My name is Josh and I’m a runaholic. I’ve been addicted to running since I was 14-years-old. Now at age 55, it appears like there’s no sign of letting up with my addiction.
It all started back in 1980 when I witnessed my uncle Marty run the New York City Marathon. I was a Sophmore at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, New York. Seeing him achieve this feat was inspirational and it left an indelible image in my head. Soon after that, I put on brand-new running shoes and went for a run for the very first time. That moment for me was like Neil Armstrong taking his first step onto the lunar surface. This began a lifetime that has brought me way beyond running into worlds that have truly made my life amazing.
I was shy and introverted during my high school days. Soon after I experienced the joy of running, I bumped into Mark Silverman during one of my runs at Marine Park. Silverman was my high school volleyball teacher. He was also the coach of the Boy’s Track Team. He saw me running alone and invited me to try out for the track team. After joining, I eventually became the co-captain of the team leading my team during stretching routines before we started our runs. At this time, I became good friends with Jimmy Gonzalez and Trevor Chichester, my fellow teammates and co-captains. My specialty was running the 1-mile and 2-mile distances. By my senior year in 1984, I was running a cross-country 5k in 18:02 and the mile for outdoor track in 5:25. Out of pure curiosity, I ran my first half-marathon, the Brooklyn Half that year. While I finished it somewhere around 1:50, I had to be admitted to the hospital immediately after crossing the finish line. That was when I discovered blood coming out of the tip of my penis. Fortunately my dad was there to help me during this traumatic experience. I later found out that this bleeding incident was caused by me not wearing running shorts with a protective lining.
The race times I mentioned were only a by-product of the real reasons why I ran. Running throughout my high school years has helped me both socially and psychologically. Through running, I started to have more friends. This lead to me becoming less shy and breaking out of my shell. Women began to notice me more which lead to opportunities to go on dates. In my personal life, my parents were going through a rough divorce. I also suffered from physical and mental abuse from an alcoholic family member and that traumatized me. I turned to running as form of escapism. It helped me. A lot.
In 1987, I was a junior at Hunter College. Fully engrossed in my studies as an Education and English Language Arts major, I needed an escape and felt the urge to run track again. I missed that feeling of training, competing, and of being a part of a team that I had experienced during my high school track years. Under Coach Ed Zarowin and Assistant Coach Derek Alves, I joined the Men’s Cross-Country Track Team. College track was a whole different ballgame than high school track. Training and racing was harder and more gruelling. My teammates and I would train on a 6-mile loop around Central Park every day. The training pace itself killed me every single day and I was always in the back of the pack. On one particular day, I had had enough. I decided to insert myself in front of the pack and was resolute not get left behind this time. Like a bulldozer, the team pushed me ahead both physically and mentally. During the whole 6-mile ordeal, I kept ahead of them. This was the key moment in my life that I learned about goal-setting and mental toughness. It taught me that if I set my mind to something and I don’t give up, I will succeed.
After graduating from college in 1989, I started to work as a teacher. During this time, I was fully focused on my teaching career. I ran recreationally with a few 5k’s, 5-milers, and 10k’s thrown in each year. I fit running in whenever it was convenient for me. And when I ran, it was always alone.
In 1994, I got married. The following year, I planned to do another crazy thing; run the NYC Marathon. Remembering my uncle Marty running it in 1980, it was always in the back of my mind that one day I would run it myself. During my “training”, I was very ignorant and I did not seek running advice from anyone for the simple fact that I had no running friends who could give it to me. My ignorance and lack of proper training made me pay a big price during the actual Marathon. I physically suffered and slogged through the event finishing it in 4:57. The look of total exhaustion in my finish line photo reflected the terrible physical condition that I was in at the time.
In 2000, my daughter was born. I became a father and this was a great moment for me. I spent a lot of time taking care of her. I neglected running for awhile and gained weight. As she grew, I started to go running again by pushing her in a baby jogger. I loved spending time with her while I ran and showed her off to the public. Two years later, I moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island to fulfill my dream of owning my own home.
In 2004, my son was born. I traded in my single jogger for a double-jogger. I continued to push both of my children while I ran through the neighborhood.
By 2007, I was struggling with my weight. I set a simple goal of running a mile a day, or 356 days for the year. By December 31 of that year, I had achieved my goal. However, I had run all of my miles by myself and there was something empty about this achievement.
