Ethiopian Runner, a New Yorker at Heart, Aims for NYC Marathon Win

Despite the recent terror attack in New York City, the TCS New York City Marathon will go on as planned Sunday. The largest in the world by its number of participants, the race brings running enthusiasts from all over the globe to New York City.

More than 50,000 runners and an estimated 1 million spectators will take to the streets, as runners traverse the five boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan to cover the marathon’s distance of 26.2 miles.

Since the marathon was first organized in 1970, no female New York City resident has ever won it. But Buzunesh Deba has the best chance. She is the fastest female New Yorker in history, winning the 2014 Boston Marathon with a record-setting time of 2:19:59.

Only one New York City male resident has ever won — Dr. Norbert Sander in 1974.

In 2011 and 2013, Deba was runner-up in the New York City Marathon and its seventh-fastest female finisher of all time.

Among New York City running fans, Deba is the hometown favorite.

Originally from Ethiopia, she has lived and trained in the Bronx for 12 years and considers herself a New Yorker. On any given day, you can find her on the running paths of the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park or taking the subway to run in Manhattan’s Central Park.

“I love New York,” Deba told VOA News. “It’s a nice place for training, for everything.”

Her training locale is an unexpected choice, as elite runners often choose warmer, high-altitude locations to live and train in. Those atmospheres help increase red blood cell production in the body, which in turn delivers more oxygen to muscles.

Deba’s husband and coach, Worku Beyi, said people are always surprised at how she manages to beat other elite runners who train in high altitudes. “It doesn’t matter, if you work very hard,” Beyi said.

‘I feel great’

Deba competed last year, but was still recovering from an illness that ultimately forced her to drop out of the race. This year is a different story. “I feel great,” she said. “I’m ready.”

“Mentally, she’s very strong. She’s always focused,” her husband said. During their training runs together, Beyi tells Deba her pace, but she often remains quiet. “She just focus[es] on her training and on her race,” he said.

On race morning, Deba, a devout Orthodox Christian, will say a prayer before heading out the door to get to the start on Staten Island by 9:20 a.m.

“My religion is very important to me. Every day, every night, I pray,” she said.

Belaynesh Fikadu, a fellow Ethiopian expat and an elite runner herself, trains with Deba in the Bronx. Fikadu, who will be competing in her first New York City marathon, said she has received lots of advice from Deba and Beyi.

“They are almost my brother and sister,” Fikadu said. As for her own racing efforts, “I try, but I hope Buzunesh win it,” Fikadu said with a smile.

In her eighth bid for the win, Deba’s strategy is simple: “Keep going, never give up.”

Come race day, New Yorkers will be cheering on one of their own.

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