Sean Carr was a swimmer growing up. He competed for Long Beach Aquatics, the local age-group program, and then Kellenberg Memorial High School, in Uniondale.
In 2015, Carr wanted to become a Long Beach lifeguard. The only problem? He was a horrible runner, and running was a requirement to pass the city’s lifeguard test.
“I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I had to actually learn how to run,” Carr said. “I started to spend my high school nights doing my homework and then running a little bit. Slowly but surely, I started to really enjoy running.”
He not only became a city lifeguard, working on the beach for six summers, but Carr has thrived as a runner, competing in four marathons — including, for the first time this month, the New York City Marathon, which he finished in the impressive time of just over 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Now 25, Carr, a legal assistant at the Long Beach firm Peknic, Peknic and Schaefer, made his debut at the 26.2-mile distance in 2021, running in the Philadelphia Marathon. He finished, but it didn’t go well. He was exhausted by mile 21, had the “dry heaves” at mile 22 and barely survived the last few miles.
“I was pretty much like a fish out of water,” he recalled. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know what my body could handle.”
The week leading up to that first marathon was difficult as well. His father, Chuck, who was planning to go to Philadelphia with him, was involved in a serious car accident. Sean wanted to drop out, but his father, a marathoner himself, told him to stay in it. So Sean ran it for him.
“I was angry, because it went so bad and I knew that I could do better,” Carr said. “We went to a restaurant afterward, and I remember being on my phone, looking to sign up for another marathon immediately.”
He began training to do it again. He didn’t have a coach, but he did have a lot of friends who had been running longer than he had. So he listened, and buckled down.
His next chance was the Philadelphia Marathon again the following year, and it went much better. Then he ran the Boston Marathon this spring, finishing in the impressive time of 2 hours, 43 minutes, his personal best.
His next challenge was New York.
There are a couple of ways to qualify for the world’s largest marathon — by time, through a lottery or with a charity organization. Carr wanted to sign up for the lottery, but was too late. He had to find another way.
He and his family are involved with Waterfront Warriors and Tunnel to Towers, the latter a nonprofit foundation that benefits first responders. The organization has charity slots for those who want to raise money by running the marathon, but they were full. Then, in August, someone dropped out. Carr immediately started emailing Tunnel to Towers to express his interest. In September he was told that he could do the run — provided, of course, that he raise money, too.
There are two fundraising categories for Tunnel to Towers participants in the marathon, $3,500 or $5,000. Carr “impulsively” chose the larger goal. He had under two months to raise a lot of money.
“People told me not to do that, and it was a bad idea,” he said, “but I did not care. I wanted to do New York that badly.”
Carr likes to bake, particularly unusually large cookies. As an incentive to attract donations, he told people, “Hey, they’re really big. If you help out and donate, I’ll swing one your way.”
Friends and family members began donating on his behalf, and he hit his goal.
Next up was the marathon itself. He began training in July, but he didn’t get serious until late August, around the time he began the fundraising. Along with logging lots of miles, he made some dietary changes, focusing on pasta, bread and other carbohydrates to stay energized. He ate non-red meat, like salmon, more often.
The hard change was junk food. “I had to sacrifice cheat meals and fast food like Popeyes,” Carr recounted. “Halloween was also brutal this year, because there was so much candy lying around, but I couldn’t have any of it.”
Race day, Nov. 5, it was unlike anything he had ever experienced. “It was like Christmas morning,” he said. “I was excited. I had trouble sleeping and kept my eye on the clock. All those months of training and the dietary changes I’ve made, everything worked up to that day and resulted in that moment.”
The marathon course, through all five boroughs of the city, was the hardest he’s run, with bridges and turns and hills. But, he said, for the most part, he didn’t feel the effects. With all the adrenaline pumping through him and the cheering spectators, he was overcome with more happiness than aches. At least until the final three miles.
“Around Mile 23, I took a step and felt it in my whole body,” he said. “I knew for a fact that I was dehydrated. I was waddling, and I was pretty sure I was limping for about 10 meters. And if I didn’t correct myself, I was probably going to end up in an emergency tent. But I just kept going.”
He powered through, and finished 541st out of more than 51,000 runners, in a time that most marathoners only dream of: 2 hours, 50 minutes, 23 seconds. When he crossed the finish line in Central Park, he was so exhausted that what he’d just done didn’t even kick in.
“I knew for a fact that I was going to finish or die trying,” he said. “It was really weird to finish, because you turn the corner in Central Park and it’s right there, like ‘oh, I guess this is it.’ When I crossed the finish line, I was so dead. They put a medal around me, and I was just so relieved it was over because it was so grueling. But about 10 minutes after that I came to my senses and realized what I just did.”
Carr said he was “so blessed to have so many people in my life that reached out and willingly donated to help me and the charity. I’m so lucky to have these people in my life.”
And what did he do after the marathon? He went to Popeyes.