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McVeigh back in business

NY financier, top US male in '98 is ready to give another go

< By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff, 04/18/99

e is all New York, Joe McVeigh. Works downtown in the financial district, has a habit of whipping out his ''good luck'' Yankees hat after every marathon he runs. His Brooklynese accent and gift for quips could have landed him a part on ''Seinfeld,'' and every November he finds himself in a human tide 30,000 strong that runs in the New York City Marathon.

But McVeigh, who left the Big Apple only for a college stint at Lehigh, says of the Boston Marathon: ''It is without a doubt the most quality marathon in the US. I liken Boston to the Masters in golf, and not just because they both happen in April. It has the gravity of tradition and an unchanged course.''

Last year, the 35-year-old McVeigh finished 17th at Boston in a personal-best 2 hours, 16 minutes, 48 seconds, the fastest US finisher. But considering that he was more than nine minutes behind the Kenyans who finished 1-2, McVeigh turns on the self-deprecating quip gun:

''People in my office say, `Wow, you must be the best runner in the US,' but I say, `No, not the best by a long shot, but just happy to be sitting in the chair that got the lucky award at the stadium that day.'''

This year, he says, the pressure is on him to surpass last year's time, a tall order.

McVeigh is somewhat of a throwback as far as marathoners go. Instead of earning his living at the sport, he makes the daily commute to the city from his Summit, N.J., home and manages to work out a training schedule around his job as an international researcher for a large investment bank.

He eschews the sleek Lycra running suits for loose cotton fabrics and wears another talisman baseball hat with the logo of his favorite downtown bar (now closed) during marathons.

''I'm kind of old school,'' says McVeigh. ''I like the baggy sweats. I like my `Lucy's Retired Surfers' Bar' cap for good luck. I wore it in my first marathon and did OK, so I've worn it in every marathon since, except one. And I bombed.''

Nor does McVeigh shave for a few days before the race, another superstition. ''To look meaner,'' he says.

None of his old-school ways makes him feel part of the big-time elite runner scene, despite the fact that he has run both New York and Boston the last four years and placed first in the LBI 18-mile run and the Millburn 10K, both in New Jersey.

But for the last decade, marathoning has been dominated by foreign runners, mostly from Kenya. Thus, many top US runners opt for marathons like Pittsburgh that award cash prizes only to US runners.

''The best Americans, guys who could be the headliners, chickened out and have gone to Pittsburgh,'' says McVeigh. ''They continually duck the two biggest races of the year - Boston and New York.

''A lot of guys trying to make a living with their legs find it very difficult to pass up [Pittsburgh]. You could run a fantastic Boston Marathon, even set a national record, and walk away without a check. It doesn't make sense in the short-term, economic, rational thinking. In a way it subsidizes mediocrity and that's tough to get by on for very long.''

But the reality is that the Kenyans, Ethiopians, and Japanese have a stronghold on most of the elite races throughout the world, and a remedy for US runners is hard to find.

''When you're outnumbered in a fight, like an American runner running against Kenyans and Ethiopians, who are so fantastic, you just slug the biggest guy and try to run the best you can,'' says McVeigh. ''You may get whupped by the world's top talent, but you try. That's Boston for me.''

McVeigh believes that the sport is cyclical, and that US runners will get their chance again.

''I would never say never,'' he says. ''Americans in the marathon could take a quantum leap up in quality and depth if some of our better distance runners who have been concentrating on 10Ks made the attempt to run just one marathon a year. The training doesn't have to change all that much in order to support an excellent marathon run.''

Just about the time when McVeigh recovers from the Boston Marathon, it's time, he says, ''to get religion again,'' and begin training for New York in the fall. While there is much bantering between the cities in all sports, McVeigh says in the marathon there's room for both, and they are as different as golf tournaments.

''If Boston is the Masters,'' he says, ''then New York is the US Open. It's a little more rough and tumble. The course is a tougher one to play. It's a big up-in-your-face event. It's loud and brassy with a huge field. But Boston has that air about it, that tradition.

''And thank God for John Hancock. When sponsorship came in, it could have become the Chuckie Cheese Marathon or something. But it has retained its class. Just like the city itself.''

This story ran on page C24 of the Boston Globe on 04/18/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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