Sal Pellegrino will be celebrating his 75th birthday on Nov. 3 with some 50,000 people on the streets of New York City, and more than a million more lending their support.
The longtime Pearl River resident will be running in the New York City Marathon, the 27th time he's tackled the challenging course that starts in Staten Island and traverses all five boroughs before ending in Central Park.
Pellegrino ran his first NYC Marathon at age 48 and has returned every year except 2012 when the event was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and one year when he had surgery.© John Meore/The Journal News Sal Pellegrino, formerly of Pearl River, jogging on a Nanuet street, will be marking his 75th birthday running his 27th New York City Marathon. Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
He ran solo for the first 15 marathons but for the past dozen years has acted as a volunteer guide with Achilles International, which aids disabled participants in completing the grueling course.
Over the years, he has guided people who are blind and deaf, amputees, and those with multiple sclerosis, vertigo, and Lou Gehrig's disease. This year, he'll run the course with a woman who suffers from dizziness and seizures.
"It's quite an inspiration that they have the courage to do this," Pellegrino said.
He has no plans to stop running or to retire from his job as an electronics salesman.
"My mother (Virginia Pellegrino) lived to 103 and a half," he said. "She was still cooking at 100."© John Meore/The Journal News Sal Pellegrino, formerly of Pearl River, will be marking his 75th birthday running his 27th New York City Marathon. Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
A marathoner's Q&A: 7 questions
Pellegrino, who's preparing to move to Hillsdale, New Jersey, later this year, stopped running long enough to answer a few questions:
Question: How did you get started as a marathoner?
Pellegrino: I'd been a runner since my 30s and every year I would watch the New York City Marathon and watch those 30,000-plus people stand on the bridge and I'd say, 'You know what? Someday, I'm going to do this.' I got there in my late 40s.
Question: What do you remember about your first marathon?
Pellegrino: It's incredible, all the people in the streets. You go over the Queensboro Bridge onto First Avenue, they're 15 deep and the enthusiasm of the crowd is so incredible that I said, 'You know what? I'm going to do it again.' "© Contributed Sal Pellegrino (in red jacket) at the finish line of the 2015 New York City Marathon, when he volunteered as a guide for Achilles International.
Question: What led you to start guiding disabled runners, and what's that experience been like?
Pellegrino: Doing (the marathon) year after year for about 15 years, I saw the disabled people, amputees, people on skateboards, and decided to become a guide.
The experience of the crowd is the most exciting thing because New York City is overwhelming with people in the streets. Typically the disabled person has her name on her shirt and they yell out her name, and you get a high just from that. And it keeps them going, motivated. ... The ultimate is to go over that finish line and again, it's overwhelming and exciting.
Question: What advice do you have for anyone who hasn't run the notoriously difficult course?
Pellegrino: The Verrazzano (Narrows Bridge) is very congested — now they're up to 50,000-plus people. It probably takes you 15 minutes to do the first mile, if not 20 minutes. But the key to being successful in a marathon is you've got to keep yourself hydrated ... and just have some snacks along the way. If you feel yourself getting strained, just slow up a little bit. The important thing is just don't go out too fast because you've got 26.2 miles to go.
Question: Do you think someone will break the two-hour mark in a marathon? Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya broke the world record last month in Berlin: 2:01:39.
Pellegrino: I think it's possible because the Kenyans train in very high altitude areas, and if the course is fairly level they could probably do it.
Question: How many years will you keep doing the marathon?
Pellegrino: My wife (Marie) says it's the last year. At this point, who knows? If I stay healthy, I might do it again.
Question: Do you have any advice for would-be marathoners, especially older runners?
Pellegrino: My message would be first and foremost, don't be lazy, work out and stay healthy. ... I want to stay healthy and I think my motivation is in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, you have to exercise and eat right. ... It's a way to have a good, happy, healthy life.© John Meore/The Journal News Sal Pellegrino, formerly of Pearl River, jogging on a Nanuet street, will be marking his 75th birthday running his 27th New York City Marathon. Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
Marathon Man: Fast facts
Training routine: Runs 20 to 25 miles a week, down from 50 to 60 miles a week when he started. No cross training.
Soundtrack: His MP3 player is loaded with classic rock from the 1970s. It's an upgrade from the Sony Walkman he wore back in the day.
Footwork: He runs in Nike Air sneakers
Personal best: 3 hours and 37 minutes
Guide duty: Finishing the marathon with a disabled runner can take six to eight hours.
Timekeeping: The generic wristwatch he once used to track of his time has been replaced by an Apple Watch, which he uses to track his distance.
Pre-race diet: "The last week I eat a lot of raisins because they're very high in carbohydrates. My wife makes me a lot of pasta ... the night before the marathon, it's a pasta dinner with plenty of vegetables. And lots of water."
Race-day diet: On the course, he mostly drinks water with a few sips of Gatorade and energy gel packs along the way.
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