9/30/09

Running is elementary. It is elegant in its simplicity. John Bingham, The Courage to Start

Lance Armstrong with Alberto Salazar, one of his pacesetters, during the 2006 marathon.


Published: September 29, 2009

Lance Armstrong has inquired about being part of the New York City Marathon again — this time running only part of the race as a pacesetter for Joan Benoit Samuelson — and marathon organizers would love to welcome him back because of his star power and the runners from his cancer charity.

Armstrong had hoped to accompany Samuelson to the finish line as she did for him by running the final miles of the 2006 New York City Marathon, but the rules do not allow him to do so and he could decline to run.

Samuelson, 52, is running the race to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her landmark gold medal in the 1984 Olympic marathon, but she is also eyeing an age-group record in the race. To be eligible for a record, she can have a pacesetter. But were Armstrong to run as one, he would have tobegin the race at the start; he cannot jump in at a later point.

“There was an idea put out there to run a part of the race with Joanie,” Mark Higgins, Armstrong’s manager, said in an e-mail message, referring to Samuelson’s desire to celebrate the 40th running of the race and her 25th anniversary of her gold medal. “But since she is running as a competitive athlete in her age group, he cannot do that.”

Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, ran the New York City Marathon twice during his three-year hiatus from cycling. His first year, Samuelson joined a Hall of Fame cast of pacesetters who ran parts of the race with Armstrong, including the three-time New York winner Alberto Salazar, who started the race.

Samuelson jumped in at the 10-mile mark and, while elbowing curious runners away from Armstrong, encouraged him to cross the finish line, in 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds. He called it “the hardest physical thing” he had ever done and later learned he had stress fractures in his legs.

Two marathons later (including Boston in 2008), Armstrong, 38, returned to cycling full time. He finished third this year in the Tour de France. Involved in forming a new cycling team, he has not trained for a full marathon, according to Mary Wittenberg, the chief executive and president of the New York Road Runners, the race’s organizer.

“We’re very happy to have Lance’s support,” Wittenberg said, but she added, “I’ll be surprised if he runs.”

“Lance had expressed interest through e-mails,” Wittenberg said. “But with a competitive athlete, you can’t pace unless you start the race. We gave him that option, which we are happy to extend. We don’t know if that’s of interest to him.”

Higgins did not respond to an e-mail message seeking clarification.

Starting the race may not be as meaningful as finishing it while accompanying a struggling runner, Wittenberg acknowledged. “They need a lot more help at the end,” she said.

In 2007, Armstrong ran without an entourage, finishing in a personal-best time, 2:46:43.

Samuelson is showing few signs of slowing down. She set an age-group record for women 50 and older when she finished the 2008 Olympic marathon trials in 2:49:08. She has never won the New York City Marathon; her best finish was third in 1988. The women’s 50-plus division record in New York is 2:53:53, set by S. Rae Baymiller in 1993.

The decision to extend Armstrong an entry, even as a pacesetter, would be an easy one for the New York Road Runners. “Our job is to build and promote this event — it’s a worldwide happening — and we welcome interest from high-profile individuals that add to the happening,” Wittenberg said.

Armstrong’s influence has extended beyond his two performances in the race. The Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LiveStrong team will bring 175 runners to New York for the Nov. 1 race, and the charity is expected to raise more than $700,000 from this year’s race.

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