New York- known as being the city that never sleeps, the Big apple, the Empire City or the one that has five boroughs.
It is also home of the Empire State building, rapper Jay-Z and the city that the popular TV show ‘Friends’ was recorded in.
But for the athletes among us, it is also known to be the location of one of the World Marathon Majors, the New York City Marathon.
Passing through all five boroughs, winding up and down inclines in the form of several bridges and often braving sub-zero temperatures, it is labelled as one of the toughest around the globe.
On November 5th 2017, millions of elite and regular runners alongside some of the world’s best wheelchair racers ascended upon the city’s streets, all locked into a 26.2 mile long battle with themselves, their competition and the natural elements of the race that constant inclines and frozen temperatures bring with them.
Just six weeks earlier, Weir Archer’s JohnBoy Smith had just finished the Berlin marathon, another of the World Marathon Majors, in fifth place and the first Brit across the line.
Now, he was sitting in one of toughest of fields at mile 18 in 11th place with hopes of a top three finish looking very slim.
Maybe if it had been two years previous, Smith would’ve been content with that position and looked to hang in the main pack to get across the line.
But not now.
Now, Smith saw this as a chance to prove that Berlin wasn’t a one-off and that years of working to become one of the best endurance athletes under the watchful eye of Archer, had put him in good stead to adapt to any situation thrown at him during race day.
One by one, Smith picked off the competition eventually finding himself in second where he would remain as he crossed the line behind Marcel Hug to record his first podium finish in one the world’s biggest marathon majors.
Hours and hours of excruciatingly hard training sessions, day-in, day-out with Archer had finally paid off, something the pair had faith in that it would once put into practice on race day.
*If I am completely honest, it was a very technical race, with a technical course and was rather chilly in the morning so with it being arguably one of the toughest courses in the world with a strong field of athletes, I wasn’t expecting to finish second and I’m sure a lot of other people didn’t either,” Smith explained.
“If I compare myself to when I started back in 2015, I was very intimidated by this race, because everyone was telling me it was one of the hardest on the planet.
“But if everyone knew what I have been doing with Jen, Dave and the team in training, the volume and the quality of those sessions then I was coming into this race with a lot more confidence and a completely different athlete to what I have been in the last two years.
“Of course the Berlin marathon a few weeks earlier gave me a sense of belonging that I was meant to be competing against the best so overall it has been a great experience and one I really enjoyed as well.”
From the moment Smith sat in his first racing chair, he would often tell anyone willing to listen that he would one day be among the best racers in the world competing for major honours.
In 2015 he came into the sport with no previous experience in wheelchair racing and with minimal racing knowledge to match, but he was confident that if he kept his head down, worked extremely hard, listened to his coach, that he would indeed prove everyone that he was right and that he would be able to hold his own against the Marcel Hugs of this world.
However, although both him and Archer were confident that he would get to where he needed to be, it wasn’t until he was on the podium next to the 2017 New York Marathon winner, Marcel Hug and third-place finisher Sho Watanabe that it actually dawned on Smith that he had finally arrived among the top athletes in his trade.
An emotional Smith on the podium to collect his runners-up medal
“I was so focused on competing and doing what I was trained to do that it was only when I was on the podium that I finally realised what I had achieved,” Smith recalls.
“It was at that moment I started to well-up and get a bit emotional as it finally started to sink in.
“It took me until late 2017 to prove myself right, but I was mainly glad to give my coach Jenny Archer the credit she deserved for working so hard with me day-in, day-out, morning, noon and night as well as the help from my mentor David Weir CBE.
“I was finally where I needed to be. I also felt with New York that I had to prove Berlin wasn’t a fluke.
“I had to go there and say ‘right I’ve done it once against the best racers in the world and now I am going on the toughest course to prove I can do it again.”
Now just short of returning from the Metropolis, Smith will start to focus on preparing for his 2018 season with just three days off to recover from achieving his 2nd place finish in New York.
The first three finishers of the NYC Marathon Men’s elite wheelchair race.
With just two months off from competing, his next race will be on a course Smith all knows too well, the Dubai Marathon as he looks to get ready to hopefully compete for his country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as well as at the 2018 London Marathon.
“By racing in Dubai in January, it will be a great race to get me back in the swing of things if that makes sense and it will be a great race with the tough competition I will face out there.
“Then hopefully God willing, I am fit, healthy and I get selected, I want to be competing at the Commonwealth Games which is my main target,” Smith says confidently.
“But until then I am just going to take it one race at a time with a focus on Dubai putting me in good stead for the upcoming season.
“You come to January and everyone wants to do Dubai because it is fast, flat, straight and everything like that and to be honest I am not really looking past that.
“Obviously in the back of my mind there is the Commonwealth Games which is where I want to make my international debut as far as a Games is concerned and hopefully bring back a medal, but I have got to stay professional, keep my feet on the ground and take it one step at a time.”
With a podium finish in New York, fifth place in Berlin and the first Brit to cross the line at this years London Marathon, the future is looking particularly bright for Smith, who has improved significantly.
His runners-up spot in New York was a great return for the hours of hard graft spent perfecting his trade and if it is anything to go by both Smith and his coach Jenny Archer will continue to get better and better.
With another athlete coming through the academy and proving themselves on the biggest stage, both Archer and Weir would like to congratulate Smith on his fantastic achievement and how proud they are of his exceptional performance.