Runar for Life: Gundersen Set to Run His 40th New York City Marathon


People often tell Runar Gundersen he should write a memoir about his experiences running the New York City Marathon. The book would be filled with thrilling moments and colorful characters, and it would probably be pretty long. After all, Gundersen has run the race 39 times (above is a picture of Gundersen at the 1979 marathon).

The 66-year-old Norwegian will make it an even 40 on November 4, when he takes to the streets for the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon. Gundersen is heading over solo from his home in Drammen—located exactly 26.2 miles from the capital city of Oslo—but he’ll hardly be alone on this momentous run. He’s spent decades making friends with fellow marathoners from around the world.

“The last three years, I’ve had a t-shirt with my name on the front and back, and several hundred runners have talked to me during the race,” Gundersen says. “Last year about 20 asked if we could take a selfie.”

Lifelong Running Friends

Gundersen runs a website dispensing New York City Marathon advice. Decades past the personal New York Marathon best 2:46:18 he ran in 1980, he has made international friendship his major focus. He travels to the United States five or six times a year to meet up with other marathon pals, and he’s visited folks in Canada, Europe, and Australia. He credits social media with making a lot of this travel possible.

“All the Facebook friends I have met are just like I thought they would be,” Gundersen says. “I’ve never received a negative surprise. When we meet for the first time in real life, it's just like meeting an old friend.”


Asking Grete ‘How She Did?’

If he ever writes his book, Gundersen might start with his very first New York City Marathon in 1978. Hours before the race, he bumped into fellow Norwegian runner Grete Waitz, a 3,000-meter world record holder who’d never run a marathon. Waitz told Gundersen she was only there to serve as a pace holder for the half of the race. When Gundersen spotted her after the race, he asked how she did.

“She looked in shock,” Gundersen says. “She said, ‘They told me I won the marathon. And they said I set a new world record.’” Indeed, Waitz did set a new women’s record with a time of 2:32:30, and she would go on to win the New York City Marathon eight more times.

Lindsay, me - Mile 18.JPG

Gundersen’s book would also have a passage about a poignant moment from 2016. He came into that year’s race having recently undergone knee surgery, and around mile 18, somebody came up from behind and grabbed his hand. It was his friend Lindsay from Canada. She was trying to run her first sub-four-hour marathon, but that didn’t stop her from slowing down to see how Gundersen was doing.

As it happened, Lindsay reached her goal, and another of Gundersen’s friends snapped a picture of their brief exchange (right). Gundersen calls the photo “The Spirit of the New York City Marathon.”

Looking ahead to his 40th marathon appearance, Gundersen says his main goal is to finish. In the wake of several recent knee and back surgeries, he’s been doing more walking than running. He’d be happy with a time of 5:30, but no matter how long it takes him to reach Central Park, he’s sure to find plenty of smiling faces there to greet him.

“The New York City Marathon has changed my life,” he says. “The many friendships I have made there will last the rest of my life.”