Something seemingly insignificant happened towards the end of 2007 that would become a defining moment in my life and propelled me into a whole new world of running. A total stranger named Mario Ricca, Jr. had sent me an email about joining his running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club. He found me through a message I had posted on a message board on the running website sirunning.com. In the message, I had asked if there was anyone who could run with me on a regular basis.
In January 2008, I attended my first SIAC meeting and immediately joined the club as a new member. I was nervous at first seeing these runners who all knew eachother, but as time went on, I adjusted and started to make friendships with some of them. At that meeting, I was excited to learn how the club had a series of weekly group runs that I could be a part of. At 205 pounds, I was determined to develop a running regimen that would help whip me into shape and make me healthy again.
Seeing that I was open to becoming a dedicated runner, Mario took me under his wings and showed me the ropes. Whatever he told me to do, I did. I ran all the races that he suggested and attended all of the training runs. During these runs, I developed friendships with a number of runners. Since I was very overweight and out of shape, I was always the last and slowest runner to complete the long runs. Within a matter of months of consistent running, my weight gradually melted away. It first dropped to 195 pounds, then 190, then 185. My weight eventually settled to a svelte 180lbs. As I continued running with the club, I gained even more running friends. These friends came from all walks of life. They were plumbers, cops, teachers, nurses, accountants, firefighters, veterinarians, and even politicians. I started to develop a network of friends who were experts in their respective fields. These connections would later benefit me as I got older.
One of my running friends was Gus Stanzione. Gus was a very dedicated runner who was very knowledgeable about the sport. One day while running with him, I told him about the first marathon that I ran in 1995. I told him how out of shape I was and how much I suffered to finish the race in under five hours. He told me that with proper training and conditioning, I could finish it in under four hours. Being in great shape at the moment, I got excited at this thought and new that I had a chance to reduce my marathon pr by an hour.
It was now 2009 and I was registered for the NYC Marathon. I was fortunate to have my mom and other friends and family watch my kids after work so that I could train. I trained so well that I was able to achieve my goal of breaking four hours by crossing the finish line with a 3:57:58! My training helped me achieve a 13-second negative split for the race. Most runners are not able to achieve this and end up running a lot slower in the second half of their marathon.
In 2010, I moved back to Brooklyn. I used my running skills to get a featured role on the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire. For the premiere episode, I portrayed the leader of a group of FBI agents from 1920 who lead his group of agents during a training run. We were determined to fight bootlegging, so our scene showed the seriousness of our efforts, even while we were training.
In 2014, my friend Michael Ring contracted a rare muscle-wasting disease called CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy). He had been a runner since joining the Boy’s Track Team at Sheepshead Bay High School (my alma mater) back in the 1980s. Before contracting CIDP, he had run the NYC Marathon 29 times and was looking forward to his 30th. A year later, I decided to film a short documentary about Michael’s traumatic experience with CIDP and his dreams and hopes for the future. F*ck CIPD was then shared with others afflicted with this disease and used Michael’s story to give them hope. Through exhaustive physical therapy, Michael was determined to get out of his wheelchair so he can walk on his own to complete the Brooklyn Half Marathon. In 2016, he did just that. I followed him throughout the race to film the sequel, F*ck CIDP… One Year Later. Finally in November 2017, with support from the Achilles Track Club, Michael completed his 30th NYC Marathon. Click here for an article about his accomplishment.
The New York Road Runners Club approached running clubs throughout New York City seeking runners who could be pacers for their half marathons and the NYC Marathon. Being someone who likes to seize opportunities, I applied for and was selected to be a pacer for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 NYC Marathon in addition to several other half marathons throughout New York City. These were amazing experiences. In doing these pacing gigs, the feeling of helping others achieve their marathon dreams and goals gave me intense satisfaction. The big commitment for these gigs was that I had to train several months in preparation for each marathon.
I started to enjoy pacing so much that receiving a finisher’s medal at the end no longer mattered to me. Immediately after completing the 2014 and 2015 NYC Marathons, I sold both of my finisher medals for $100 each and donated the money to various causes.
As I had mentioned earlier in this blog, through joining the Staten Island Athletic Club, I have met many people from different professions, interests, and hobbies. One of them was Darin Magras, a fellow runner, a plumber by trade, and with an interest in stand-up comedy. Doing stand-up comedy had been on my bucket list for the past 15 years. After seeing him do a bunch of stand-up routines, he became my role model which inspired me to try it out myself. I did it twice in 2015 and the audience actually laughed at my jokes. Or maybe they laughed at me? One thing for sure, if the audience hated my jokes and ran after me, I’d be able to outrun them.
