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.

Call the doctor: Kim Griffin, MD
Pete Kuhns
Call the doctor: Kim Griffin, MD

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 World ran 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?

Rail-thin Mike Mykytok of Ramsey, New Jersey, used to wear shirts labeled Monday, Tuesday, and so forth so that he "didn't have to decide what to wear each day." The quirky Mykytok is also a poet, and, as a member of the University of Florida track team, used to perch himself on rooftops and read his motivational verse to his teammates.

The lure of lucre is part of what's pushing the in-debt Mykytok to tackle this, his "virgin marathon." He's also coming here because "the New York City Marathon is empty" in terms of top-notch Americans--"It's all foreigners out there." And as the winner of the 1997 USA Track and Field 10,000 (the longest race at standard track meets) many will be watching Mykytok with hopes of a breakout American performance. But ever the individualist, Mykytok promises to run his own race and to "not get caught up in everybody's surging and all that crap."

The likeliest 2000 Olympian among the local men is Tom Nohilly, a former Catholic-schools city champ in the mile at Monsignor McClancy High School in Queens. Nohilly, making his marathon debut "to keep me motivated and keep me strong," is currently ranked second in the U.S. in the 3000-meter steeplechase--the event with hurdles and a water jump. Three steeplers make the U.S. squad. At 1992's Olympic Trials in sweltering New Orleans, four men lay prostrate on the ground after a blanket finish; Nohilly was the one who didn't go to Barcelona. He barely missed the cut again in 1996. He's getting used to dreams deferred.

Even in his desired profession. Marathons and steeplechases aside, Nohilly's fervent wish is to be a fireman, like his grandfather. But when he briefly moved to Virginia to train five years ago, his New York nonresidency pushed him further down an already interminable waiting list for the fire academy.

As his freshly bathed infant son pukes all over himself, Nohilly, now living in Manhattan, says he's shooting for a sub-2:20 marathon. That would get him a spot at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000. "It's my first one. Everything is talk. I could say if I come through in 1:08 halfway and I feel good, I could drop the pace down. But it's a place I've never been before."

Gillian Horovitz has been there. She's run 76 marathons all told, including, as Gillian Adams, a second place in New York City in 1979. She subsequently married playwright Israel Horovitz, whose oeuvre includes a comedy called Sunday Runners in the Rain.

Last year, Gillian was New York City's masters champ (for those over age 40; she's 43) and 14th overall with a 2:43:20. In April, she improved to 2:41:15 in Boston, good enough to earn selection to the English squad for the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia (Horovitz is a Brit, but has lived in the Village for most of the past two decades), where she finished fourth.

Horovitz is mother to 12-year-old twins Oliver and Hannah and a stepmother to Adam, King Ad-Roc of The Beastie Boys. "He came and watched the New York City Marathon once," she recalls. "He doesn't make any derogatory comments. The Beastie Boys are very fit. Their passion is basketball. They bring a net with them on tour."

Israel calls his wife "the only woman I know who warms up for a marathon by doing a marathon." And the famously indestructible Gillian agrees, submitting that after a 26-miler, "I run the next day to get the stiffness out of my legs."

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