Meet Dave, the retiree running his 40th New York marathon

A posed shot of NYRR President and CEO Michael Capiraso , Dave Obelkevich, the TCS New York City Marathon’s longest “streaker” who will be running his 40th consecutive TCS New York City Marathon, Katrina Bowden, an actress currently starring in
A posed shot of NYRR President and CEO Michael Capiraso , Dave Obelkevich, the TCS New York City Marathon’s longest “streaker” who will be running his 40th consecutive TCS New York City Marathon, Katrina Bowden, an actress currently starring in Public Morals and Marcus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef and restauranteur.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - When Dave Obelkevich laces up his shoes and dons his special yellow shorts on Sunday, he will be competing in his 40th New York marathon - the world's largest such race.

The 72-year-old retired music teacher with a sparkle in his eye is not setting off in peak condition. He's as fit as ever, but a hamstring injury in August and a calf injury in September have interrupted his training regime.

He achieved his personal best - two hours, 40 minutes - in 1982 but he still has a goal. "If I get under five hours, I'm very happy," he tells AFP in an interview.

"I won't run fast but I know I can finish."

Despite his injuries, he doesn't think his New York bid is in danger, having run 39 of them already - 38 consecutively.

"It's nice to get a streak going. You don't want to break a streak. So now, I'm trying to keep it going," he said.

Over the years, Obelkevich has seen the marathon change a lot. He first took part in 1973, only the fourth year of the race.

"That year I ran without a number. I did one loop of Central Park and then I went home," he said. He has lived on the Upper West Side, next to the park, since moving to New York in 1961.

The following year, he finished - completing the then four loops of Central Park that was required, but in 1975 he dropped out with five kilometres to go because he felt dizzy.

"Now you have about two million spectators. We had about 73 spectators," he said.

In 1976 the marathon route was changed to take in all five boroughs of New York. But it was still rare for members of the public to turn out onto the streets to watch.

"The only people you saw that were not running were the drunks," he said of the swing through northern Manhattan.

Passers-by used to think "people were running in our underwear if they were out running at 5 or 6 in the morning," he said.

In the beginning, almost everyone taking part were men.

"The first three years of the marathon, there were 12 women who started and only six finished. There are 20,000 women finishers in one year now," he said.

Before, athletes would only occasionally take part alongside the amateurs. Today, the distance not the time is what's celebrated. Getting past the finish line, is for many the only goal.

"There are people who are 50 pounds overweight... but another runner will never make fun of someone who's overweight. Because if you're running, that means you want to improve yourself.

"The runners, it's like a big family," he said.

Obelkevich admits that he felt more at home in the early years when the event was more private with no crowds.

"But the last 20 years or so, I became much more open. I like to talk to runners," he says. He still runs four marathons a year and three longer than the famous 26.2 miles (42.1 kilometers).

If he wants to keep in touch with another runner, he gives them one of the cards he stores under his cap while running.

"In the New York City marathon, you meet them from all over the world," he said. "Almost half of the runners are foreigners. And I love that."

"Foreigners, if they've never been to the States, they want to see New York. They don't want to see Chicago," he said.