Magic and mentalism was a natural fit for Oz Pearlman. Running wasn’t. The magic, and his passion for performing, were undeniable from the moment he saw it for the first time, through making card-trick demonstration videos in college, moonlighting as a magician after days working in the technology and services department at Merrill Lynch, and eventually captivating audiences from private parties and Presidents to recently finishing third on season 10 of “America’s Got Talent.” Oz (pronounced Ohz—the “o” is long) ran cross country for one season in high school and quit because “it was not my thing,” he says.
Given his 2:31:04 finish in the 2015 New York City Marathon, which he ran for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, it’s apparent that the 33-year-old performer who lives in Manhattan’s West Village has now found his stride. (He’s won several marathons and has PRs of 2:23:52 for the marathon and 1:09:34 for the half marathon.)
When did you start running?
In 2004, my older sister decided to run the New York City Marathon. I ran 7 miles of it with her and decided I wanted to try a marathon too. So I ran the Philadelphia Marathon a month later. I finished [in 3:22:02], but it was not a pleasant experience. It was a death march, with lots of walking at the end.
Yet you kept running?
I’m a glutton for punishment! I read Dean Karnazes’ book “Ultramarathon Man,” and found it to be very inspiring. I kept running marathons, experimented with my fuel and training, and started running ultras and triathlons. [He also qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.]
You’ve run the Leadville 100, Western States 100, Badwater 135 and the Spartathlon, among others. What is it about ultra-distance races for you?
In ultras there are levels of suffering that you don’t get in a marathon. You wonder, is this an injury or am I fatigued? Do I have low blood sugar or am I in a bumming mood? You can wing a marathon. There is no way in the world you are going to wing a 100-miler. I’ve found ultrarunners to be a very cool and welcoming lot. Ultras also have a different feel to them. Sure, we’re competing, but mostly with ourselves. Most of us are out to test our limits, make friends and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Is there a connection between your work and running?
A lot of my bursts of creativity happen when I run. They are the best. I don’t listen to music, I just run with my thoughts. I come up with some really creative ideas. A run is where I love to try everything out. I pantomime and talk to myself, trying to coax out what I’ll do in my act.
What is your training like?
The majority of my training runs are at a comfortable pace, in the 7:30-8:30 range. I run five to six days a week, one run a day, no doubles and one tempo run per week. My tempo runs are all out—like racing. I take them really seriously. Peak training weeks are 110–120 miles. I think I recover better because most of my runs aren’t beating me up. I really listen to my body. I also got standing desks for work this year. They help tremendously with recovery, plus they help to strengthen my core.
Does diet factor into your running?
I’m not too rigorous about day-to-day moderation with food. Although I do focus on it when I train intensely. I avoid fried food and cut back on red meat. I’ll eat a lot of fruit, veggies, lean protein and cut back on alcohol. No beer equals true suffering. I like to lose weight before races. If I cut five, six, eight, 10 pounds before a marathon, I run faster. I lust over food before races. It’s a challenge, but only for the short period before a race.
What running goals keep you going?
Goals keep you sharp, inspired and passionate. My marathon speed goal is to run a sub-2:20. I want to put that on my tombstone because it’s a goal I never envisioned being possible. I want to improve my times and run the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc one day and also the H.U.R.T. 100 in Hawaii.