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East County Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 9 months ago

Sarasota woman holds New York City Marathon record streak at 42 and counting

Connie Lyke-Brown is the Iron Horse of New York City Marathons for women.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Crossing the finish line of the 1978 New York City Marathon, Connie Lyke-Brown burst into tears, causing race volunteers to rush to her side.

"Are you OK," they asked with concern.

"I said, 'I'm great,'" Lyke-Brown said with a smile.

It was her first marathon and all along the route she carried the words of her mother, Frances Grimaldi with her.

"She told me, 'Whatever you put your mind to, you can accomplish,'" said Lyke-Brown, whose maiden name was Connie Marie Grimaldi.

Frances Grimaldi had died May 1 that year. 

"I was overcome," Lyke-Brown said of finishing the race. "I was bawling. When I finished, I felt I could do anything."

And she did.

On Nov. 7, the Meadows' Lyke-Brown completed her 42nd consecutive New York City Marathon, the longest streak on record for a female runner. The closest runner to her is New York's Jillian Lazaridis, who has run 37 in a row. Lazaridis will have a tough time catching Lyke-Brown, who at 78 is showing no signs of slowing down. Lazaridis is 76.

The overall record for consecutive New York City Marathons is held by New Yorker Dave Obelkevich, whose streak is active at 44. It might be noted that Obelkevich, who ran the marathon in 2:50.18 in 1979, ran the 2021 version in 7:29.39. far behind Lyke-Brown's 6:39.53.

It will be hard for Lyke-Brown, who continues to work full-time as an agent for Michael Saunders real estate, to earn the overall record as even if she passes Obelkevich, three other male runners have run 43 consecutive races with active streaks.

Connie Lyke-Brown and Matt Brown met while training on the Sarasota High School track.

Don't bet against her, though, said her husband, Matt Brown.

"She loves to run, and that's the whole key to marathon running," he said. "She finishes a marathon and she doesn't even feel tired. We could go dancing that night."

Matt Brown, who is 87, is a former world class master's division (40 and up) sprinter. He met his eventual wife over 20 years ago when they had both gone to the Sarasota High School track to train for upcoming events.

Although he always had been a sprinter, Matt Brown trained for distance so he could run the New York City Marathon with his wife. He ran six, but now watches and gives her support. She now runs the New York City Marathon with her friend, Sarasota's Anne Hryniewicz.

Matt Brown was asked about his own accomplishments running.

"My only accomplishment was meeting her," he said.

He did enjoy running the marathons with her ... to a point. She was faster at the distance, and she had what he considered a somewhat annoying habit.

"She talks through the whole thing," he said. "She says, 'Look at those doors. They are so beautiful.'"

Connie Lyke-Brown, who moved to the Meadows in 1981, doesn't apologize for wanting to talk for 26 miles. When she would leave her husband behind, she would talk to whoever would listen.

"Those doors are beautiful," she said with a laugh.

Connie Lyke-Brown's husband says he is going to need to build her another rack to hold her New York City Marathon medals.

She figures she was born to be an athlete in Brooklyn, New York and eventually attending high school in Carmel, New York.

"I always was active," she said. "I played all the sports because I went to a small school — field hockey, volleyball, basketball, track and field, softball."

She studied health and physical education at State University of New York Brockport and became a teacher at Mahopac Junior High and a coach at Mahopac High.

After reading books by Dr. Kenneth Cooper on the health benefits of endurance activities, she started preaching long distance running to her athletes.

"I decided running was a good thing for my students, and I shouldn't ask them to do what I didn't do," she said.

She has faced challenges over the years that would have stopped many running careers, but she persevered.

"I am lucky," she said. "I have had shin splints, and knee and hip problems. But I figured out what was causing them and I had two choices — I can't do that, or I'm going to do that more so my body won't hurt me anymore. My joints have held up. And I've taken lots of Tylenol. You have to get past the little man with the hammer who makes us hurt in different places."

The streak was toughest to keep going early. She had to be picked in a lottery when she first started competing, and on a few occasions received an entry into the race from her friends, who were firemen. The firemen received some automatic entries, and if those weren't being used, they could be given out.

After running 40 consecutive New York City Marathons, Connie Lyke-Brown is now improvising with the same shirt.

"After you run 15, you are classified as a "streaker," she said. "You get a guaranteed entry."

Over the years, the 2012 New York City Marathon was cancelled by a hurricane, and the 2020 race was cancelled by the pandemic. The 2002 race was plagued by a heavy storm and flooding, but while many entrants withdrew before the start, Connie and Matt ran.

Then in 2009, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, but she ran anyway before undergoing surgery and radiation.

Along the way she has finished as high as third in her age group at the New York City Marathon among the overall 110 marathons she has completed.

"There always is somebody with incredible speed," she said. "A former Olympian."

She laughed at the thought.

"If I can be in the top half, I am happy," she said.

She was seventh of 27 women in the 75-79 age group on Nov. 7. In 2023, the New York City Marathon will be held on her 80th birthday (Nov. 5). That will put her in the bottom of the 80-84 group. She will be the youngster.

Not that she and her husband, who is a retired dentist, don't live like teenagers anyway.

"I have a lot of energy," she said. "We do everything retirees do, plus work."

How much energy?

Consider that on Nov. 15, Matt and Connie took their first golf lessons.

Connie Brown and fellow Mahopac teacher, Katie Mullaney, after completing the 1978 New York City Marathon.
Connie Lyke-Brown completed her 42nd consecutive New York City Marathon Nov. 7.


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