It began in 2011 with a challenge and ended last Sunday in New York City.
After two years of planning, Superstorm Sandy, a lottery and a bombing, Dunkirk's Joe Carrus, an employee of Carriage House, and his son-in-law Jonathan Rajewski, finally got to run a marathon together. On Sunday, Nov. 3, Rajewski, Carrus and friend Vince Gugino of Fredonia competed in the ING New York City Marathon, completing a two-year mission to gain entry to the race and finish the challenge wagered by Rajewski against his father-in-law.
Carrus, 59, has long been a fan of running and passed along his passion to his son-in-law after Rajewski married his daughter. Rajewski, 32, who lives in Burlington, Vt. and is a professor at Champlain college, decided in 2011 to challenge Carrus to run a marathon with him. Carrus accepted the challenge under one condition: they would have to run the New York City Marathon.
Pictured from back to front are: Vince Gugino, Joe Carrus and Jonathan Rajewski. The trio competed in last week’s New York City Marathon.
"He was excited to run (the NYC marathon) and because I got him into running, he wanted to do one with me," Carrus said. "I'm going to be 60 in March next year so I didn't know how many I would have left in me. I said, 'if I'm going to do it it's going to be New York City.'"
There are multiple ways to enter the NYC Marathon including qualifying, winning a spot through a sweepstakes lottery or running for charity.
In 2012, Carrus earned a spot via the lottery after failing to win a spot in 2011. Unfortunately, last year Superstorm Sandy ripped through the city and the marathon was cancelled. Carrus deferred his spot until this year but his son-in-law was not able to get in through the lottery.
Rajewski took the charity route to gain access to the 2013 NYC Marathon. Gugino, the third member of the group, qualified for the race due to his time at the Presque Isle Half Marathon held in Erie, Pa.
With all three members of the group gaining access, 2013 would prove to be the year that the challenge would be settled and the three men would get to run the largest marathon in NYC Marathon history.
On Monday, April 15, over 23,000 runners took to the streets of Boston to compete in the Boston Marathon. At 2:49 p.m. two pressure cooker bombs exploded 13 seconds apart, killing three while injuring 264 others. Almost seven months later, the first NYC Marathon in two years was held. 50,740 runners entered, making it the largest marathon in the 43-year history of the race.
Unprecedented security measures were taken to ensure the safety of the runners and spectators. Coast guard boats with machine gunners sat near the coastline. Helicopters hovered over the participants as they crossed bridges. 47 bomb-sniffing dogs and 1,500 surveillance cameras lined the streets along with countless security personnel and police officers making it impossible for the events in Boston not to cross the minds of anyone attending the race Sunday.
"We talked about it and I actually thought about it during the race," Carrus said regarding the Boston tragedy. "We spent all this time and made all these plans. I just hoped nothing would happen and everyone would be safe. When we first started out, there was a loud gun fired to start the race and I actually jumped because it was so loud. But once you settled in, you felt comfortable. They did a great job and had a lot of security."
At 10:05 a.m. the 50,000-plus runners took off from the starting line in four waves. Joe and his son-in-law were in the second wave, but despite starting at the same time and in the same wave, were quickly separated. Over the next four-plus hours and 26.2 miles, the two wouldn't even catch a glimpse of each other until after both were finished with the race.
Carrus had previously ran in two marathons, making him the most experienced of the three runners. Carrus competed in the Nissan Marathon in Buffalo twice but had not ran a full marathon in nine years. Rajewski and Gugino had never ran a full marathon before Sunday, but Gugino did run three half marathons earlier this year.
Carrus had been running three to five miles a day casually and gradually upped his mileage in preparation for NYC. Eventually he went on some 11-12 mile runs and peaked at a 20 miler. Gugino took a similar approach and began training in January.
"For this race I had been training since the beginning of January," Gugino said. "When I started in January, obviously my mileage was a lot lower and I gradually kept building up and doing speed work once a week."
No matter how much training a runner does in preparation, nothing can prepare them for the atmosphere of running in the world's largest marathon.
"I felt really good all the way through to the 21st mile and then it started getting a little rough," Carrus said. "The crowd was tremendous all along the whole race. In all the different Burroughs you would see some Spanish people and some Jewish people and then you would get into the Italian section and so on. The crowd was great pushing you on."
Although he didn't know it at the time, Carrus, at 59 years of age, was leading his 32-year-old son-in-law for nearly the whole race. With approximately two miles left, Rajewski passed Carrus and finished in a time of 4:19.02. Carrus finished right behind him in 4:20.24. Amazingly neither runner saw the other throughout the whole race despite being separated by slightly over a minute. It was only after the race that they realized how close they were and that Rajewski had made good on his challenge.
For Carrus it wasn't about beating his son-in-law, it was about getting to participate with Rajewski in an activity he had introduced him to a couple of years earlier... And getting his name in The Grey Lady.
"I had a watch, but I didn't know what my finishing time was," Carrus said. "I told my son-in-law that the one thing we needed to do was finish in under four hours and 30 minutes because if you do that, you get in the New York Times Special Edition. I bought the paper (Monday) and my name was in there. So my initial goal was to finish in 4:30 and of the three marathons I've ran this was my personal-best time.
"I think it was because of the atmosphere and the crowd pushing you," Carrus continued. "Especially for the last couple of miles it was so crowded from there to the finish."
Gugino, 46, finished in an impressive 3:10.11, good for 1,504th place. Rajewski came in 23,775th while Carrus finished 24,290th.
"I started off a little too fast and paid for it later on, but I did OK," Gugino said. "I was just very happy I ran the race; it was very humbling and very tough."
"They did a nice job in New York City," Carrus said. "This was the largest marathon they have ever had. It was nice and I finished in the top 50 percent overall.
"King Kong couldn't do it, but we did it," Carrus joked. "We conquered New York."