As you might have read on this blog, this Saturday (April 30), I am running the inaugural Queens Marathon, which is pretty special as how often do you get the first race of its kind.
The 26.2 mile race, which will consist of a small field and will take place in Flushing Meadows, Queens, is being put together by local running group Queens Distance Runners, with some help from NYC Runs.
Before the big day, I got in touch with the event's race director and CEO of Queens Distance Runners, Kevin Montalvo and asked him a batch of questions about the inaugural event and how he intends to make it a day to remember for runners and spectators alike.
This is the inaugural Queens Marathon. When was the concept born and how long has it taken to get to this stage?
Ironically, it started when I was in High School. Living about 4 miles away from my school, many times I would go on long walks, sometimes walking away from my fastest route home, just to see how Queens was connected.
That way of thinking can be attributed to my father, and his way of "rewarding" me with doing good in school. On weekends, he would take me to an unknown location in Queens (sometimes the rest of the city) with a map in hand and challenge me to find our way home, but not before getting to know the diverse neighborhoods Queens is known for. As I became an adult, and most especially when I started running, I wondered how cool it would be to one day have a marathon in Queens, now formerly known as "The World's Borough."
Was the idea to always go with a marathon, or did you ever think of a half marathon to start off with?
People will go above and beyond for a marathon experience. There is nothing quite like the excitement that a marathon brings. The level of inspiration a marathon brings to a communitycreates a ripple effect. I've been blessed with the opportunity to travel to other cities to run their iteration of a marathon. From Boston to Miami to Rio, I become one with their culture, for a short period of time.
Marathons bring out the best in their venues, and we are seeing that more than ever in Queens. Local businesses are increasingly becoming more interested to involve themselves with our events and we our amount of members is growing. People in Queens and beyond are starting to realize that our borough can be a haven for runners, which is our ultimate goal.
For those of us who will never get into the logistics of putting on a marathon, what's been the biggest challenges you've faced?
Thankfully, I cannot begin to talk about the logistics of putting on a marathon (in my native borough, no less!) without singing the graces of my team, the Queens Distance Runners and our partner in this venture, NYCRUNS.
Steve Lastoe, who has pieced together a sizable race schedule for NYC and the greater NYC area through his company, NYCRUNS, agreed to Produce our Queens Marathon, meaning that his team will be handling most of the logistics for this event. This gives our marathon instant credibility that our race will be handled properly. Frankly, without their support, this would not be happening in 2016. I appointed Marisol Mendez as our Volunteer Manager for the Queens Distance Runners, and her ability to round up and inspire people to volunteer has made my job much, much easier.
My biggest challenge has been to make the Queens Marathon the "Queens Marathon." My biggest fear for this event, besides the race itself, is that people will be getting a skin and bones marathon. I have worked tirelessly and spent a lot of time networking and making connections to make sure this marathon has the proper Queens feel it deserves.
I went into this with the mindset that while I may not be able to get every runner to throw out the first pitch at Citi Field in the first year, I am very pleased with how businesses and cultural institutions are getting behind our marathon and organization, for this year and more importantly, for our other year-round events.
From race week to race day - what do you think the final week is going to be like for you? From working with local partners, to getting everything right, to communicating everything to the public.
As a native of Queens, I feel like I have had it relatively easy. Considering that the Queens Distance Runners is still relatively very young as an organization, I've been extremely pleased to see our presence grow. Our reputation and connections are building towards our goal of getting more races in Queens and getting our people running.
Thankfully, with the advances of social media, we are able to provide "teasers" for the Queens Marathon that have gotten our runners excited for the event. Race week will be an exciting time for all parties involved, this is something that will be new yet set the tone for years to come - to think that we could arrange places to welcome runners to acquaint themselves better with Queens is everything to us. I hope to be there to see as much of it unfold as I can.
All marathons are tough. The Queens Marathon offers a different mental challenge as it's five loops of Flushing Meadows. What will you have on hand - without giving away too many surprises - to help runners push through the mental barrier?
I must have ran hundreds upon hundreds of miles in Flushing Meadows park in the 5 years I have been running and it is, by far, my favorite park to run in. While I am admittedly biased toward my home park, I have good reason to hold this park with such acclaim.
With the exception of the overpass bridge, the park is virtually flat with scenic views of the Flushing skyline at one end, the Citi Field/USTA in the background at another end, and when you are out at Meadow Lake, you can still get a good glimpse of the NYC skyline, all while airplanes are soaring past you.
The wind is understandably unpredictable and can be a bit of a hindrance, especially on the straightaway stretches at Meadow Lake. I cannot give too much away, but much of what we will have to offer is a large, loud volunteer staff comprised of the funnest, most welcoming people I know, the Queens Distance Runners!
What can runners expect on the day from the Queens Marathon - apart from a unique experience of running the inaugural Queens Marathon?
The day of the Queens Marathon will be special. Much of that feeling will come from the fact that it will be the first ever marathon based in Queens, NY. Seeing how everything will culminate and come together for a few hours will be the main focus, understandably. For the runners, many of whom I have been following on social media platforms, they should expect to experience a well put together marathon that is welcoming to everyone and when they leave their souls out on our course, we will be there to embrace them as only Queens can.
