On November 1, over 50,000 runners from around the globe will participate the TCS New York City Marathon, the largest race in the world.
Some run the 26.2 mile, five-borough course to break records or race against the world’s best athletes, while others run to overcome challenges, fundraise for charity, honor loved ones, or bask in the personal accomplishment.
Luis Munoz, 52, of Bensonhurst, began running just three years ago at the age of 49. This Sunday, not only is he running the marathon, but he is raising money for the Jimmy V Foundation for his father and sister, who are both cancer survivors. In fact, at just over $5,000, he is currently the top fundraiser for the team. He also hopes to inspire others by proving that you can pick up running at any age.
Munoz sat down with us to chat about how he became a runner, how it has changed his life, and why he is proud to represent Bensonhurst.
You started running three years ago at age 49, can you tell us why you started running?
I am a born and raised Brooklyn boy all my life, and I started running three years ago for health reasons. To be honest with you, I couldn’t even run one block. I was running for one minute straight and then walking, and running for one minute straight and then walking. It’s a slow process. And it turned out to be something that I love doing, I never really liked any other form of exercise. Now i run four days a week.
When did you first realize, wow, I can do this. I’m a runner now.
I joined a neighborhood running group Trimara Sports — they are a local running group and all Brooklyn-based. This group was the first group I ever ran a race with, and they were absolutely fabulous. I would highly recommend Trimara Sports. It’s a homey feeling; it’s not a competitive field, and there’s no judgements being passed. It was more like, come out, have fun, run at your pace, and run for the love of running.
You know there’s a great quote: If you run, no matter how fast, no matter how slow, whether its your first day or you’ve been running 20 years, you’re a runner. And I believe that. If you are out there, putting one foot in front of the other, you’re a runner.
You’ve said watching Meb Keflezighi win the 2014 Boston Marathon inspired you to run the NYC Marathon. Who else motivates you to keep working at it?
A running friend of mine who is stationed at Fort Hamilton Army Base. Her name is Saby Calo. We push each other and motivate each other. She’s in her 40s and is a grandma and is incredibly fast, and she’s motivated me to want to push harder.
It’s great to have someone like that. I call her my Brooklyn partner-in-crime. Her dedication has inspired me to want to be as dedicated as she is, and it’s been fantastic to have her as sort of like a mentor. I think it’s been special because she’s a fellow Brooklynite. Like when I recently ran a half marathon, she surprised me by showing up before the race to give me a good pep talk about doing my best.
Are you nervous about running your first NYC Marathon?
I have butterflies. Before any race you go into, you get butterflies. But I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been before. I’ve been training with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), and it’s gotten me into the best shape I’ve ever been in. I think a proper training program really prepared me for a race like this. NYRR creates a specific program that is tailored specifically for you.
Some people give up running, because they find the repetition monotonous. What do you do to keep it interesting?
That’s one of the things: you cant just run the same places all the time. Variation is so important to keep you motivated and interested. By running different courses and in different areas, every one is a gift or a surprise. It’s like being a tourist in your own neighborhood. I’ve run through so many areas of Manhattan that I’ve only been by car, and you get to see things in a totally different light. It’s like seeing New York City all over again even though I’ve been here 52 years. That variety absolutely is what keeps me motivated.
The thing is when I go run, it’s kind of my “me time.” Taking in the sites and the beauty of this world. It’s peaceful and serene and it’s beautiful. It allows me to see my own neighborhood in a new light.
Also, i’ve learned there are so many types of runs. There’s tempo running, there’s interval running, there’s hill running, and that variety keeps it fresh.
What’s your favorite place to run in Bensonhurst?
The Belt Parkway pathway is 4.3 miles and it’s wonderful, because its all by the ocean and you get to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in it’s glory, you get to see the statue of liberty in the distance — sometimes you forget, Brooklyn is beautiful, but sometimes we forget how beautiful it really is.
I know you are running for the Jimmy V Foundation in honor of your father and sister. How else does your family motivate and support you?
I have a 4-year-old grandson and he’s in a running class. They run as a team. He loves to go running with me and we run and stop and feed the seagulls (at Gravesend Bay). He’s definitely going to be a runner. He keeps saying when he gets old he’s going to win the marathon with me. He comes to my house and puts the medals around my neck.
My sister, who never ran in her life, was so motivated by me running my first half marathon, she asked me to train her, and she actually ran a half marathon with Trimara Sports on Father’s Day of last year, and I was just so proud of her to have gone from never running ever, for her to achieve that — and for me to be a catalyst was incredible. Her successfully completing that half marathon really motivated me to continue with my own running.
What changes have you seen in your body since you took up running?
Without a doubt, at 52, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my entire life. My cardio is so much better. I went from being out of breath going up the stairs, to being able to run miles. It’s really transformed me and it’s made me into a much more healthier person. It’s mental and physical. It’s that knowing you’ve pushed yourself, and achieved what you set out to accomplish.
What would you say to those who are daunted by the idea of running or competing against athletes in the NYC Marathon?
I was born and raised in Bensonhurst, and so you know it feel special to represent my neighborhood. I never imagined I would run a marathon. I feel like I’m representing the average Joe in Bensonhurst, who feels they would not be able to accomplish this. I’m proof that you can.
You know, I think one of the biggest mistakes people make, is comparing themselves to other runners. When I started, I was afraid. I was very slow and I was what they call a back of the packer. I felt, who am I to run? Who am I to enter the competition? I was almost embarrassed to enter a race, but Trimara took me in with open arms and made me realize it’s not a competition. And they cheered for the person that came in last just as much as the person who came in first. And I realized I had nothing to be fearful of.