I can eat what I want without guilt. After having two kids, it feels great to be trim, toned and strong again."

Almost 40 percent of this year's runners will be first-timers, and Dr. Jeffrey Ross, a podiatrist who has run 25 marathons over 30 years, says they have at least one edge.

"They haven't been beaten up yet," said Ross, himself sidelined by injuries this year.

"I've run London, Jerusalem, Boston, but I still love New York the most," he said. "When you cross the 59th Street Bridge there's this huge crowd. Women in fur coats cheer you on."

Ross warns recreational runners against overtraining.

"Twenty miles a week is about right."

He said recent running-related deaths during marathons in California and Michigan underscore the need for medical check-ups.

"People need to see a primary care physician, a foot specialist, and probably get a stress test. More if there's a family history," he said.

Legend has it that the first marathon runner was Pheidippides, who carried news of Greece's victory in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Arriving in Athens, he shouted, "Rejoice, we conquer!" and then dropped dead of exhaustion.

Ross said the last six miles or so is where "push comes to shove" in marathon running, and there's no crime in waiting a minute at each water stop, or walking.

"George Sheehan said he didn't mind running in the back of the pack as he got older," said Ross, referring to the runner and author of "Running and Being"

"He was still in the pack."

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