For much of his life, Tiki Barber spent autumn Sundays getting tackled by linebackers and safeties as he amassed 10,449 yards as the most prolific running back in New York Giants history.
On Sunday, Barber, 40, endured a pounding of a different sort as he tackled his second TCS New York City Marathon. He was running while representing N.Y. Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia’s PitCChIn Foundation, an experience he hoped would be smoother and less painful than his debut at the distance last November, when he made a rookie mistake that almost threw his run for a backfield loss. He finished that race in 5:14:37.
“I got to the race and felt good,” he recalled. “I had done all the training I was supposed to do. We’re in Wave 1, we start, everybody’s flying past me because these are like 6-minute milers, and I’m trying to keep up. I ran the first 2 miles in about 14 minutes and I died about mile 15. So that was my learning experience. I had talked to Shalane Flanagan right before the race and I said give me one piece of advice. She said “don’t be a hero at the beginning, and don’t be a coward at the end.” I did the exact opposite. I went through the half in 1:58, and wound up finishing in 5:14. So that second half was pretty painful.”
Barber, who had sprinted and long jumped in high school—”I loved track, my dream was to be an Olympian,” he said—had never run more than 4 or 5 miles before attempting to cover 26 through the five boroughs. This year, he ran a lot more New York Road Runners races, including three half marathons, to gain the feel for long distance he hopes will make this year’s race faster and more pleasant. Among the most important is a feel for even pacing, and how important it is for a successful marathon.
He ranks 26th on the NFL’s all-time list with his career total of 10,449 yards rushing—a total of just under 6 miles—but gives much respect to the distance running community. Barber, who since his retirement from football has transitioned to an equally successful radio and TV career, feels the mental challenge of distance running is almost greater than the physical.
“The reason I say that is in football it’s a shared responsibility, it’s like ‘this guy’s depending on me.’ I know I have to do my job otherwise nothing gets done. But in running, it’s like if my body starts to fail, I’m just gonna chill. Or I’m on a long run on a weekend, I hit 2 hours, I’m supposed to go 3, nah, you know what, I’m good, I’m gonna go home. You can’t do that in football. So the mental side of training and competing is harder because it’s easier to quit.”
The tenacious mental outlook that made him one of the NFL’s best running backs, plus the experience gained in the past 12 months, apparently helped Barber make it to the finish in Central Park without going into overtime this year. Even though he struggled a bit in the second half again—his splits were 2:03:38 and 2:46:28—but it hardly matters since he set a new PR of 4:50:56.