By Rob Potter
SULLIVAN COUNTY A few years ago, John Girrbach of Kenoza Lake was watching an episode of “Nova” on PBS which followed a group of overweight people as they trained to lose weight and then run in the Boston Marathon.
“I thought if they can do it, why not me,” Girrbach said as he sat at his kitchen table on Monday night, not by any means an overweight person.
Girrbach decided then that he would run in the ING New York City Marathon. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, he applied to be among the tens of thousands of athletes running 26.2 miles through the boroughs of one of the world’s largest cities. But in all three of those years, he was not one of the people selected to participate.
However, Girrbach’s application for the 2011 marathon was accepted. He explained that if a runner applies for three consecutive years and is not chosen, he or she is automatically entered in the event the following year.
Because of that procedure, Girrbach found himself among the more than 47,000 runners competing in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon, which was held this past Sunday.
Girrbach, who is a self-employed computer programmer and part-time clerk at the Kenoza Lake Post Office, finished the race in a time of 5 hours, 1 minute, 10 seconds.
“I was very happy with my time,” he said. “I thought I would finish in five and a quarter hours or five and a half hours.
“It was perfect weather for me,” the 46-year-old added. “It was nice and cool. Those conditions were good for running.”
His finishing time averaged out to 11 minutes and 29 seconds per mile.
Girrbach had plenty of support on Sunday. His father, Oscar Girrbach, dropped him off at the start line on Staten Island. John’s sister Bonnie Boyd and his girlfriend Sue Hansen of Wallkill stood in the crowd of thousands near the finish line to cheer him on during the final mile.
Oscar Girrbach did not stay in New York City to watch the marathon. Instead, he returned home to Kenoza Lake, where he was able to monitor the race.
“I followed the marathon on the computer,” Oscar said. “About every 30 seconds, it was updated and I could keep track of John.
“I’m very proud of him,” Oscar added. “It takes a special person to run a race like that and John did it.”
John Girrbach said he considers running “kind of a hobby.” He doesn’t run in many local 5K or 10K events, but did compete in the 2009 Rock Hill Run and Ramble 5K.
He started training for this year’s New York City Marathon months ago.
“I went on several 10- to 12- mile training runs,” he said. “I got up to 10 miles pretty quick. But I only got one 20-mile run in because I was having a problem with my foot and I had to scale down my running.”
Fortunately, Girrbach’s foot was 100 percent on race day.
Girrbach, a 1983 graduate of Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School, said that it’s ironic that he would run a marathon.
“I tried out for the cross country team in high school, but I quit the first day,” he said. “I was just so exhausted from the practice.”
But Girrbach participated in some athletic activities during his high school days. In 1981 and 1982, he and family members and friends competed in a team triathlon sponsored by WBNG Channel 12, a television station in Binghamton. One team member ran, another rode a bike and the other two team members paddled a canoe. One year, John Girrbach canoed with his father Oscar. The other year, John canoed with family friend Jay Nober.
And Girrbach will be supporting his girlfriend Sue when she competes in a triathlon near Syracuse next year.
Girrbach noted that his brother-in-law’s brother, Vinny Boyd of Cochecton, has also run in the New York City Marathon. Vinny, who is the brother of Bonnie’s husband Ray Boyd, competed in the race a few years ago averaging out to an 8-minute, 39-second mile.
While he got the idea to run in the marathon from watching the PBS “Nova” program, Girrbach also had another reason for competing.
“It’s kind of a bucket list thing,” he said, noting that last year, he went sky diving and back in 2004, he walked over 12 feet of hot coals at a Tony Robbins seminar.
“That was an experience, but the marathon took much more effort,” he said.
But Girrbach was pleased to put forth that effort.
“There is a party atmosphere at the marathon,” he explained. “There were 130 bands playing along the route and two and a half million spectators. And there are people handing out candy and bananas to the runners.”
In addition to the support he received from his family members and friends, Girrbach noted that his faith helped him in training for the marathon and during the race. He said he kept in mind two favorite Bible verses to provide him with the mental and physcial strength necessary to run.
Girrbach also learned a lot about himself with the marathon experience.
“I heard that one of the best things about attaining a goal is not reaching the goal but the things you gain while working toward the goal,” he said. “I gained a great deal of perseverance and determination.”
So, will Girrbach be training to run in future New York City Marathons?
“Probably not,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. But I think I will try something else.”