CUMC Runners Take on the Marathon

On Sunday, 50,000 runners will take to the New York City streets to run the TCS NYC Marathon, covering 26.2 miles in all the boroughs. Among the throngs will be many CUMC faculty, staff, and students, all of whom spent the last four months in heavy training. Below, read a little about our marathoners, and make note of their race bib numbers so you can track them via an app—and cheer them on—as they run through your borough.

Giovanni Dugay, Columbia Nursing

This self-described “terrible runner” loves running and tells his patients if he can get fit running, so can they.

Tiffany Negri, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center

Negri's father was a devoted runner who passed away two years ago. She is running her first marathon in his memory.

Darryl Abrams, Department of Medicine

Abrams is inspired by transplant surgeons—and even transplant recipients—who have run marathons. He hopes to inspire others.

Jason Kwong, CUMC Web Services

There is are moments from his first marathon that Kwong will remember for the rest of his life.

Irene Meier, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain

Meier says her third marathon on Nov. 2 may be her last. This one will be special: She is running to raise funds for the organization that supports her research.

Stephanie Lau, Mailman School of Public Health

Lau isn't sure whether running marathons is healthy, but she thinks working toward a difficult goal—whether it be running 26.2 miles or getting her MPH at Columbia—is.

Giovanni Dugay, assistant professor of nursing (Race Bib # 49555) 

How long have you been a runner? 

I have been running for years! I'm terrible at it, too. Signing up for races motivates me somewhat to train and get better at it, particularly setting short-term goals.

Like most runners, I started doing 5-kilometer races. Then I upped my distances to 4 milers, 5 milers, 10K, 15K, 10 milers, half marathons, then 26.2 miles—the full marathon. As much as I'm a bad runner, I keep trying to get better at it. It's the only exercise that truly keeps me healthy.

 Why did you decide to run the NYC Marathon?  

I'd been a medical volunteer for the NYC marathon and half marathons before and dreamed someday I'd be able to do it. I've done other marathons and many other races before, but the NYC Marathon is the most thrilling running event in the world. The atmosphere, the venue, the people and streets of the five boroughs of NYC, just carry you to the finish line.

What’s your goal on race day?  

Just to finish is the most important goal. As I said earlier, I'm a lousy runner and always looking forward to improving my time. I always use it as a way to motivate my patients who are undergoing weight-loss surgery to exercise. I tell them, if I can do it, anyone can! I've convinced so many patients to take up a running because it’s cheap and easy and can be done any time.

Tell me about your training.

I developed my own training program: I run every other day and cross train every other day—and include a long run on the weekend.

I've learned that the important part of marathon training is to stay injury-free. If you can get to the starting line on Nov. 2 in Staten Island injury-free, you're already a winner in my book.

Now you just have to run the race! TOP OF PAGE

Tiffany Negri, project coordinator at the Herbert Irving Cancer Center (Race Bib # 24585)

When did you start running?

I ran my first race when I was nine. My dad, who was a marathon runner, entered my siblings and me into the race. I ran track in high school; then in college I just ran recreationally. I started running half marathons less than two years ago.

I wanted to run the NYC Marathon in memory of my father, who ran it when I was two years old, and always talked about it as I was growing up. He passed away almost two years ago to the date of the marathon, so I want to run it for him.

He used to say that running that race was the greatest feeling. He would describe running over the Verrazano Bridge and the sense of camaraderie among runners. I’m looking forward to the experience of running through the different boroughs and seeing all the people who come out. And I’ll be thinking of my dad through it, too.

Why do you run?

I’ve always done it for physical fitness and stress management. But when my dad suffered a stroke and he couldn’t run anymore, it was the most devastating thing for him. Seeing that happen to him made me want to run more. I think I’ll be running as long as I can physically do it.

What would your dad say if he knew you were running the marathon?

He would be amazed and proud. My sister was always a bigger runner than I am. I’m sure he’d also be shocked that I’m doing this. TOP OF PAGE

Darryl Abrams, pulmonary and critical care physician (Race Bib #7125) 

How long have you been running?

I ran a bit in medical school and then on and off through residency and fellowship, but never considered myself a runner. Toward the end of 2012, some of my friends who were running races suggested I join them, which I did.

Once I started, I began pushing my goals. I decided to run a half marathon in January 2013. It was the Manhattan Half Marathon. At that annual race, it routinely snows and the temperature is in the single digits, but it was still amazing. I ran some more races, then in the spring I decided I wanted to do a marathon.  I applied to get into the NYC Marathon through the lottery and got in—which is rare—so I trained through last summer and did it. It was my first marathon.

Tell me about that experience.  

The whole atmosphere at the marathon is unbelievable. I had so much support. My wife tried to find me at three different spots on the course, and I had friends who tried to find me in other areas. It’s amazing how many people are watching, let alone the fact that there are 50,000 runners actually doing it.

They say that the last four or five miles of the race are the worst a runner will ever hurt, and it was true. Despite that, I wanted to try to keep running marathons if I could.

