It was about eight years ago that Jim Berghoff quit smoking. He knew he needed to make some changes in his life so he gave up the smokes and decided to start running.
"I ran a couple of hundred feet and that was all I could do. After three months, I could run 2-3 miles."
Jim, 44, works for Hattersley & Sons and runs at Foster Park with a couple of friends, Rick Hilker and Joe Nayarkas. He doesn't look like your average long distance runner. He is six feet tall and weighs 220 pounds. Jim appears to be more suited for a center linebacker position than long distance running, but running is what he chose. A couple of years ago he worked his way up to the U. S. Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio.
Last year, Jim ran in the Chicago Marathon and this year, he achieved what others only dream about, he competed in the ING New York City Marathon.
What drives someone to weave their way over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, past the fabled playground of the Brooklyn Dodgers, through the African-American community of Bed-Stuy, past Polish Greenpoint and over the Queensboro Bridge, up the concrete canyons of Manhattan to the Bronx and back to Central Park and across the fabled finish line at the Tavern on the Green? The roar of two million spectators might help.
"I knew that to get into the NYC Marathon you had to send your name into a lotto system. If your name isn't drawn the first two years, you automatically get in the third year. There are 70,000 to 80,000 people trying to get in and only 35,000 to 38,000 thousand get a chance to run. I thought I would enter, just to start the process, and I was surprised when they drew my name in my first year of entry."
Jim and his wife Susan made arrangements to fly to New York and stay at a hotel in Central Park West. They arrived in New York on Friday, November 5th.
"We chose the Central Park West area because that is where the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade starts and it was close to Central Park. We did some sightseeing visiting Ground Zero, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. We rode the Ferry to Stanton Island and saw the Statue of Liberty. Susan, who is an accountant for Dulin Ward and DeWald, figured out the subway system and we were able to see a lot of places that were only familiar to us from the movies."
Saturday night they went to the Marathon Expo at which time Jim received his race packet. That consists of a computer chip for your shoelace, a race pass, and race number. The race managers had sent him a confirmation number and race book and all he had to do was show his confirmation number along with a picture ID, and he was ready to race.
Jim got on the marathon bus at 6AM Sunday, November 7th and rode to Stanton Island. The race started at 10:15AM and the weather was perfect.
The competitors wear old sweats to stay warm until race time. Just before the race starts, they toss away their sweats. The sweats are later collected and given to homeless people. The race begins at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and that in itself is an experience.
"Imagine 36,000 people stripping off their sweats. There are a lot of clothes on the ground before you start running across the two-mile long bridge."
The entry fee was $90, the round trip plane fare was $200 apiece, and the lodging was about $225 per night. All that so you can face a 27-mile racecourse and compete in the event of a lifetime.
"One of the neatest things was something my wife Susan did. She was able to get on a subway and reach each checkpoint before I got there. She stayed ahead of me and encouraged me as I ran."
Jim finished with a time of 5:14 for the 27-mile course. At the finish he received a mylar jacket, and a marathon medal. After that, he walked about one more mile in order to reach the 'family reunion' area where he turned in his computer chip.
Jim and Susan have two sons and a daughter, Joe-16, Andy-14, and Ali-6. He says he runs year round and especially enjoys running along the River Greenway. He ran in the Galloping Gobbler, a four-mile race at Saint Francis College over Thanksgiving and although he has no definite plans for future marathons, he wouldn't rule anything out.
Throw away those smokes; maybe you'll see Jim along the River Greenway, or crossing the finish line at the next New York City Marathon.