It might not be obvious by just watching a marathon, but running long-distance races requires near superhuman mental and physical strength and endurance.
Rego Park athlete Luis Marcial, 34, knows it takes such abilities to run those kinds of races, and he uses that to his advantage.
“You’ll hear people yell, ‘Go Superman!’” Marcial said. “So I’ll start a count in my head and count how many times people say it.”
Marcial will be hearing that phrase a lot May 17 as plans to run the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 17 that day alongside 20,000 other racers. But few have the stories of adversity and personal triumph to motivate them that Marcial and fellow Queens runner LeVar Kelly of South Ozone Park do.
The Rego Park man believes dressing in Superman garb helps set him apart from other runners and distract his mind from the toll running endurance races takes on his body.
“Maybe it’s my alter ego?” he joked. “I’m really big on Superman and it makes me feel like an individual out there. You have to figure out ways to get your mind off the fact that you’re running a really long race too.”
Marcial might not fly like Superman, but standing only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, the married father of one is incredibly fit, with the muscles of a professional athlete.
But his impressive physical stature didn’t come without a super transformation.
During his high school and college days, the Brooklyn native was more into lifting weights than he was lacing up running sneakers, but was still very much in shape.
Once Marcial graduated college, he worked out less, but his calorie-rich diet that fueled his exercise routine stayed the same.
“I kept eating but stopped doing the weightlifting part,” he said. “I thought I was into fitness, but I wasn’t into it the right way.”
In 2010, a pudgy Marcial, who moved around the Ridgewood area before settling in Rego Park, went for a routine physical in order to get into a master’s degree program at Pratt Institute.
The results were anything but routine, as he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by a doctor who, he said, didn’t break the news in the most consoling way.
“He said if I didn’t start taking medication right away, I would start [urinating] blood, losing fingers and I’ll eventually die,” Marcial said. “So I said ‘Forget you,’ I’m going to do my own thing.”
Over the last four years, he rekindled his love for fitness in an effort to battle his disease, an ailment he says has been controlled by his intense running routine.
“Running is my medication. With the changes I’ve made in my life, I’ve reversed it,” he said. “I’m literally running it off.”
He isn’t just running it off, he said, he’s climbing, biking, and crawling the disease away too.
In addition to simply running road races, Marcial competes in dozens of endurance events called Spartan Races throughout the Northeast every year. Consisting of miles-long obstacle courses, Spartans are difficult for even the most experienced runners, but Marcial loves a challenge.
“Starting in March, every other week I have something,” he said. “It’s all about doing what you have to do to keep fit.”
When it comes to the Brooklyn Half, the Rego Park man expects to finish in under 1 hour, 53 minutes, his personal best.
He plans to accomplish just that, but he’ll have a little help along the way.
Marcial credits his running partner, Mike Bozzo of Whitestone, with helping him battle his diabetes, and he pledges his loyalty will always come before trying to set a personal record.
“You start [the race] together and end together,” he said. “We create goals and we push each other to get better.”
Marcial will be running his first New York City Marathon this year, something he says every runner in the city should do.
“I’m a New Yorker, born and bred,” he said. “It’s one of those things you just have to be a part of.”
Fellow runner LeVar Kelly, 35, won’t be standing next to Marcial at the starting line of the country’s most famous foot race in November, but will be one of the other 20,000 racers competing at the Brooklyn Half later this month.
While Kelly is too inexperienced a runner to partake in an exhausting full marathon alongside world-class runners, his journey from obesity to putting sneakers to pavement for 13 miles has been grueling in its own right.
Born in Brooklyn but raised in South Ozone Park, Kelly began a running regimen in high school in order to lose a few pounds, but once he got to college, he put his healthy routine aside to focus on his work.
A chemical analyst at Pall Corp., a filtration product supplier, Kelly ballooned to 310 pounds by the time he was 32.
It was on a flight to the Caribbean island on Montserrat in 2010 when he knew he was in trouble.
“I sat down in the airplane seat and it was so tight,” Kelly said. “It just hit me and I said, ‘I’m here right now because I did this to myself.’”
The day he returned home, he weighed himself and decided he had to do something.
The youngest of four siblings, Kelly first tried to work out to exercise videos, but it was his sister, Monica, an avid runner, whom Kelly credits with changing his life.
“My sister wanted to make changes in her life and I saw how much fun she was having. So I went outside and started to run with her,” he said. “It’s become such a huge part of my life. I love it now.”
Encouraged by Monica, who will be competing in the New York City Marathon this year, Kelly started entering races with his sister and over time, his love for running skyrocketed while the number on the scale plummeted.
“The first race we did together was a 10K and we had so much fun,” he said. “We ran together and because of her pace, I was able to set a personal record.”
Now at 235 pounds, Kelly runs as much as he possibly can outside of work.
During the cold winter months, he’ll hit the treadmill for a few hours before he goes to the office. Come summertime, Kelly can be found tearing up the streets of South Ozone Park around sunrise.
“Running does for me what sitting around and doing nothing does for anyone else,” he said. “Running allows me to relax and clear my head.”
Despite a nagging calf injury, Kelly plans to compete at this month’s Brooklyn Half for the first time. He also hopes to graduate to running full marathons in the coming years, even though he admits the thought of it is extremely nerve wracking.
“I think I can do it,” Kelly said of running the New York City Marathon, “but it’s kind of freaking me out.”
After trying to convince this reporter to begin his own fitness regimen, Kelly hopes to inspire others to run their own race of redemption.
“When I was over 300 pounds, it seemed normal to me. Believe it or not, I thought I was cute,” Kelly joked. “People don’t realize you are given one body. Take care of it.”