UNION, NJ — The biggest race that Gerard Rokosz had ever run in before Monday, April 18, had approximately 3,000 other runners. But the Union native joined 25,000 others when he ran the Boston Marathon, finishing the 26.2 miles in 3:01:38. It was the third marathon he’d ever run, and his time qualifies him to run in next year’s Chicago Marathon.
“It was unbelievable,” said Rokosz, who is a former member of the Union Catholic High School track team, in a phone interview with Union County LocalSource on Friday, April 22. “I’m used to running much smaller races, so I didn’t know what to expect. But it was the most incredible experience of my life.”
Rokosz has run three marathons before — in Long Branch and Atlantic City — and a half-marathon in Cape May. He realized when he signed up for the last Atlantic City Marathon that it was a qualifier for the Boston race, which is one of the six major world marathons. To make the cut, runners have to finish a qualifying race in a specific time; for men ages 18-34, the Boston race requires a finish in three hours or under. Rokosz’s previous time was hovering around 3:05.
“I saw it was a Boston qualifier, and I thought if I could break three hours I would get in,” Rokosz said.
But first he had to shave five minutes off his time, which is no small feat. Learning how to pace himself was the biggest challenge, as he learned the hard way the first time he ran a marathon.
“I did my first one when I was 19,” said Rokosz, who is a senior at Monmouth University and is currently the manager of the MU track club. “They tell you not to run for time, just finish. But I got a little carried away and came out like a bullet, and by mile 20 I was walking. I basically limped to the finish line.”
While he was training for Boston, he timed himself as he worked his way up to the longer distances. Instead of sprinting out of the gate, he slowed down so he wouldn’t get winded. The Boston Athletic Association releases information about the course, and he spent time in a Facebook group full of runners who qualified for the race, some of whom had run it before, learning training tips. He incorporated running hills into his training regimen when he saw them on the course map.
“I worked on pacing and rolled with that, and I managed to pull it out by the skin of my teeth,” Rokosz said.
He’s planning on running in the Chicago Marathon, but for now Rokosz is in his “off season.”
“That one took a lot out of me,” he joked. “I’m going to take as much time as I need. For now, I’m taking it easy, and I’ll probably start running again at the beginning of May.”
Eventually, he wants to try to qualify for the New York Marathon, which both of his parents have run multiple times. He watches that race with his family every year and hopes one day to add a photo of himself finishing it to the ones he has of his mother and father.
Until then, he’s counting this as a win.
“I have exercise-induced asthma, so for a kid who could barely do a mile without wheezing to running a marathon straight through with a pretty good time is insane,” Rokosz said. “That’s huge.”
Photos Courtesy of Gerard Rokosz