When the gun goes off on April 30 and the final runner crosses the start line, how do you think you will feel? Same with when the last runner crosses the line?
It's difficult not to already be celebrating as months of planning, years of dreaming, are finally coming to life. Such was the case when Laura Eisenzopf of Forest Hills signed up as our first registrant on December 2. In that moment, I felt so proud of the entire process that I had to call her and thank her for taking a chance on our marathon.
I have done my best to be as welcoming as I can to my "Inauguralites" and I see them as my brothers and sisters and I will certainly need to restrain my humanity when they cross the finish line. Knowing that they came to our marathon, as their Spring marathon means a lot to my team and I, and they will be forever remembered.
According to your bio on Queens Distance Runners, you're an accomplished runner yourself, but the first race you signed up for was a 60km in 2010. Can you give us some background into your running experience beforehand as a 60km as a first run is an incredible feat.
I was inspired by the 2010 NYC Marathon, and coming off a period in my life where I believed that I needed to find something, a passion, to call my own, I took a leap of faith and signed up for the first race I could find on the New York Road Runners' calendar, and it happened to be the 60K.
That day in Central Park would be all the experience I needed to know that I had found my passion. The day seemed to never end, and with no training or experience to call on, I had to remind myself that I was not going to be spending the rest of my life wondering if I could answer a challenge. When I crossed that finish line, I knew that I had completed an unconventional initiation to a sport that I knew I could dedicate myself towards.
Away from the Queens Marathon, what's your favorite race in New York City (NYRR, NYC Runs event, etc)
My favorite race in New York City is a deadlocked tie between the NYC Marathon and the NYC 60K. There is no clear favorite. Each race deserves it's own case. The NYC Marathon is the most popular race in the world, that title carries a lot of weight. I am fortunate enough to also work for the NYRR and the amount of detail that goes into this race is beyond belief sometimes. The human spirit is on full display and it inspires so many new runners and is ultimately the race that inspired me to sign up for my 1st race. I would consider this as my "mainstream" favorite race as it comes with a great legacy behind it.
The NYRR NYC 60K (formerly the Knickerboker 60K), is my "hardcore" favorite race. In essence, it's you and 37.2 miles divided into 9 loops of Central Park. Absent are the million person crowds and iconic course, you are just fed loops and loops of the same route as you seemingly age and wear down with the day. Everything hopeful that comes with the sun rising to your right, seems to fade as the sun begins to disappear (along with the limited spectators) as this race forces you to not seek out big race distractions, but rather internally come up with whatever it takes to finish the race. This race is my first event and will forever be attached to my story as a runner.
Queens Distance Runners - explain briefly what the group is about? Is it elite runners only, beginners, people looking to PR, etc?
Our group was founded by a competitive running couple. Naturally, for the first few months, the Queens Distance Runners was mostly composed of local elite runners. In 2014 and even early 2015, we had about 13 to 20 runners and more than half of us would score points for the team.
Luckily, now that we have established ourselves as a competitive team, more members have joined with the hopes of not only becoming faster, but being a part of a small family. We have a loud and proud demeanor, and at races, particularly the points races, it is tradition for our teammates to finish the race, and then jog out to a point and settle at a QDR "Scream Station," a point where our team screams on the rest of our teammates (and other familiar faces) and we get louder until they run faster toward the finish line. We aim to inspire all our teammates
Finally, I saw you have plans someday to expand the marathon to Queens as a whole. Can you expand on this?
I love New York City as a whole, I believe in what it stands for as the "global capitol of the world," how it attracts and inspires people to work hard to make it here. Yet, if you closed your eyes and removed the borough of Queens, it's culturally rich demographics and neighborhoods, New York City would be missing an integral layer of what makes the city so special. Queens is now being celebrated and heralded more than ever, and with opportunities such as the Queens Marathon, that trend will certainly continue. New Yorkers and beyond will continue to visit "The World's Borough" and see what makes us so unique.
A few weeks ago, my fellow cofounders and I planned an ideal Queens Marathon for the future. Starting at the Citigroup Building in LIC, I logged the initial miles through the heart of Steinway Street, through the "Welcome to Sunnyside" arch, over the hills of serene Woodside, through the shopping district of 82nd Street at my beloved Jackson Heights, passing the Lemon Ice King of Corona. I had goosebumps visualizing how a marathon on these streets would be a game changer.
The second half of the marathon includes a climb into Flushing, passing the hustle and bustle of Main Street, running past our most popular college, Queens College and Queens Borough Hall (with a vintage 7 redbird train on full display), entering Forest Park, and heading down Woodhaven Blvd for a two mile long downhill stretch. The course continued down Woodhaven Blvd and ran straight to the Rockaways, our projected Finish Line, right at the Beach by the Atlantic. This is our ideal Queens Marathon!
I hope that this Inaugural Queens Marathon, much like the runners taking part in it, takes gigantic leaps forward, as the Queens Distance Runners will be there every step of the way!
The inaugural Queens Marathon takes place on Saturday, April 30 at 8am in Flushing Meadows Park. Spectators are certainly most welcome - watch out for me, the runner, in my trusty Under Armour Batman shirt. I'll the one with a painful, yet happy-ish look on his face no doubt.