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DiCrescenzo Not Worried About The Distance

The steeplechase specialist will make her 26.2-mile debut at the New York City Marathon.

You’d think that by now Delilah DiCrescenzo would be sick of being greeted with “hey there” everywhere she goes. Not so, says DiCrescenzo, who inspired the 2006 pop hit “Hey There, Delilah” by Plain White T’s, whose lead singer, Tom Higgesnon was a friend of DiCrescenzo’s boyfriend.

“I’m pretty much numb to it by now,” she said during a press conference before her debut in this Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon, where “I hope I’ll make a separate identity for myself, for my running.”

While the notoriety she gained from the song might have become annoying, especially at the height of its popularity in 2007, DiCrescenzo realizes that there was more positive than negative to the fame. “It definitely opened some doors for me, although I had to prove myself as a runner to justify it.”

DiCrescenzo, a 30-year-old Chicago native who was an All-American in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at Manhattan’s Columbia University, has stayed true to her adopted hometown, continuing to coach at her alma mater (the last three years as a volunteer) while training under legendary coach Frank Gagliano with the fledgling New Jersey-New York Track Club. Indeed, DiCrescenzo feels some familiarity with the course may help her during her first 26.2-miler on Sunday.

“I live about a mile from the 21-mile point on the course, so often I’ll jog over there then run the last five miles to the finish before doing some more loops in Central Park,” she said. “I’m hoping that on Sunday, I’ll get to that point and say, ‘I’ve run this lots of times before,’ and just cruise on auto-pilot to the finish.”

DiCrescenzo is approaching her marathon debut with relatively modest goals for someone who’s run 9:40.63 for the steeplechase and 15:40 for 5,000m. “I just want to run 6-minute miles–26 of them in a row,” she said.

While New York may be DiCrescenzo’s first marathon, she’s no stranger to the roads, having competed in the New York Mini 10K, Falmouth Road Race and New Haven 20K national championships. “I think my buildup has gone very well,” she opined. “Not perfect, but then no one’s ever is.”

“I think she’s got a great future on the roads,” added Gagliano, who might be the Brett Favre of running coaches, having retired and unretired several times following a successful collegiate career at Rutgers and Georgetown. “She’s got a great build and stride for long distances. She’s meant to be a road racer.”

For her part, DiCrescenzo sees Sunday’s race as just the conclusion of the first chapter of a running apprenticeship that still has many stages to go. After climbing the national ranks in the steeplechase for several years, she’s ready to move on. She finished third in the steeple at the 2011 U.S. championships, but an injury kept her out of the world championships that year in South Korea. Last year she placed seventh in the event at last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials, failing to earn a spot to run in the London Olympics.

“I’ve got a lot to learn, especially about the marathon,” she admitted. “That’s one of the reasons for running here, to observe and learn from the best.

“The timing was also good,” she continued. “There’s no World Cross Country Championships, no Track & Field World Championships next year. So this was the perfect time to experiment with the marathon.”

No matter how the long race goes, DiCrescenzo has ruled out returning to the steeplechase, in spite of earning All American honors in the event in college. “Two words,” smiled Gagliano, when asked for the reason. “Water jump.”

While there may not be any physical barriers for DiCrescenzo to negotiate during Sunday’s race, she’s aware of, and prepared for, the mental ones that are sure to pop up. “I’m as ready as I can be,” she said.

And perhaps she’ll be silently singing the opening line of the second stanza of the song she inspired: “Hey there Delilah, don’t you worry about the distance…”