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I’m A Competitor: Larry Lewis Goes The Distance

Larry Lewis, marathon, triathlon, Ironman, New York City Marathon, Brooklyn, Espirit Triathlon

Larry Lewis has completed the Espirit Triathlon in Montreal 14 times, which includes biking 41 laps of a Formula 1 Canadian Grand-Prix course, and running nine laps around the Olympic Rowing Basin--14 times. Photo: Laura Casner

71 marathons, 25 Ironmans, and counting.

Written by: Jene Shaw

This piece first appeared in the April edition of Competitor Magazine.

Larry Lewis has a spreadsheet of all his race times since 1983. But “Events.xls” isn’t a document filled with 5K splits and annual turkey trot PRs—it’s a list that includes 71 marathons, 12 50-milers, one 100-miler and 25 Ironmans, in addition to hundreds of other races.

Lewis, 53, is a Brooklyn resident with an incredibly consistent endurance resume. He remembers crossing the finish line of his first marathon nearly 30 years ago thinking, “That wasn’t so bad!” and he’s been hooked ever since. This month, he’ll toe the line at his 17th Boston Marathon.

“I prefer my pain in an IV drip versus a gun shot,” Lewis says. “In the short races, the red zone is in your face once the gun goes off till the end. In the longer events, you can go for a long, long time before you begin to experience any discomfort.”

A New York City Marathon streak is Lewis’ biggest claim to fame—he’ll run it for the 29th time in November. For him not to do it, “something would have to happen to me where I couldn’t walk,” Lewis says. “I wouldn’t even let my career interfere with breaking the streak.”

By day, Lewis is an assistant port director for New York City and Newark. He spends a lot of time training around the 3.3-mile loop in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

He even holds an informal annual Father’s Day event, the Larry Lewis Invitational, which has drawn nearly 40 people to ride a century around Prospect Park, which is about 30 laps.

In the mid-80s, Lewis started with biathlons, which led to his first New York City Triathlon, held on Coney Island in 1991. By 1994, Lewis was ready for his first Ironman so he took on a one-time only event on Martha’s Vineyard. A couple years later, he caught wind of the Esprit Triathlon in Montréal.

The Esprit race is one that most triathletes would find nauseating: The bike consists of 41 laps of a Formula 1 Canadian Grand-Prix course, and the run is nine laps around the Olympic Rowing Basin. Lewis has done it 14 times.

“The bike course was a circle and I figured, well, I train in Prospect Park around a circle, so how bad could this be?” he says. He adds that he has become “somewhat of a celebrity” from consistently showing up since 1996. “One year, they even let me be the official starter and blow the horn before I jumped in the water.”

While Lewis loves the small, spectator-friendly scene of Montréal (the average number of iron-distance participants is around 100), he also relishes the challenge of Ironman Lake Placid. He has competed in the race every July since 1999 with the exception of 2009, the year his wife, Kathleen, passed away. To honor her, one of his fellow triathletes gave Lewis his finisher’s medal. “If you know triathletes, you know that giving away your medal is significant,” he says. “I’ve developed some great friendships and met some very nice people doing these events.”

Tradition may be Lewis’ specialty, but he still ventures to new races every year, including Timberman 70.3, an Olympic-distance tri in Connecticut and three mud runs in 2010. “I’m going to keep pushing the envelope,” he says. “Not many people started out like I did many years ago. I guess if you hang around long enough, people start to notice!”

Larry Lewis’ Advice For Competing Consistently

  • Don’t go out too fast. “I used to experiment with marathon racing strategies such as running a mile hard, a mile easy, or trying to run the first half as fast as possible and just hold on. Then it dawned on me: If I know I’ll end up running an average 7:30 min/mile, there’s no reason to be running any faster at the start.”
  • Cross-train to avoid injury. “Becoming a triathlete has helped keep me in check so that I’m not overactive in any of the three events. I’ve also taken yoga classes for years.”
  • Evolve your goals. “As you get older, you have to let PRs go. You’re not going to be as fast as you once were, so you have to enjoy it more and encourage others that are out there, struggling to get to the finish line.”