While Travis Bjork has competed in a number of marathons since he participated in his first one as a freshman in college, nothing compares with his latest.
With his wife, sister and other family and friends cheering him on, the 25-year-old former Federal Way resident competed in the largest marathon in the world, the New York City Marathon, Nov. 5.
“It was definitely a great experience, by far one of the best races I’ve been a part of,” Bjork, a 2010 Federal Way High School graduate, said.
Unlike some of the other runners, who came from all walks of life and countries to participate in the 26.2-mile marathon, Bjork was not competing professionally.
Instead, the 25-year-old was just trying to beat a personal goal of less than 4 hours.
And while Bjork wasn’t entirely sure of his final time, according to the New York Marathon results, he crossed the finish line in 3:49.06 or 9,645th out of 50,647 runners.
While Bjork has always been active, playing golf in high school and soccer, baseball and basketball recreationally, he originally got started running as part of a minor sibling rivalry.
When his sister, Brittany Simpson, competed in her first mileage run, Bjork said he figured he’d do it as well.
“We’ve always been kind of competitive, back and forth,” Bjork said, adding he and his sister were always doing different sports and activities growing up. “It was kind of a challenge: If you can do it, so can I. We kind of all got into it together.”
Since then, Bjork has competed in a number of marathons and runs all over the country, including events in San Diego, Arizona, Hawaii and a nightime run in Las Vegas along the Strip.
“It’s really a cool way to explore a new area and see a new city,” Bjork said.
The New York Marathon is in a class of its own, however.
“The whole city’s involved,” Bjork said describing it as a big party with people lining the streets, cheering the runners on in all five boroughs. “They kind of shut down the city at points.”
The marathon kicks off in Staten Island and continues on into Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and then Manhattan, ending in Central Park.
“You kind of get to see the whole city, or at least fractions of it,” Bjork said. “You basically get the whole experience. It’s a pretty big event for the city. It makes it a really good run.”
While not necessarily the most scenic of all the marathons in which he has participated, Bjork said it was certainly the biggest and the most exciting.
“You definitely kind of get lost and lose your way in the atmosphere of such a big race,” he said. “You see the city in such a big way.”
Bjork said he has wanted to compete in the New York Marathon for a long time.
“It’s one of the big ones,” Bjork said, adding the others are the Boston Marathon and the Berlin Marathon. “It’s the hardest one to get into.”
To participate, Bjork first entered his name into a lottery in February. He learned he was selected in March, which left him a little over seven months to train.
To prepare for the New York Marathon, Bjork, who lives in the Tacoma area, trained six days a week, including competing in a few races on the weekends, including the Dash Point State Park half marathon. He would also run with the Tacoma Runners Club, which meets every Saturday at Point Defiance Park.
He said he averaged 45-55 miles a week, although his daily distances varied from three to 16 miles. Bjork ran on a variety of terrains in the area, practicing in flat sections as well as the hills in Seattle.
“I kind of mixed it up, but it was nothing drastic. I just mixed it up to kind of be ready for whatever,” he said.
He arrived in New York City a few days early to acclimate to the time change and get in some practice there.
While he was physically ready, none of his training and hard work prepared him for the electrically charged atmosphere of race day.
He said he had planned to start out steady and pace himself until he made a push toward the end of the race. But with the adrenaline coursing through his system, spurred on by the people surrounding him on all sides when the marathon began, Bjork said he quickly realized the pace he actually set was too fast to maintain throughout.
“The pace I set at the start was faster than what I finished with,” he said, adding the hills were killers, especially one big one coming into Manhattan, although crossing the bridges was fun. “I think the crowds were awesome.”
While finishing the race was satisfying, as was knowing his training had paid off, Bjork said the best thing about the race was the camaraderie between the racers.
“It was just the camaraderie between a bunch of people with similar goals,” he said.
Now that he has the New York crossed off his marathon bucket list, Bjork said he is going to take a little down time enjoying other pursuits.
“The nice thing is without training, I can fit in sports. I still play soccer recreationally,” he said.
He won’t give up running altogether, however.
“I kind of think it’s a way to wind down,” he said. “It’s therapeutic. I use that time as me time.”
And he doesn’t intend to give up marathons either.
“I definitely think Boston is a long-term goal,” Bjork said, adding he’d have to cut his time down to around three hours just to qualify. “I don’t have anything planned in the short-term.”