A Perfect Track Record

The unstoppable Dave Obelkevich ’65 prepares for his 45th consecutive New York Marathon.

Photographs by Jörg Meyer

If all goes as planned, on Sunday, November 6, Dave Obelkevich ’65, TC’67 will participate in his 45th consecutive New York City Marathon, extending the record for the longest streak in the event’s 52-year history. He is not the fastest — he has never finished first — but he is still one for the books.

Obelkevich is 79, an age when it’s fair to say many of his peers have slowed down. He’s had to as well, in his way. This year he will alternately run and walk the 26.2-mile course through the five boroughs. Last year, he walked the entire 26.2 miles. It took him 7 hours, 29 minutes and 39 seconds.

Slowly, he is making concessions to age and time. An unexpected aneurysm in his left leg two years ago nearly ended his marathon streak and his running career. But since Covid-19 canceled the annual event in 2020, he was able to take time to recover without missing a beat. As much as the competition, he loves the camaraderie. “No way is he going to miss that,” says his wife, Lyn Dominguez. “It’s like a party for him.”

The couple met in Central Park on Easter Sunday 1984 — running, of course. At 81, Dominguez walks and runs daily; she has also run in the NYC classic. About two-thirds of their friends are either runners or cyclists, Dominguez says. Her daughter, Maria Finch, elaborates: “There is a whole crowd of people in Central Park they’ve greeted for 30 years. It’s part of their network. They’re very much a part of the community.”

So, what makes Dave Obelkevich run? “I enjoy running. I enjoy seeing old friends, making new friends,” he says. “It’s healthy. It’s good for my body. It’s not an expensive hobby unless you get injured.”

“He likes the challenge,” Finch adds. “He loves the connections. He’s made so many through running, including meeting my mom. It just feels good. It’s a way to relax and enjoy life. For him, I think it’s a way of living.”

And his enthusiasm is contagious. “He shares that joy with everyone he meets in Central Park or in races around the world,” Finch says. “He’s amazing at encouraging people. Anyone who’s starting out and needs pointers, Dave’s the one to talk to.”

Obelkevich is a trim 142 pounds and stands 5 feet 8 inches. The secret to his diet? Seafood, perhaps: “I see food, I eat it,” he jokes. “He could be eating all day long, but I don’t think he’s ever going to gain any weight,” says Connie Brown, 78, a Sarasota, Fla., real estate agent who holds the women’s record for consecutive NYC marathons, with 42 under her belt.

Obelkevich’s streak began in 1976, the year the marathon, organized annually by New York Road Runners, expanded to all five boroughs. He has also frequented South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, which at 55.9 miles is technically an ultramarathon (tag line: “the ultimate human race”) — and he was the first American to complete it 10 times. Runners who reach that milestone are awarded a permanent number that appears on their green Comrades bib; his is 48,500. He has also run the Boston Marathon eight times.

“Anyone who’s starting out and needs pointers, Dave’s the one to talk to.”

But he is not, Obelkevich insists, a “marathon maniac.” He was an NYC high school music teacher for 27 years and has been playing the violin since third grade. He currently plays in a string quartet three or four times a week. And he loves astronomy, and solar eclipses. He’s observed six of them — from Aruba to Iwo Jima to Florida — and is eagerly anticipating “a pretty long one” in northern Mexico in 2024. (Obelkevich had actually planned to double major in astronomy and math until his College advisor, seeing his grades, urged a change.)

As a teenager he did not seem destined to become a runner, much less a marathon streak holder. He had joined the track team in his senior year of high school in Johnson City, which adjoins Binghamton along New York’s Southern Tier. “I was given a 10-second head start to run around the track, and then they would all catch up to me,” he recalls.

When the NYC Marathon began in 1970, it was just four loops around Central Park; there were only 127 runners, of whom 55 finished. The course was half a mile from Obelkevich’s Upper West Side apartment. “I could always walk home from the finish line,” he says. So one day, by then a regular jogger, he joined in without registering. The first year he officially participated, 1974, he finished 221st out of 259 runners and maintained a pace of 9 minutes and 56 seconds per mile.

In 1976, the year his streak began, he finished in 3 hours and 22 minutes, making him 690th of 1,539. His fastest time came six marathons later, in 1982: 2:40:34, a 6.07 per mile pace, placing him 394th out of 13,566. In 2021, the year he walked, he had his slowest race, at 17:09 minutes per mile. That placed him 24,604 out of 24,950 runners. But he finished.

Through the years, there have been a few bumps along the road. In 1997, he broke two ribs in a cycling accident a month before the marathon. He raced anyway: “I just couldn’t run as fast.”

Then, in 2010, Obelkevich rode the VIP bus to the starting point on Staten Island, only to discover there was just one running shoe in his bag. He thought he’d left the other on the bus, but no. He called his wife, who was running with a group up Harlem Hill in Central Park. Would she get the missing shoe from their apartment and meet him at mile eight, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn?

“Eventually, he came by,” Dominguez says. “He had a big smile. He had a running shoe on one foot and a street shoe on the other.”

Spectators had questions. “Haven’t you heard?” Obelkevich told them. “It’s the latest running style.”

The aneurysm occurred in November 2020. He’d had pain before but nothing like this. Simply put, not enough blood was flowing into his left leg. “I thought I might lose my life, or maybe just my leg,” he says. “I was really worried about that.” His hospital room view of Central Park did not quite compensate for his pain and concern.

“It was hard to see him laid up,” Dominguez says. “But as soon as he could, he got out. He’s extremely disciplined. He figured out a program: Go a short distance, add little bits to it. And things worked out.”

Obelkevich spent two weeks and a day at Mount Sinai, including one week in the ICU. Miraculously, he made it to the 2021 marathon, notching his slowest pace but still beating his “anticipated” time by 30 minutes. Only 24,950 people ran and finished, compared to 53,520 in the pre-Covid 2019 event. But Obelkevich was among them.

How long does he plan to keep it up? “There is no time limit,” he says.

Eugene L. Meyer ’64 is a former longtime Washington Post reporter and editor as well as the author, most recently, of Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army.