UPPER WEST SIDE — David Obelkevich runs to talk.
The 70-year-old long-distance runner, who has finished the the New York City marathon every year it's been held since 1976, said that what keeps him going is the connection with his fellow racers.
“You never know who you’re going to meet,” said Obelkevich, who will run his 37th consecutive New York City marathon on Sunday. “The more times I ran, the more friends I made. It became a social thing.”
"After two or three hours," he added, "you may not be talking too much, but it’s nice to know someone's running with you."
For decades, he shared his streak with Tucker Andersen, a former investments manager who also owns Joe DiMaggio’s former Upper West Side penthouse. But Andersen sat out the race in 2009 due to an injury, yielding the record to Obelkevich.
As a point of comparison, Obelkevich, a retired music teacher who also lives on the Upper West Side, began his streak five years before the birth of the race’s most recent winner, Geoffrey Mutai, was born in 1981.
Mutai finished the 2011 marathon in 2:05:06, beating Obelkevich’s 1982 personal best by more than 30 minutes, according to marathon records.
“I’ll never see those numbers again, but I do it more for the fun now,” Obelkevich said. “As people get older, they realize they’re not getting any faster so the social aspect for many of us becomes more important.”
Obelkevich said he likes to run the ING New York City Marathon while wearing a cap stuffed with contact cards (for runners he wants to keep in touch with) and a pair of South African flag shorts.
The shorts commemorate his runs at the Comrades Marathon, a grueling 56-mile race through South Africa that draws thousands.
But they're also a conversation starter.
A passing mother once used them as an impromptu geography lesson for her young son.
On another Central Park jog with friends, a runner introduced herself to Obelkevich and said she was the sister of Bruce Fordyce, a prolific runner who's won Comrades a record-setting nine times.
"So I said, 'Goodbye guys, I have a new friend,'" Obelkevich said. "I never would’ve met her if it weren’t for those shorts."
Obelkevich first ran the marathon in 1974, dropped out in 1975, and finished the race the next year to start his streak.
“It never occurred to me not to do it,” he said, admitting that he didn't even know he had a streak until a few years ago.
Obelkevich said he'll keep running, "as long as I can."
"As far as I know, there's no age limit for the New York City marathon."