In 2016, Will Sanchez, a runner who hosts his own public-access show in Manhattan called Gotta Run with Will invited me to be a special guest on his show. At first I wondered why Will would want me to be a guest on his show being that I’m not the greatest runner and I wondered what could I possibly say that would interest his viewers. Will saw through my Facebook posts that I do have a life full of interesting things that could translate well on his show. After all, I am a teacher, background actor, filmmaker, comedian, and the publicity director of the Staten Island Athletic Club. But out of all these things, Will was most interested in the fact that I played a naked dead guy on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.
In 2018, I got offered the opportunity to be a professional pacer for the Mile High Running Club. It was a great feeling to get paid for something I truly loved while pacing runners who were training for various half marathons and marathons.
In 2019, I had achieved a goal that was on my bucket list for the past 30 years, which was to write my own book. It took about a year to write and running played an important part in getting it completed. To write it, I treated the book as if it were a marathon that needed to be finished. Every Sunday morning, I ran a long-run, which helped increase blood flow to my brain. After the run, I washed up, then spent several hours writing a few pages at my favorite cafe. Like running, the consistency of writing every single Sunday paid off in the form of a completed book by the end of the year. My suspense thriller inspired by true events, Eight Hours in Freeport, can be purchased here.
2019 was also the year that I would run my first ultra. In May, I had completed the Dirty German 50-mile Trail Race in a little under 12 hours. A month later, I would attempt the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition. Due to massive pain throughout both of my legs, I quit at Mile 37. That was a very humbling experience for me.
In March 2020, a pandemic began to grip the world. Being healthy and apparently unaffected by COVID-19, I realized that I had to do something to help others. I volunteered to be a driver for the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and delivered care packages to over 200 families. I worked with many other runners from the SBMA who were committed to these causes.
In May, I joined gotsneakers.com, an organization that pays money for old running shoes. The shoes are cleaned and sent out to young entrepreneurs in developing nations where they are then sold for a profit. With my connections to a number of running clubs and organizations through the Tri-State area, I collected 756 pairs of shoes by the end of 2020 and donated $400 to the SBMA from those collections. This money will help feed over 13 families.
As racial unrest unfolded throughout our Nation as a result of the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and others, many organizations throughout the country began to make statements that showed where they stand on diversity and inclusivity. My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, was no exception. I worked with the Board to come up with an “Statement of Diversity & Inclusivity” that can now be found on our website here. I was inspired by members of my other running club, the Prospect Park Track Club, who early on, proactively addressed racial issues against runners. They were one of the first running clubs that opened a conversation about the senseless death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who simply went out for a run in his community and then was gunned down for no apparent reason other than due the color of his skin.
In August, I suggested to the SIAC Club President David Panza that our club can go beyond simply making a statement and can put action towards an idea I had that would directly benefit the African-American community. Michael Schnall, another club member, had suggested that we provide a list of local Black-owned businesses for our runners to support. I took his idea and combined it with a running event that our club can put on that would directly benefit these businesses. Soon after, the SIAC Virtual Run Challenge was born. For this challenge, runners needed to run at least 100 miles throughout the month of September. Those completing the mileage would then be entered into a drawing where 20 names would be randomly selected and each would win a $50 gift certificate to be used at a local Black-owned restaurant. By the end of the Challenge, 11 runners qualified and received the gift certificate. As a result, an additional $550 was pumped into these businesses. Backlash from some of the more conservative Club members occurred, but I knew and the SIAC Board knew that we were on the right side of history.
Throughout the pandemic, all road races got cancelled or became virtual events to limit the spread of COVID19. Many runners who were already registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon had to run it on their own. Being a six-time finisher of the NYC Marathon myself, I knew how exciting it was to experience the actual event in all it’s glory. I asked David Panza, the SIAC Club President if we can volunteer our club along with the Richmond Rockets to put on a supported marathon event for local runners. Not only was he on board with the idea, but Lisa Lubarsky, the President of the Rockets was on board as well. Additionally, we got support from Michael Schnall of the Staten Island Running Association as well. The Staten Island Virtual Marathon became a real event and 26 runners crossed the finish line on Sunday, November 1, 2020. Some runners cried upon crossing the finish line. I did too.
