Jacqueline Murphy is running a marathon Friday by running around the same block in Newark 105 times while raising awareness about the homeless youth shelter where she works.
Murphy had planned to run the New York City Marathon, which draws more than 50,000 runners and 1 million spectators to the city’s five boroughs, but the Nov. 1 marathon was canceled in June due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So Murphy joined more than 26,000 others in signing up for a virtual, socially-distanced version of the iconic race. They have between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1, the date the marathon would have been held, to run the same distance in a location of their choosing.
Murphy, 37, will be making quarter-mile loops on the Newark streets and sidewalks by Covenant House, where she is the development manager.
“It’s exactly like running a track, but in downtown Newark,” said Murphy, an avid runner whose training has included running laps on the quarter-mile track near her home in Bloomfield.
At 7 a.m. Friday, fueled by an unconventional, pre-marathon breakfast of coffee and two chocolate chip cookies — “they’re just a good little, carbo-load thing,” she explained — Murphy will dash from the Covenant House parking lot onto Pearl Street.
From there, she will turn onto Halsey Street, then William Street, then Washington Street, then back onto Pearl, taking her past Covenant House for the first of her 105 laps. She will be tracking her distance on her Garmin watch and said she expects to run slightly further than 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon.
Murphy said she may try to keep things fresh by reversing direction every 25 laps or so. She will be switching between streets and sidewalks but will try to stay in the road when making turns, in order to lessen the strain on her legs.
“If you’re on the sidewalks, you’re probably taking the corners a little tight,” Murphy explained.
Fortunately, the block in Newark is “completely flat,” just like a track, she said.
Her goal is to raise awareness and possibly some money for Covenant House. She is suggesting $26 donations, representing a dollar per mile, to Covenant House.
“Our mission is just unconditional love and support. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or where you’ve been, once you get through those doors,” said Murphy, who raised $3,000 for Covenant House running the NYC Hal Marathon in 2016.
Covenant House operates seven centers in New Jersey offering a wide array of services, including a 24-hour residential crisis center in Newark, for those between the ages of 18 and 21.
Murphy sees a synergy between running long distances and Covenant House’s mission. Her efforts at Covenant House over the years have included organizing a running club.
“Homelessness is a marathon, not a sprint,” Murphy said, adding, “I love running as a metaphor for life in so many things.”
Murphy’s unconventional effort is drawing notice at New York Road Runners, organizer of the New York City Marathon and a virtual version of the race that debuted in 2018 but has surged in popularity this year. She is a coach in NYRR’s Run for the Future program, a seven-week program offered to 11th grade girls who have never participated in organized sports and culminating in a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) race.
Christine Burke, a senior vice president at NYRR, said Murphy has “understood how running can really change lives.”
“While you can never exactly take the place of an in-person, fall marathon, there are so many advantages of a virtual marathon. You can set it upon a course that is meaningful to you, as Jacque has done,” Burke, a Middletown native, told NJ Advance Media.
Murphy ran the New York City Marathon in 2017 and 2018. She had planned to run in the 2019 race but deferred her entry — her son, Declan, was born two weeks before the marathon.
By March, her training was underway for the 2020 marathon. Then the pandemic struck, shutting down organized running and inspiring lots of virtual races aimed at keeping everyone active, but safe.
Murphy will be bringing her favorite face covering, a green-colored mask with images of runners, on her marathon run, and said she will put it on as needed.
“I try to be really responsible, for everyone’s comfort level,” Murphy said.
Staffers and others from Covenant House are planning to join her for a few laps at a time, she said.
“The hope is to have a number of different people join me for loops. Whoever is around and available is welcome to come and join,” Murphy said.
While Murphy occasionally does laps around the block in Newark on her lunch break, she’s never attempted anything on this scale.
Murphy will be setting her alarm for 4 a.m. Friday. She’ll have her breakfast and prepare a peanut butter sandwich, along with a waffle, that she plans to eat on the run.
Murphy said she will not be pushing herself to finish within a certain time. Her goal is to just enjoy the experience and offer encouragement to others.
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Rob Jennings may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.