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Van Dyk ready to tackle ‘brutal’ New York Marathon
- Updated: November 3, 2013
By Mark Etheridge
Wheelchair marathon legend Ernst van Dyk faces a two-pronged challenge at Sunday’s New York Marathon… one physical and the other emotional.
Not only is the Big Apple course the most challenging of all the big city marathons raced the globe’s leading wheelchair marathoners, there is also the emotional aspect of returning to the city which had to cancel last year’s marathon.
That was because of the catastrophic effects of Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Sandy.
Van Dyk won this race once before in 2005 and says its the mother of all courses. “New York is the hardest, most brutal race we have on the calendar. If you don’t come prepared she will chew you up and spit you out as road kill. The race starts off with a climb out of Staton island. To create a South African comparison, imagine the Argus Cycle Tour starting at the bottom of Suikerbossie Hill in Hout Bay, Cape Town.”
The course, with its myriad hills, is tailor made for Australian Kurt Fearnley, the man Van Dyk outsprinted in his last major win, the Chicago Marathon.
“Kurt climbs like a billy goat and this has been his secret for success in this race in the past ÔÇô he takes off and we never see him again while we stay in the red zone. The route is tough with lots climbs. They just keep on coming.
“The roads are horrible and rough. Imagine going for 90min in a heavyweight boxing match…with your racing chair…because we get pounded and you come out on the other side pretty bruised and battered. You never find a rhythm. You are either climbing your guts out, attacking a slight downhill or negotiating a tricky corner at speed. And don’t forget the potholes, manhole covers and pedestrians simply crossing the road because in some of the boroughs they probably have no idea that the NY marathon is going through their neighbourhood.”
But Van Dyk reckons he can match the Aussie (recordholder on this course) in New York. “I saw weakness in Chicago as we climbed over a bridge right before the finish and It motivated me to work very hard for the last two weeks. I’m coming off a very solid block of training and I’m going to give him a good fight. It’s highly unlikely that it will end in a sprint like we had in Chicago.”
Other opponents Van Dyk will be looking out for are Japan’s Masazumi Soejima and Marcel Hug. “Masazumi won in 2011, is a former winner her and is tough as nails but he hasn’t beaten me this year. Marcel had a great world champs this year with four track gold medals and gold in the marathon but was then beaten by 55-year-old Heinz Frei in Berlin recently.”
Back to the emotional aspect of a return to New York. “Last year’s cancellation was very emotional for everyone involved so yes, it will be emotional again but it will be one of recovery for New York. This race and the Boston Marathon have a very close relationship.
“Given the tragedy there’ll be emotion like we had in Chicago with a minute’s silence and people running in tribute for those hurt in Boston. The Boston bombing changed the world of marathoning and it’s still very fresh in everyone’s minds!”
After New York Van Dyk will enter a well-deserved off-season training mode period. But it won’t be all rest and recuperation. “I need to build my base on the handcycle as I cracked the Zanardi code this year and I have to build on that and beat him more than once (like I did this year) next season.”
Alex Zanardi is current Olympic handcycle champion after beating Van Dyk in London last year.
“I’ll also race the Burger cycle tour as part of my off-season training. Then it’s all downhill towards Christmas and next year we’ll start over and try do to it all over again… just better.”