Life On The Run

If charisma made you faster, an American might actually win the New York Marathon

We could complain ad nauseam that the New York City Marathon hasn't had an American male champ since Alberto Salazar in 1982, or a female winner since Miki Gorman in 1977, and that these droughts aren't likely to end in this millennium. Or we could recognize that the 30,000 runners tackling 26.2 miles in Sunday's marathon include a slew of quick and compelling characters from the New York area. They probably won't compete for the laurel wreath, but they do deserve some major props.

Kim Griffin deserves some recognition just for the juggling act she's managed to pull off. She's a mother with two daughters, Katherine and Caroline, ages 5 and 3. She's a doctor and assistant director of the cardiac surgical care unit at Mount Sinai. And, of course, she's a competitive runner, finishing second among American women in the '97 New York marathon with a 2:50:25, good for 19th place overall.

In 1998, she's been a terror on local roads, winning the Avon 10K, the Bronx Half- Marathon, and the 30K Marathon Tuneup in August. To keep herself ready for the various competitions, she squeezes in 80 miles each week around her 55-hour-a-week job.

At awards ceremonies, she's eloquent and at ease at the microphone, speaking extemporaneously about reducing the risk of heart disease through exercise. Editors of running magazines admire her lithe grace and ponder putting her on their covers.

But Griffin's impressive list of accomplishments hasn't earned her universal acclaim. After Runner's Worldran a laudatory profile of her earlier this year, the mail was "mainly negative," according to an editor there, as it "always is when we write about supermoms." Letter writers wondered how much time she could actually be spending with her kids. "That's always a concern," concedes Griffin. "But the amount of time I spend running is not that much. . . . I have always said women shouldn't live through their children. It puts too much pressure on them. If all you do is take care of somebody else and you have no life of your own, you're cranky and you have no patience with anyone."

Griffin's busy, but "not completely neurotic," she insists. "Like I had to go to this Women's Sports Foundation dinner, and I was sick the day before, and all I could fit in was a two-mile run. I'm not going to get totally worked up about it. If I have things that just totally get in the way, I just back off my training. And that's it."

She's a local heroine on the roads, and is looking to improve her marathon time to a 2:45. But at 37 with a full dance card, she knows the prospect of world-class status "is behind me. I don't expect miracles out of myself. I'm definitely going to keep my job."

Expectations are a little higher for plucky Anne Marie Lauck. The pride of North Hunterdon (NJ) High School and Rutgers University has a chance--if an ever-so-small one--to top the women's field on Sunday. "She has guts and is not afraid," says Anne Roberts, who recruits the marathon's elite roster. "Anne Marie will give it everything she's got."

The fearsome and fearless Lauck bopped until she dropped at the finish of Atlanta's Olympic Marathon, where she was 10th, the highest placing by an American man or woman. Lauck was also the last Yank to win the prestigious Advil Mini Marathon 10K, in 1994, and led that year's New York marathon through Brooklyn and Queens, eventually taking third in 2:30:19.

It's been rough sledding since then, though. Lauck's mother, to whom she dedicated the Advil triumph, succumbed to breast cancer in 1995. Lauck has been plagued by hamstring and herniated disk ailments. And in December of 1996, on a rare respite from running, she and husband Jim were standing at the bottom of a 400-foot Hawaiian waterfall when a rock slide erupted without warning. One boulder smashed into Lauck and caused a compound fracture of her shoulder.

But matters have reversed course again lately. In a five-mile road race held in conjunction with this summer's New York Goodwill Games, Lauck ran 25:44 to beat Kenyan ace Jane Omoro by 10 seconds and proclaimed, "I felt like I was flying out there." Others are looking for a strong race from her as well: "She's gonna whup ass," says fellow New Jersey running star Joe McVeigh.

With a 2:21:12 for 24th place, McVeigh, of Haworth, earned $5000 as the top American in 1996's marathon. After the race, McVeigh blasted "the paucity of American stars," but conceded, "I'd rather be first in a bunch of chumps than second to a bunch of chumps." The former Lehigh University star got top U.S. honors again in Boston this April with a 2:16:48 (good for 17th place) and declared, "The guys that could be the American headliners here chickened out and are going to Pittsburgh," a virtually foreigner-free May marathon with guaranteed cash for domestic athletes. "They continually duck the two biggest races, Boston and New York."

Myopic McVeigh ("squinting gives me that Clint Eastwood look") suggests, "I'm arrogant and I rub some people the wrong way," but in truth, the bored running press corps relishes his candor and wit. Alas, he just announced that he was pulling out of the marathon with a shin injury. Can't he still host the postrace press conference or something?

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