Before sunrise last Friday, Oz Pearlman relaxed in front of the Engineering Gate, one of the entrances to Central Park. He rubbed his hips and armpits with Vaseline, then took off his socks and covered his feet. It wouldn’t be the usual morning walk on a weekday through Manhattan’s favorite and most legendary running terrain.
Dressed in the national colors of Ukraine and in two GPS watches to record distance and time, Pearlman laced up his Day-Glo sneakers and stood in the middle of the East Drive, in front of the Ukrainian flag, with a handful of spectators. He planned to run all day and night, trying to break the record for most loops in Central Park completed in one day, while raising money to help Ukrainian children displaced by Russia’s invasion.
The 39-year-old Pearlman, who lives in Brooklyn, is better known by the stage name Oz Mentalist. (Oz rhymes with “Clothes.”) He finished third in Season 10 of “America Has Talent” in 2015 and appeared in “Today,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” and “Ellen.” His long run would be another manifestation of the mind over matter.
The record that Pearlman hoped to break was set in 2021 by Robbie Balenger, an ultra-runner who became famous for his many days of ultra-distance racing. In 2019, Balenger ran the mainland of the United States. Last summer, he completed what he called the Colorado Crush: 1,176 miles of running and over 300,000 vertical feet of altitude gain in 63 days, culminating in the 100-mile Leadville Trail race.
According to the fastest known time, a digital platform that collects and certifies “FKT” in areas as well known – such as the Seven Peaks – and obscure, Pearlman would need to do more than just run one mile longer. than Balenger. He will need to perform another full cycle.
Although the park itself was established in 1858, the first fastest known time in Central Park was set in 2020 by Aaron Zelhofer, who ran 11 cycles in just over 14 hours. It was one of thousands of FKTs created during the pandemic when races were canceled and runners were looking for new challenges. Many of these records are regional and relatively insignificant, but this one is important to many. Central Park is a world place for running, where more than two dozen races are held every year. This is the end of the New York Marathon.
To prepare for the Central Park Loop Challenge, Pearlman performed several 20-mile runs, usually on the road before or between shows. When he is at home in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife Eliza Rosen and their three children, he literally runs errands, sweating through school trips and pickups. He trained in Central Park for almost 20 years and memorized every turn of the road, every hill and straight. “It’s home territory,” he said. “It’s a six-mile loop – my comfort zone.”
But there would be a watch. Central Park is open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., and runners are prohibited from entering the road until just five minutes after opening. They should leave the park five minutes before closing. This gave Pearlman 18 hours and 50 minutes to set a record.
At 6:05 a.m. he took off hot. He ran up the city, counterclockwise, at a speed of less than 7:30 a mile. Mike Galavatch, who was an ultra runner in New York City, was his only pacer in the first cycle, which he finished in less than 45 minutes. It would have been faster had it not been for the last-minute advice from a stranger who insisted that he walk up two large hills.
Pearlman won the New Jersey Marathon four times and the Hampton Marathon three times. His personal marathon record puts him outside the circle of men invited to the Olympic trials.
“Oz is a true thoroughbred,” Golovach said. Referring to Pearlman’s personal best time at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014, he said, “You run Marathon 2:23, it’s running.”
Pearlman was not always on foot. In high school, he was the lowest-ranked runner on his running team, but by then he was already doing magic shows in restaurants. After the divorce his parents were in financial uncertainty, he said he leaned towards magic to pass at the University of Michigan. After college, he was an entry-level analyst at Merrill Lynch and worked as a wizard.
He worked in restaurants in the Upper East Side, performed bar mitzvahs and amazed colleagues in happy times. His worlds faced during his investment banking career when he was hired to work at an event in honor of the head of Merrill. When Pearlman clicked his fingers to turn the $ 1 bill into a few Benjamins, the boss was shocked to learn that Pearlman was working on it.
“He said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ And I thought, “What am I doing here?” Pearlman put in a notice a few weeks later, shortly after running his first marathon.
He gradually moved from standard magic to mentalism. “It’s a little more brainstorming,” he said. “It’s about trying to decipher and design how people think. In fact, I’m trying to put an idea in your head or throw an impossible idea out of your head. “
He asked me to remember the name of my first love, which I had not accidentally seen, heard or even thought about for decades. He nailed it. While he ran. At 80 miles.
Completing each cycle on Friday, he took a question sent from among his 812,000 Instagram followers. One asked, “Does running help your mentality?”
“Mentalism helps me run,” he replied. “If I can get into your brain, I can get into my brain if I suffer, drip deep and keep running.”
The sun broke through the clouds on its third loop, and its pace kept steady as the sky brightened and the miles grew, much to the chagrin of Golovach and his wife Kate Pallardi, an elite runner and triathlete. They learned from experience that a slower pace early on usually gives a better result in this type of activity. Pallardi ran 18 miles from Pearlman at noon, just five weeks after the birth of her third child.
In total, about 40 runners came to him. In typical New York fashion, many of them just met Oz and joined directly. He chatted happily and did his best to amuse them all. “It’s a performer in me,” he said. But like Pallardi and Golovach, he knew the suffering would begin at some point, and just before the 50th mile they hit hard.
“Your mind is playing with you,” he said as he finished the eighth cycle. “You start thinking about how much time you have and how much time you have, and doubts creep in. They just eat you. It’s your mind telling you to quit smoking. ”
Twenty miles later, on the 12th loop his digestion faltered. He used nothing but gels (he sucked two or three per circle), caffeinated chewing gum and Gatorade orange. Perhaps it gave its own. Could it be that he worked late at night and only had time for four hours.
He vomited twice, had to look for a toilet. His pace dropped from eight minutes per mile to over 12. The color from his face disappeared. He felt blisters form on his legs. His right shin began to throb. His team filled his hat with ice, which he dropped on his head to wake up. After his stomach settled down, he drank more caffeine so as not to get drunk.
As is often the case with the ultra, this period of pain and deep exhaustion haunted the prolonged state. Towards the end of his 13th lap he hit the top gear. Recalling the playlists he had compiled for the event, he sang aloud while running. His 91st mile was for him the fastest: 6:43.
Pearlman completed his 16th loop and 98 miles around 8:20 p.m. to equal the Balenger distance record. He ran about four hours faster than Balenger. Two miles later he drove 100 miles with a time of 14 hours 36 minutes, breaking his own record of 100 miles in two hours.
When he finished his 17th lap at 9:15 p.m. to ask FKT, he stopped to hug his wife and celebrate with friends who confirmed that he had also exceeded his goal of raising more than $ 100,000. But he did not finish. His pacers, some of them experienced ultra-runners, did not let him go home. They insisted that he drive a few more laps before the new Central Park Loop Challenge FKT. So in a few minutes he was running around town again.
On his 18th lap he enjoyed a slower pace and hills because they allowed him to walk. From the look on his face it was obvious that his right shin had gotten worse. He administered ibuprofen to prevent swelling and pain, and kept moving.
His 19th and final cycle was his winning lap. “I told the guys we’re going to finish the way we started: hard. And I just went for it. “
He ran, all over, often with his eyes closed. Make sure he stayed up to date and they did. When he last reached the Engineering Gate shortly before midnight on Friday, having run a total of 19 loops and 116 miles, he fell to the ground, delighted but exhausted.
“I had an exciting day,” he said. “There’s just no other way to describe it.”
Hillary Swift contributed to accountability.