NEW YORK -- The way Eamonn Coghlan figures it, the competition will last 2 hours and 26 minutes longer than the sort he's used to. This will give him plenty of opportunity to: A) wonder what on earth he has gotten himself into, or B) come off as the most bewildered runner anyone has seen since Lonnie Smith was rounding second in Game 7 of the World Series.
Coghlan, the renowned Irish miler who holds the world indoor record at that distance, will be traveling an additional 25 miles, 385 yards Sunday when he fulfills a longtime promise to race director Fred Lebow and runs the New York City Marathon.
It is Coghlan's first marathon, here or anywhere. If you think the uncertainty has stoked some high anxiety, guess again.
"I'm looking forward to this more than any race I've run in a long time," he said yesterday as he helped himself to a cup of tea before a news conference. "Running the marathon isn't going to be the hard part. The past five months of training has been the hard part."
Coghlan, 38, set his indoor mark -- 3 minutes, 49.78 seconds -- in 1983. Through his storied career, he has cranked out 4-minute miles the way most people stroll through the park. Speed? No problem. The current challenge is all about his chilling-out skills.
"I know the biggest danger in the race is going out too fast too soon," Coghlan said. "So all I have to do is follow the advice I've gotten from everyone, including 4-hour marathoners, which is, 'Don't start too fast.' "
The training regimen has been grueling but productive. Coghlan's initial goal was to run a 2:59 -- the exact finishing time of his fellow middle-distance stud, Sebastian Coe, who ran the London Marathon in April. But as Coghlan's body responded well to the increased mileage, he's revised his forecast. He now thinks he can finish in 2:30. He's churned out a handful of 20-plus mile runs, including a 21-miler in 1:55.
"I hope I didn't leave it behind me," he said.
In this first foray into five-borough running, the erstwhile miler won't be consumed with chasing down Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania, Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya or any of the other marathoning lifers who figure to come in in just over two hours. That was never the intent, which is why Coghlan can hardly wait for Sunday. He's keeping a promise, trying something new. This 26-mile stuff is growing on him.
"I've had less aches and pains training for the marathon than I've had training for Olympics or world championship races over the years," he said. "Running with less pressure physically has been a great help to me."