Talk about running in circles.
Stephen England ran the Boston Marathon on Monday — by jogging around the rooftop of his Manhattan apartment building more than 1,000 times.
Initially scheduled for Monday, April 20, the historic race was moved to Sept. 14 due to the ban on gatherings necessitated by the coronavirus. It has taken place every year since 1897, even during the World Wars.
England, a 40-year-old general contractor who has run 90 marathons and ultramarathons, was committed to honoring his race entry — hoofing it for 26.2 miles all while adhering to stay-at-home guidelines.
“The Boston Marathon is a huge part of my life,” England, 40, tells The Post. “I’ve done it seven times and was there during the 2013 bombing. So, as soon as it got postponed, I knew I had to do something to honor Marathon Monday.”
To accomplish the feat, England calculated the distance he could run around the perimeter of his 38-by-25-foot rooftop in South Harlem, determining the maximum space he could use given various planters and other obstructions. The result: he could log 126 feet per lap, so 1,098 laps would equal 26.2 miles.
He started at 6 a.m. Monday, after setting up a custom aid station with water bottles, energy gels and even a finisher’s medal on a table. Five hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds later, he crossed a makeshift finish line — a far cry from his best Boston Marathon time of two hours and 45 minutes during 2018’s notoriously rainy, windy event.
The 2:45 personal record, or PR, means England’s average minute-per-mile pace is a speedy 6:17 — but Monday’s rooftop run was significantly slower, at about 13 minutes per mile. One reason: he loped around 4,392 turns, which tend to slow runners down and shave seconds off total times. There also just wasn’t enough distance to gain any momentum, which also stymied his running watch.
“My GPS was confused by my marathon antics,” adds England. “After lap 999, my screen displayed ‘ – – – .’ So, I had to count the last 98 manually.” (His watch stopped recording with about 6½ miles to go.)
No fans along the course? No problem. His wife Tiffany England — a ultramarathoner herself — checked in on him while friends on Facebook watched him circling via livestream.
“Every mile, I would get back to my aid station, grab a gel, do a blood test for my diabetes and would answer questions on the Facebook stream,” England says. “It made me feel like I was giving positive energy to everyone watching because that’s what we need right now. Plus, one friend helped me count the last 98 laps to make sure it was accurate.”
Neighbors, who accidentally stumbled into the course mid-run, were confused. “I told them I was just doing a little run,” says England. “They were slightly intrigued, hung out for a few minutes to smoke and went back to their apartments.”
For the last mile, Tiffany brought up their dog Miles used knitted blue-and-yellow fabric for the finish line by holding one end and placing the other on a bench while shaking a cowbell.
And although England is used to running much longer races — he recently completed the Tor des Geants, a 200-plus-mile race that’s considered one of the hardest in the world and took him five days — he wasn’t sure how to prepare for Monday’s little laps.
“After recently completing a five-day race with 80,000 feet gained, I knew I could do a rooftop marathon,” he says. “I just didn’t know what it would look like. It was hard because of the monotony, because I couldn’t get into a normal stride or go fast.”
But England, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14, was intent on reaching his goal. And, like with other races, he used the opportunity to raise money for the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University, where he’s been a patient for the past eight years.
“They emailed a few days ago saying that they needed funding because a lot of their valuable staff was being pulled to the front lines of hospitals in NYC to help fight against coronavirus,” he says. “It was a real calling to me. … As a [high-risk] diabetic, living in the coronavirus pandemic, this was even more of a reason to open up about why it’s important to have great diabetes control.”
England also had another goal for his solo rooftop race, which has already earned $1,000 for his chosen cause — to raise awareness that diabetics can be athletes, too.
“I have this desire to share my Type 1 diabetes endurance with the world,” adds England, who an ambassador for Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first sports team where all the athletes have diabetes. “There’s a stigma about diabetes that you shouldn’t push your body. It is fear-based. I want to show the world what was possible while living with diabetes.”
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