What motivates you through training? 

In part, I just love running. It’s a good way to lose weight and keep fit.

But, also, I take care of a lot of people with critical illness, including many with advanced-stage lung disease. I feel very fortunate to have the health to be able to run like this. I am inspired by a couple of the transplant surgeons who have run marathons, as well as some of the transplant recipients who have, too. That’s inspiring. And if I can give inspiration to other people to get through their challenges and continue fighting to get better and healthier, that’s great.


Jason Kwong, webmaster for CUMC Web Services (Race Bib # 36361) 

How long have you been a runner?

I’ve been running somewhat regularly for about five years. I got into it through biking. First I was biking home. Then I thought to myself, why not run home? It’s only 13 miles.

That snowballed into wanting to run a marathon. Ever since I ran my first one—this will be my third—I’ve been trying to push myself and see how far I can push my body.

What do you like about marathon running?

I like the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, being in a huge but select group of thousands of runners for that day. At the pre-marathon expo, where runners pick up their race bibs, you see so many people—German, Chinese, American—people of all ages and abilities and backgrounds. Everyone has different reasons for being there, but everyone is just finishers at the end of race day.

All the marathon runners find one part of the course that they will remember for the rest of their life. Mine was coming down the 59th Street Bridge as you make the left-hand turn onto First Avenue. As you run over the bridge, it’s quiet. All you hear is your own breath, so many runners’ footsteps, and moaning and groaning.

Then you come off the bridge and make the turn onto First Avenue; the crowd hits you. Everyone is cheering, and you feel like you just won the World Series. You feel you could run an extra 50 miles because of the burst of energy from the crowd. For me, that’s my moment. And all runners find theirs—whether it’s seeing a family member or a friend or slapping high five with a kid—it’s pretty awesome.

Then at the end, all of the runners are exhausted and too tired to really speak. On the subway afterward, you see each other with the finisher medals and you give each other a nod of acknowledgment. It’s not about how fast you ran—you just nod and acknowledge another fellow finisher to say, we did it. It’s pretty cool. TOP OF PAGE

Irene Meier, postdoctoral student at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain (Race Bib #27315)

How did you decide to run the New York City Marathon, and have you run previous races?

I did a half marathon in 2009 in Switzerland. Then when I moved to New York City, I went to watch the marathon with a friend. As I was watching, I said, “I want to do this!” The next year, 2012, I applied for a marathon spot and got in.  But shortly before the race, the marathon was canceled because of Superstorm Sandy. So I ran the Philadelphia Marathon instead.

But I still wanted to run the New York City Marathon, so I signed up the next year and trained with the same group I had the previous year. We were all just dying to finally run the race. It was an amazing experience when we finally got to.

 Why are you running this year?

This year I am running to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. I decided to run for them this year because of my research, which focuses on Alzheimer’s disease. And so many of the studies I’m involved with are funded by the Alzheimer’s Association, I like that I get to give something back to them.

What do you like about running?

I like running for a range of reasons, but one of the aspects I like is that I know, through my work, that exercise is one of the best preventions against Alzheimer’s disease. Although I have no personal connection to the disease beyond studying it, I think of that.

On another note, I just like how alive you feel when running and seeing how far you can push yourself.

What are your goals for the Nov. 2 marathon?

I’d like to do 3:50 but that depends on more than training—everything from the weather to how you eat and sleep can impact your time.

I really want to push myself this time, though, because I think this will be my last marathon. I’ve just done three in a row, and it’s getting really intense on my legs and knees. After this, I might try something else. TOP OF PAGE

 Stephanie Lau, epidemiology student at the Mailman School of Public Health (Race Bib #49831) 

How long have you been running?

I’ve been running regularly since my freshman year of high school. I first started just because I had to in physical education classes. But I enjoyed it.

It made me feel like I was pushing myself, which I liked. Then in college, I ran to stay healthy and get back in shape when I gained weight.

Why did you decide to take up distance running?

My dad ran the Hong Kong marathon and a couple of half marathons. He was training all the time, which got me curious about long-distance running.

First, I ran a half marathon in Hong Kong. When I thought about doing a full marathon, I wasn’t sure if I could double the distance, but I thought I might as well try it. It was on my bucket list. So I did it.

Why are you running this marathon?

I am running in part to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital this year. When I completed my first marathon, I was filled with such a sense of accomplishment; to be able to run for such an amazing institution would make running this distance even more meaningful and exciting. I have also heard that the NYC marathon is one of the best marathons out there in terms of the route and the spirit of the crowd, so I am really looking forward to that, also.

Does your running relate to your career in the health sciences?

Honestly, running marathons isn’t that good for you. It’s hard on your body. But having an end goal is good. It’s similar to my approach to academics.

Sometimes the workload in school gets really hard—so do long runs. But both teach me to always persevere and keep my eyes on the prize. If there’s something you want to do, you have to work for it.

To get into Columbia, my dream school, I worked really hard. It’s the same as working toward the finish line in a marathon. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. TOP OF PAGE