A New Zápotek in Brooklyn

The great Czech in action

Emil Zápotek (1922-2000) was an amazing runner and an extraordinary, giving, selfless human being. Living and running behind the Iron Curtain the Czeck managed to impress his fellow elite runners, and everyone who met him. According to Running Times he was simply ‘the most beloved Czeck athlete ever’. In his excellent book Born to Run Christopher McDougall wonders whether the capacity to love well and to run well are related. McDougall seems to think so, and Zápotek serves as a key witness for that argument.

I thought of Zápotek the other day when my good friend Tomas ran an excellent PR of 2:59 on the North Central Trail Marathon outside Baltimore. Tomas, too, is Czech. He, too, is an impressive runner and a person you always want on your side and your team. In my book I describe how my old grad school friend inspired, prepared and accompanied me for my first marathon along the New Jersey coast line 2007. Seriously, if anyone can be blamed for my running love/obsession, it’s Kellner.

At first he was a solid, even runner, an inspiration to me and our running friends Cécile and Andy. But after turning 40 Tomas really found his groove, his speed and amazing capacity to run long, fast and focused.

So here’s a man who is raising three kids, working hard, and running each day before the sun rises. This year –shortly after guiding a blind runner during the NYC Marathon in under 4 hours– he hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn. To then teach of all us a lesson two days later, with that beautiful, evenly run 2:59. Afterward he sent us an email which I don’t think he’ll mind me quoting: ‘I’m still dumbstruck. It went by so fast.’

No kidding.

Just another marathon for Kellner (NYC 2009)

So this is a good time to post the last Why We Run under ‘Inspirations’. Here it is.



It may sound simplistic but for me running has become a physical addiction. I don’t function well if I miss my morning six-mile constitutional, and if I do I keep looking for a hole for the rest of the day to squeeze a run in, even a quick one. Running puts me at peace, clears my mind, lets me think, focus. There is something magical about pushing yourself hard at the crack of dawn through empty city streets, deserted parks or along a country road. You feel like the world belongs to you. Add the adrenaline rush of running at a fast clip and there is no escaping. You get hooked for life.

Incidentally, running is also a great way to discover your city or learn about and visit a new place. I’ve just clocked 70 miles in central Kiev. Know anyone who needs a guide?

*As I was writing my book I asked my running friends: Why do you run? Their answers varied wildly. Put together they provide a pretty good answer to the ultimate question that is at the heart of my book. In the end I was unable to include these thoughtful, honest answers in De rennende Hollander. During the coming weeks I will publish them here, one a day, with minimal editing. Re-reading these words provides me with new inspiration every time.

Kellner, Van H, Rasmussen (NYC 2007)


3 thoughts on “A New Zápotek in Brooklyn

  1. D., I sincerely appreciate what you wrote. You bring tears to my eyes (yes, running is an emotional sport and you can’t just blame everything on dopamine.) I’ll be forever glad to be your inspiration, but I would be forever stuck in the dreadful 3:30s if you and Cecile did not show me what is possible. I also have to mention Aimee since without her and the Kellners and their support, this passion of mine would not be possible. And now that Eva can run a 5-miler with sub-10 splits, we may soon have a new Eurotrash member!

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