“The best medicine is sweat. The cure for stress is to move, to work hard physically, and the simplest way to do that is to run,” said the legendary Haile Gebrselassie at a people’s breakfast run in New York’s Central Park today.
Ranked by many as the greatest runner in history, the “Emperor of Running,” former world record holder for the marathon, double Olympic gold medalist on the track, is officially retired from racing, at 42. But he has lost none of his enthusiasm for running, nor his eloquent optimism about its importance, nor his smiling sense of humor.
He enthused about the growth in participant numbers in his home nation of Ethiopia.
“We are not just a few fast marathoners. When I and others started the Great Ethiopia Run 10K in Addis Ababa, we got 10,000 runners. We thought that was the best we would ever do. But now we have 40,000 and still more every year,” Gebrselassie said. He is in New York to be inducted into the New York City Marathon’s Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Wilson Kipsang, a more recent marathon world-record holder, who is back in New York to defend the title he won here last year, spoke movingly of the importance of running as an accessible sport that can bring people together in his tribally troubled home of Kenya.
“We get to know each other through sport. We make friends in our hometown, and in our own country, and all around the world, through sport. In sport, every one is equal, and we are making efforts in Kenya to give full opportunities to the ladies,” Kipsang said.
Jen Rhines of the United States, who also joined the Adidas-hosted pack run in Central Park, confirmed the exciting growth in women’s running.
“I lead groups of new women runners every week in the Boston area, and it’s incredible how excited and motivated they are. We’re also seeing a great improvement in the overall standard in girls coming out of school. This year in the World Championships 10,000 meters in Beijing, USA had three in the top six. That’s the best ever. It shows how the improved depth is also pushing our top level upwards,” Rhines said.
Rhines will run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Saturday, continuing her stellar career as an over-40 Masters racer.
The ease of making new friends by running with strangers was shown in this morning’s three-mile pack run in Central Park. Gebrselassie, Kipsang and Rhines ran cheerfully with a random group of about 20, ranging from fit young Adidas employees to local Manhattan runners like Steve Weintraub, 48, who hopes to break four hours on Sunday, and improved his chances by sticking with the two Africans even as they slowly cranked up the pace.
Not far behind was Jack Waitz, 67, husband of the late Grete, another New York City Marathon legend. Jack Waitz is in New York promoting the Aktiv Against Cancer charity, close to his heart after cancer took the life of his wife.
Top age in the group was 76, and I kept with the pace.
Around Central Park’s “Lower Loop,” through the dog walkers and the bikers and the busy construction at the marathon’s finish line, strangers gave us cheers and high fives.
“Go, runners!” they called. Or sometimes, “Go, Haile!”
Even as running grows bigger and bigger, it doesn’t lose its sense of being a friendly community.