Four years ago, Gary Woods, 365 pounds, walked into CrossFit 516 in Mineola and tried to run 400 meters. He made it a quarter of the way before he had to walk.
On Sunday, Gary Woods, 210 pounds, will walk to the starting line at the Verrazano Bridge and attempt one of the most taxing competitive runs in all of sports. He has no intention of stopping until he reaches Central Park.
The 26.2-mile, five-borough slog that is the New York City Marathon means a thousand different things to the tens of thousands of people who attempt it every year, but for Woods, of Williston Park, it will be the culmination of that decision he made years ago.
Sure, he had to slow down at 100 meters, but he kept on walking, didn’t he? And then he came back the next day, and the next, and the day after that.
“If my whole career as a trainer culminated in just Gary and what he’s done, I don’t need anything more than that feeling,” said Tyler McBride, who owns the gym and remembers the first day Woods walked in.
“I got into training not for the people that want it, but the people that need it . . . And I’ve never seen someone push so hard.”
Woods played sports when he went to college in his native Ireland, but after school, the physical activity all but stopped. He went to Australia for a year, then moved to New York permanently in 2000. His habits suffered, he said, and the weight piled on.
“One day, my kids started getting into sports,” he said. “They started getting into soccer and they needed parents to step up and coach. I got into coaching, but at 365 pounds and you’re coaching 4-, 5-year-olds and you can’t move, it’s embarrassing.”
His wife, Kelly McPartland Woods, signed him up for CrossFit.
After about two years, he had lost 100 pounds, he said. But he wasn’t done with his goals. Year after year, he’d watch the marathon. And year after year, he said it was something he wanted to do.
Last year, he realized he’d be 41 by the time this one came along, and waiting ’til next year no longer was the option it used to be.
“I thought, I have to do it now,” he said. “I just kept talking about it in January and February and people were like, whatever. But if I didn’t talk about it, I wouldn’t do it.”
He asked McBride for help — no favor, given that many of Woods’ runs had to start at 3:30 a.m., before he left for work as an in-house carpenter at NYU — and though McBride has no intention of running Sunday, he came along for the majority of Woods’ long runs. Together they would log 10, 15 and finally 20 miles.
“As much as we do physical work, he’s very into the mental aspect,” Woods said. “People say once you hit 20 miles, your body shuts down and you won’t be able to finish even though your body is trained to finish. And he says, 20 miles. OK, you’ve got six miles to go. You’ve done six miles hundreds of times. You’ve got to tell your body, you’re doing those last six miles.”
The idea of race day is nerve-wracking, Woods said. A number of his friends from CrossFit 516 will be there, as will extended family. McBride has downloaded a tracking app and about 10 people will be joining him at a bar in Long Island City, waiting for Woods to pass by.
And even though CrossFit is hardly known for its emphasis on distance running — the strength and conditioning fitness regimen is heavy on barbells and kettlebells — it turns out that Woods has started a bit of a movement.
Because of their work together, McBride will be running a 100-mile ultramarathon in North Carolina in April. And at CrossFit 516? “Everyone in the gym is like, ‘When [are] you running?’ and ‘We’re going to run with [you].’ We’re going to have a running club by the time this is over,” McBride said.
As for Woods, McBride has no doubt his pupil will finish this race. He completed the Long Island half marathon last year and now he’s gone too far to go back.
“I’ve become a happier person,” Woods said. “It’s totally changed my perspective. Before, I was sad, grumpy, old. You’re overweight and you go to a party and you don’t interact with some people. But when you lose some weight, clothes actually fit and you get involved. You go to a function and you actually want to speak . . . Before the weight loss, you take a backseat to everything.”
On Sunday, running with the first wave, he’ll be front and center.