Through the years, I have used running as a way to bring people together. One of my goals is always try to connect members of different running clubs together to engage in various running and non-running events. It is through these connections that new friendships are formed.
Inspiration, Social Change, and Saving Lives
Many of my fellow runners have inspired me throughout my life. Some used running for social change, some have achieved seemingly impossible physical feats, while one has literally saved lives through their running. Agnes Varona Oquendo was a life-long runner and registered nurse living in Staten Island. She survived breast cancer through early detection. During the 1990s, early detection was not promoted at all, so many women died from it. She was so grateful to be a breast cancer survivor that she wanted to spread the word. In the Summer of 2001, she ran almost 1,000 miles from New York to Florida to spread the word to everyone who would listen that early detection saves lives. She met many people along the way who shared stories of family members with breast cancer, some who survived, and many who died of it.
In 2018, I was a pacer for the NYC Half Marathon. Many of the runners who I was pacing were members of the Black Men Run group. This group of runners were very enthusiastic and determined to do well during this race and I felt their positive energy as I ran with them all the way to the finish line. According to their website, their mission is “To encourage health and wellness among African American men by promoting a culture of running/jogging to stay fit resulting in “A Healthy Brotherhood”
I met Phil McCarthy in 2019 and Michael Ortiz in 2020. In the world of ultrarunning, these two guys are legends. In 2018, Phil ran across America, a 3,000-mile journey from San Francisco to New York that required him to run around 70 miles per day. It took him 49 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes to complete this feat. He is the creator and race director of the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition, an amazing 100-mile “race” with an epic course that brings runners throughout many of New York City’s parks. Even though I failed at finishing this race in 2019, I have run all four segments of this course on separate training runs. This race truly is a great adventure through the boroughs of New York.
I had met Michael Ortiz at the end of 2020. He had just completed the “Game of Hundos” as he calls it. Simply put, he ran one hundred 100-mile races in 100 weeks. It is still hard to fathom what he has done. His achievement is not only inspirational, but it shows me how far one person can go to achieve their goals. Even though I believe I have achieved a lot of goals in my life, what Michael has done has set the bar even higher for me in helping me to believe that if I can believe it, then I can achieve it.
In 2017, my daughter and I volunteered to help renovate a senior center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I met volunteers from Team RWB (red, white, and blue). The mission of this organization is to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” Members of Team RWB also run the same races that I have paced. With the stigma that veterans returning home from military service sometimes can’t cope with civilian life, this organization changes that image by giving returning veterans value, purpose, and fitness through the sport of running.
I am now 53-years-old and as the new year carries us into 2021, I am still excited about the many opportunities that running will continue to bring into my life. Running has given me more than just good health, it has helped me make connections with many amazing people from all walks of life. The motivational nature of running has helped me achieve several of my life goals. The arc of my running story started with competition. It evolved into wanting to help others and affect social change. Running has essentially made me a better human being. Considering what running has done for me, I think I will continue this addiction well into the future. To be continued.
Both of my children have pursued running for their respective high school track teams. While my daughter no longer runs, my son still continues to run daily, even through the pandemic. Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?
What made my running experience truly great were all the runners that I’ve met throughout my running career. I want to acknowledge everyone who was a part of that experience:
Sheepshead Bay Boy’s Track Team – Jimmy Gonzalez, Trevor Chichester, Chris Garriga, Mitch Husband
Hunter College Men’s Track – Demetrios Demetriades, Derek Alves
Staten Island Athletic Club – Mark Vogt, Steve Thomas, Hamid Ghazaz, Rob Russo, Jerry Megna, Fred Rigolini, Lisa Swan, Mike Garone, Dave Panza, Bob Wisner,
Prospect Park Track Club – Adam Devine, Oren Ofrati,
Ridge Runners – Ryan Knudsen, Felix Chen,
NYRR Pacing Team – Steve Mura, Philippe Day,
Ukranian Running Club – Sergey Fedorets
Ultrarunners – Phil McCarthy, Michael Ortiz, Jacky Lee,
This blog is dedicated to my high school track coach Mark Silverman. He introduced me to the Sheepshead Bay HS Boy’s Track Team which began my love for competitive racing. I wrote the following post on my Facebook wall back in 2013. Unfortunately, due to a lifetime of cigarette smoking, Coach Silverman passed away in 2018.