x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai runner treads a lonely path in New York City

Dubai resident took to the American city's streets in the name of charity despite cancellation of marathon after superstorm Sandy, writes Ali Khaled.

Paul Hymers who trained in Dubai, ran by himself in New York City, he had competed in the London Marathon in 2004 and 2006.
Paul Hymers who trained in Dubai, ran by himself in New York City, he had competed in the London Marathon in 2004 and 2006.

It was the race that never was. Except, in a way, it was.

When, last April, the Dubai resident Paul Hymers received confirmation of a place in the 2012 New York City Marathon, he could not have imagined the drama that awaited him the Big Apple.

"I had trained solidly since April," Hymers said.

Hours pounding the streets of the Marina, Meadows and Springs eventually gave way to gym sessions on the treadmill as the summer heat kicked in.

Having run the London Marathon in 2004 and 2006, the 34 year old from Gateshead, in the north-east of England, was certainly prepared for the physical challenge. The emotional ordeal, however, would prove a different story altogether.

On Monday, October 29, superstorm Sandy devastated the New York/New Jersey area, bringing destruction, power cuts and chaos. The fate of the race hung in the balance.

On Wednesday, organisers said the race would go on, and Hymers and his wife, Sarah, flew to New York. Within an hour of their arrival at their hotel, however, he learnt the race had been cancelled. His initial reaction, he says, was one of pure anger, of being "deceived".

But that anger gave way to perspective. Sandy had claimed 185 lives and left thousands homeless across the Caribbean and the US. This was no time for self-pity.

"It was a terrible situation and my heart goes out to all those families that suffered. I realised that the decision to cancel the race was understandable."

But then on Saturday, while on a bus tour that traced the route of the marathon, Hymers started thinking of all the work he had put into training, the promises he had made to people back home and, above all, the support and donations that had come his way from friends and family members.

Hymers had been sponsored for more than £2,000 (Dh11,800), which he intended to divide equally between two charities he said "are close to my heart": the Motor Neuron Disease Association and Parkinson's UK.

There and then, he decided he would run a marathon the next morning. By himself along the original route.

"I thought: 'Well I'm here now, I should just do it.'"

Even then, a couple of issues nagged at him. First, the starting line of the New York Marathon is in Staten Island, and the initial mile was to be run over a bridge that was closed to regular traffic.

Hymers planned to compensate for that lost mile by running past what would have been the original finish line and on to his hotel which, conveniently, was approximately one mile further down the road. There was a second, more important concern: he was keen not to show any disrespect to the residents of New York, still suffering the after-effects of the storm.

On Sunday, he awoke still racked with doubt. The debate regarding the cancellation of the race was still raging in the media.

He asked himself: "Should I do this? Is this crazy?"

It was then that his wife presented him a card with messages of encouragement from friends and well-wishers in Dubai. "You are a champion", was the simple message on the cover. He said: "I thought to myself, let's do this."

Running a marathon takes a Herculean effort at the best of times. Running alone brings a different set of challenges. The physical pain is there, minus the cheers of the crowd and the incentive of beating fellow competitors. Hymers would run through the five boroughs on his own. "It was very emotional, coming into Central Park on the final stretch," he said. "I kept myself going by thinking of all the kind words and encouragement I had received."

His time: a creditable three hours, 20 minutes. And as for concerns over the locals, he need not have worried. "I had a few cheers along the way which always picks you up," he said.

Stopping to buy water in some shops, several locals asked: "Hasn't the marathon been cancelled?" - only to wish him the best when told of his solo mission.

The record books will show that the 2012 New York City Marathon was not run. Except it was. Paul Hymers may have run only against himself, and there may have been only one fan waiting for him at the finish. But still, it was a race that he won gloriously.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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