When Julie Culley woke up in New York City last November 4, she knew just what needed to be done, and it wasn’t rushing to the Jersey Shore to check on her family’s badly damaged summer home. After gathering up all the clean ASICS and ING New York City Marathon jackets, shirts, pants, hats, and gloves they could get their hands on, she and her boyfriend headed downtown to help out at a shelter set up to provide Hurricane Sandy relief.
Although the shelter was already overstocked with volunteers, the workers were thrilled with the donation.
“They were shocked to see brand-new beautiful clothing, with tags and all,” said Culley.
It was the day that Culley, who grew up in New Jersey about an hour from the ING New York City Marathon’s finish line, was to have begun a brand new phase of her career. Instead, after the race’s cancellation due to Sandy, the 31-year-old kept her “I’ve never run a marathon” tag, which she is now planning to yank off shortly after 11:30 a.m. on November 3.
“I held out,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “If New York was going to be my first, then New York was going to be my first.”
For Culley, it’s a fresh start in other ways, too. After a breakout year in 2012, when she won the U.S. Olympic Trials at 5000 meters and ran a personal best (15:05.38) as a first-time Olympian, 2013 has so far been a struggle. A flare-up of mononucleosis in February left her immune system vulnerable, and she found herself catching one cold after the next. After losing key training time, she raced little in the spring but toed the line at the national championships in Des Moines, IA, in June to defend her 5000-meter title. She finished last, in 16:33.37.
Calling the dismal performance “a culmination of a bunch of different things,” Culley acknowledges that she probably shouldn’t have taken the starting line. Besides the lost training time, she had spent much of the year shuttling between Clinton, NJ, where she ran for the New Jersey-New York Track Club, and the Washington, DC, area, where her boyfriend lives. Trying to live in two places 200 miles apart, she came to realize, might be too much.
So after nationals, Culley took two weeks completely off (“no running, no exercising, no lifting, nothing”) and moved to Arlington, VA, full-time, where she has re-united with her former coach, Matt Centrowitz Sr. It was under Centrowitz’s guidance that Culley, who had quit running after graduating from Rutgers University and was coaching at Loyola College in Maryland, returned to competition in 2007.
“I get so much joy out of going to practice and having a coach there and having a kind of team environment, so Coach Gags and I both agreed that it would probably be a good thing for me to work with Matt again,” said Culley, referring to NJ-NY Track Club coach Frank Gagliano. “I had an incredible run with Coach Gags. He and I are very close and I love that program dearly. But it was just getting too hard for me living my live in two places.”
Culley’s main training partner in DC will likely be Kerri Gallagher, the Fordham University graduate who finished fifth at 1500 meters at U.S. nationals this summer. She will also have the benefit of training with a couple of men whose time goals for the Marine Corps Marathon, a week before the ING New York City Marathon, are similar to hers.
Ironically, Culley’s most successful race of the year might have been one she didn’t run: the Run O' The Mill-Clinton St. Patrick's Day 5K” in Clinton, NJ, which she put on as a fundraiser for the NJ-NY Track Club. The March 16 race had 518 finishers in its inaugural running.
“I was so proud to give Coach Gagliano a check of $8,000 our first year,” said Culley, who plans to continue directing the event.
But at the moment, her attention is focused on round two of her marathon debut, using the truncated round one to her advantage.
“Having the experience of a full build-up and not racing, at least now I have an idea of what that looks like and what that feels like, and I feel more mentally prepared to take on the training, and a little more excited about what that will feel like this time around,” Culley said. “I feel prepared this time, not going in as blindly. Consolidating and narrowing my focus again, I’m hoping for a very successful second half of 2013. It’s not over!”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg