All runners must hurdle 'The Wall' on way to finish

From left, marathon champion William Schefer, half-marathon third-place From left, marathon champion William Schefer, half-marathon third-place finisher Nick Pampena and half-marathon runner-up Dan Dagaro run during the Long Island Marathon on Sunday, May 4, 2014. Photo Credit: Lou Minutoli

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since ...

There really is such a thing as The Wall, even though marathon runners cannot see it. During the race, they say, you sure feel it. Rather than hitting The Wall, as the saying goes, it hits you. It is a mix of pain and fatigue that makes you feel like you can't go on. And runners still keep going, which is why marathons and marathoners are so compelling.

It's all in the strategy. "What you don't want to do is say to yourself, 'Oh my God, I feel like crap and I've got 12 miles to go,'" said Oz Pearlman of Manhattan. "You don't say, 'What am I doing here? I should be drinking beer and sitting on a couch watching sports. Why am I such an idiot?'"

Pearlman's run was possibly the most remarkable of any in the Long Island Marathon Sunday. Not because he finished a close second (2 hours, 32 minutes, 4 seconds) to Old Brookville native William Schefer (2:31:24), but because he had won a marathon in New Jersey just one week earlier. And in between, he had been in Denver and Indiana for gigs in his full-time job as a magician.

"I've been doing it since I was a kid. It's a weird profession," he said, illustrating the charm of the race that ends at Eisenhower Park. Unlike major metropolitan marathons, this one is not peopled by professional runners who do little but train. It draws folks who work all week and still brace themselves to deal with The Wall. It is not magic. It is hard self-imposed reality.

Pearlman said a marathon is not quite like childbirth, but it does have something in common: Once it's over, you don't remember the pain. "Give me another two weeks," he said, "and I'll be like, 'Sign me up again!'"

Tom Savarese of Huntington Station, who gets up at 5 every day to train, then drives into the Bronx to teach eighth-grade science, said there was no way the excruciating leg cramps down the stretch were going to keep him from completing 26 miles and 385 yards. "I guess it's just stubborn pride. After you get to 18 or 20 miles, you say you've just got to finish. You've put too much in. Just try to put one foot in front of the other," he said after finishing in 3:16:23.

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The point is, there is a lot to admire and emulate in marathon runners. Everybody has some kind of "wall" to get through, whether it is dieting, quitting smoking or trying to spend less than 95 percent of waking hours on Facebook. Long Island developer Scott Rechler, a supporter and organizer of the Long Island Marathon who ran the concurrent 10-kilometer race Sunday, thinks any person in any job can see parallels to distance running. "When you're feeling like you're fatigued and there's not a clear path, you just keep pushing forward. That gets you there," he said.

A marathon is wall-to-wall inspiration. Women's champion Tara Farrell of East Quogue (3:05:51) said that, while the wind was whipping during the final miles, she had warm thoughts of her 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter playing alongside her in the den as she ran on the treadmill.

William Fanning, a Sewanhaka High teacher from West Islip, drew on a pep talk from Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine. Fanning is part of LaFontaine's Companions in Courage team, raising money for high-tech playrooms in children's hospitals. He said the former Islanders center spoke at the starting line of a teenager named Frankie, who died in December of a long illness that had not prevented him from running in the marathon's 10 K race in recent years.

"He was in my heart," Fanning said after running 2:59:10. The marathoner also had time to reflect on his sister-in-law's intense treatment for breast cancer. "Compared to that, this is nothing."

All things considered (and Wall things considered), though, finishing a marathon is really something.

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