Surf City Running ‘Addict’ Finishes Her First NYC Marathon

By VICTORIA FORD | Nov 22, 2017
Supplied Photo

Running isn’t just about fitness. For some, like Surf City’s Regina Halikas, running is an addiction. Her daily 5 miles is an essential part of a routine she has maintained for something like 15 years.

“It’s like brushing your teeth,” she said. She runs through every season and in every kind of weather, in sickness and in health, skipping only maybe three days a year, she said. But that it’s routine doesn’t mean she’s not grateful every day for the gift of running. This year, she ran her first marathon. “It’s by the grace of God, only,” she said. “He had my back the whole way.”

The 55-year-old petite blonde is recognizable to many from regular sightings along Central or Barnegat avenues in Ship Bottom or on the Boulevard in North Beach or Harvey Cedars. Friends in passing cars honk hello and she gives a friendly wave. Friends give her energy, she says. On Nov. 5, she completed the New York City Marathon, having raised over $6,000 in support of Fred’s Team for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Fred’s Team is named for the marathon’s co-founder, Fred Lebow.

“I used to Rollerblade, and the Rollerblades broke,” she said. She then picked up the running habit after doing the Dog Day Road Race in Harvey Cedars with a friend on a whim. From then on she was hooked. For Halikas, running is generally a solo endeavor; she either listens to music or uses the miles for prayer time.

“I’ve always said, ‘It’s all I know. It’s all I know how to do.’”

In May 2016, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 uterine cancer and underwent surgery and three months of radiation treatment and is now thankfully cancer-free. Months later, at a follow-up visit, she was encouraged to sign up for the NYC marathon. After clearing it with her surgeon and cardiologist, she made up her mind to go for it. And, as every runner knows, the mind is a runner’s most important muscle.

She didn’t go about her training in the most conventional, or even medically advisable, way. But for as many “rules” exist about running, there are just as many runners who break them. Stretch before, after, or not at all? Best methods of fueling? It’s different for everyone. For Halikas, the key is hydration. She always runs with a water belt so she can drink throughout her workouts. In the long run, she eats date and cashew bars for natural, sustained energy.

This summer she was busy working, cleaning houses and catering, so she was nervous about overexertion and potential injury. “You can’t be too greedy upon your body,” she said. “You can’t be abusing yourself.” She just started upping her mileage about two months before the marathon, she said. The longest distance she had run prior to the big day was 23 miles, at which point “I knew I could do it,” she said. She has also done the 18-Mile Run four times, finishing second in the “Island women” category.

The leap from placing well on LBI to “jumping in with the big boys” in NYC was humbling but also (after the fact) instilled her with a new confidence.

Most nerve-wracking, she said, was the feeling that she owed it to all the people who had pledged their support to finish the race. Her faith in her higher power and her own capabilities fueled her determination; and she was comforted knowing the money raised would fund research into ways to improve cancer treatment.

Orchestrating more than 50,000 runners in the world’s largest race is a feat like no other. Fortunately the marathon has almost 50 years of history behind it, so it operates “like a well-oiled machine,” Halikas said. She went up to New York the night before the race and reported to Times Square before 5:30 a.m. to board a bus to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and then wait until her 11 a.m. start time. She was running on practically no sleep, as she had been so keyed up the night before.

The experience – of being one among tens of thousands of runners, feeling the camaraderie and hearing their stories, being carried along by the cheers and thoughtfulness of the spectators along the route (“people were coming out of their brownstones with bananas, and towels”) – was overwhelmingly positive.

The crappy weather could not dampen the excitement of crossing the Verrazano Bridge. “You looked down, it was spectacular. Every part of it was amazing.” At mile marker 17, she passed Sloan Kettering. “That was cool. I was like, ‘I had my operation there!’” And at last, the approach to Central Park brought a rush of “Finally!” with the realization that the end was near.

“I would do it again if I had someone to do it with,” she said.

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