New Paltz resident Harbert Okuti is always taking strides to improve his time to the finish line.
Okuti was one of the many New Paltz alums and residents who took to the streets of Manhattan, running in the 2016 New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 6.
The 31-year-old recorded a 20th place finish out of over 51,000 finishers in the 26.2 mile race in 2:21:27—running a 5:24 time per mile. The marathon’s previous largest finisher total was 50,530 runners in 2014.
After falling short of a finish in last year’s Marathon due to sciatica—pain going down the leg from the lower back, during Mile 23, and a setback in his first appearance in 2014, Okuti, who ran through the grueling course laced with potholes, graced the finish line with a feeling of euphoria, triumph and fulfillment.
“I felt finally have finished New York City, I have crossed the line for the first time,” said Okuti, who has ran in a total of six marathons in three years. “It was very overwhelming. Knowing that I have finished [New York City] for the first time, it’s very much encouraging that next time I can actually finish again and do better, so that’s the goal. That’s what I’m going to keep in mind when training, and hopefully come back and make it happen.”
The hopeful second-time member of the Ugandan National team and former Iona College Gael, described his day soaring across the concrete jungle as “very disappointing.” However, Okuti, who spends his mornings running over 20 miles through the rail trails and mountains and at least another 10 in the evening, said seeing the results from all of the effort, time and energy spent is what motivates him.
“It’s also just to see how far you can push yourself, and to try to measure your ability as a human being,” he said. “Those kind of things keep your legs rolling. Sometimes you don’t get the result you want and sometimes you do, but whatever the outcome is, you have to embrace it. Though it can be disappointing, that’s the nature of the sport. You embrace it. If it’s very disappointing, you have to accept it and move on for the next one.”
Past members of the New Paltz Hawks cross country team also got in on the action.
Harry Collins ‘15, a former member of the New Paltz Hawks cross country team from 2010-11, 2014, under head coach Mike Trunkes, finished his second New York City Marathon with a time of 3:08:48.
“The energy in the city is amazing on race day,” Collins said. “What makes the Marathon so amazing are all of the volunteers, spectators and amazing charities that people run for. It is a day that brings out the best in people.”
Along with Collins, former Hawks teammate Dave Lukas, 24, who was a member in ‘10 and 12-14, placed 87th overall in his second NYC Marathon at 02:38:02 and the New Paltz runner-up on the scoreboard.
Collins credits his time on the team for teaching him discipline and maximum effort.
“You have to be disciplined to run a successful 26.2 miles,” he said. “[New Paltz cross country] instilled hard work and the desire to keep running after college. I am still close to my college teammates and it’s always fun seeing one or two of them at a big race like Sunday’s. Cross country was one of the best parts of my four years at New Paltz.”
Other SUNY New Paltz alums on the bill included 24-year-olds Maggie Mocete ‘14, and Stephen Dowd ‘13.
For others with New Paltz ties like Dowd, the Marathon had them wanting more.
“It felt amazing through the first 21 miles before I crashed and burned,” Dowd said. “It was my first time. I did finish, but in a far slower time than I set for my goal. I am happy to have finished but I desperately want to run again to do better.”
While trekking through hills on bridges, multiple turns and more during the trying New York City Marathon course, the hardest challenge for Okuti was realizing the race was not going well, and having the willpower to realize the notion and overcome it—even with tired, hurting legs and miles ahead remaining.
“Bringing that effort to go through not getting demoralized is a very hard thing to do,” he said. “Dismissing all the pain you have it gets to the point where you cannot ignore that pain. It’s constantly there, it’s almost the hardest thing for you to not acknowledge.”
The experienced runner will be spending the next four months in his home country of Uganda, training for the national qualifiers to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March 2017. Until then, Okuti will continue to push himself toward the highest level.
“You cannot dismiss bad results, because that’s the product of your effort, what worked for weeks and months!” he said. “To accept that, it’s a step toward making it better, and that you’re willing to do something to change the outcome from worse to better. If you only accept good results and ignore bad ones, then you’re missing something and you’re not going to learn anything from the sport, because everyday is not sunshine when you’re out there competing!”