Running the Marathon for Rockaway

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 The New York City Marathon may have been canceled this year, but that couldn’t stop the running spirit in Brendan Lally. While he may have missed Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, the Belle Harbor resident took to the local streets on what would have been marathon day, to clock in the 26.2 miles, while raising some money for local charities along the way.

When Lally learned this year’s NYC Marathon had been canceled due to coronavirus concerns, disappointed was an understatement. After all, it would have been his fourth marathon and the 2020 race was set to be a milestone event in its 50th year. Not to mention, Lally had already spent a lot of time training. “The New York City marathon wasn’t canceled until other races around the world started being shut down. We were holding out hope and eventually they shut it down. They had to. But I had stayed training all the way through, just for my sanity,” Lally said.

He decided to keep running. When the marathon organizers announced that they would host a virtual marathon instead, Lally decided to give it a go. “It was something to focus on while everything else was going on,” he said. In the past, Lally had raised money for Community Access in Manhattan, but having to stick to the local streets for this year’s run, he decided to run for some local causes in the neighborhood he’s lived in for just two years. “I inquired with my friend, Joe Courtney, if he knew any local charities that I could run for and he told me about the Graybeards and Rockaway WISH. So I contacted both and asked if they’d mind if I ran for them. They said that would be great,” Lally said.

Lally soon started a GoFundMe campaign for his charitable run and between donations from suppliers for his fire alarm system company, IRL Systems, locals, and friends, Lally was able to raise $4,140. He plans to split the funds between the Graybeards and WISH equally, donating $2,070 to each local organization.

All that was left to do was run. On Sunday, November 1, what would have been marathon day, Lally hit the pavement. He left his Belle Harbor home and headed for Riis Park, then down to Beach 67th Street on the boardwalk, then to Beach 94th Street, clocking in eight miles locally before heading over the Cross Bay Bridge to run through Broad Channel, Howard Beach and along the Belt Parkway to finish the 16-mile loop. While it was technically a solo marathon for Lally, he was never alone. With Sean Tubridy, Jonathan Waters, Patricia Boyd and Aiden Conlon all following on bikes, and his wife, Sinead and two kids, Claire and Finn, cheering him on from their car, Lally was in good company.

And that company came in handy when like most cars, Lally hit a slowdown on the Belt. “Somewhere around mile 16 on the Belt, my legs started to spasm with cramps. I had never experienced anything like this. It was like aliens bursting out of my legs. My coach, Patty was with us and said we needed to get salt, but there was nowhere around to get it,” Lally said. Calls started being made. Lally’s crew got in touch with friend, Mike Balfe, who made a quick trip to a Popeye’s on Flatbush Avenue to grab some salt packets. Tubridy met Balfe and caught up with Lally to deliver the salt. “They poured four packets of salt into my mouth, which was horrible, but it worked like a miracle for the cramps. I was able to get running again and the cramps came on again, but I had three more packets of salt and kept going. We nursed it home around Flatbush and the Marine Parkway Bridge,” Lally said.

He gained some extra motivation as he passed the firehouse along Riis Park to cheers from New York City’s Bravest, and his wife began to blast the Rocky theme song as he made his way back toward home in the last mile.

Despite the salty setback, Lally ended with a sweet finish. He completed the marathon in 3:18:31, a whole four minutes faster than his personal record. To make it even sweeter, he came home to a big celebration with friends. “Keith Sullivan had arranged for people to come over and it was an amazing finish to the race. A few of the boys were there and Keith got two local singers to play and we had food for about two hours after the race. It was really an amazing day,” Lally said. The party even included a cake, made by Helen Corr-Endall, a secretary at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy, who included every detail in the icing, down to the 2020 medal, which NYC Marathoners receive after completing the run.  

And while the icing medal didn’t last long, Lally will eventually receive the real deal for competing in the NYC Marathon’s virtual race. “I’m looking forward to that because it’s going to say 2020 on it, which I think is cool,” Lally said.

While running the marathon solo was a different experience, Lally says he was happy to have the local support throughout. “I had my own support team, which you wouldn’t have during the real marathon. You have to wait for each mile to see people out there supporting you. Here, I felt special, like I could put out my hand they were there to help me. That was amazing. I felt safe,” he said.

Lally says that local support has been felt since he moved to Rockaway. “We only moved to Rockaway two years ago and we were very apprehensive about moving from Bay Ridge after 22 years, but Rockaway has turned out to be an amazing place and we absolutely love it. We love the people and we love the area,” he said. “I’m really blessed to be here.”

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