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October 30, 2015

Kurt Fearnley

Josh George

Ernst Van Dyk

New York City, New York

Q. Do you have any race rituals or superstitions?
JOSH GEORGE: You know what? I don't. And I don't on purpose because the start of every race, or the lead up to every race is always different. You're always in a different environment, and there's a lot of stuff that happens outside of your control.
So I never wanted a routine because I never wanted to be second guessing what I was doing, if I'd messed something up in my routine or if my routine got interrupted by something else.
So I don't have a routine. It's different every year. I do whatever I feel like doing.

Q. Do you have anything you wear or carry with you or anything like that, like a good luck charm?
JOSH GEORGE: I really don't.

Q. Nothing?
JOSH GEORGE: Absolutely nothing. I have a checklist. I make sure I have my gloves and my helmet and some race essentials. That's about it.

Q. Just to be organized?
JOSH GEORGE: Exactly. But, no, I don't have any trinkets. Sometimes I'll listen to music. Most of the time I don't.

Q. That's how you avoid falling out of yourself?
JOSH GEORGE: Yeah. For me, it's a lot easier for me to just roll with whatever happens.

Q. Are you excited for Sunday?
JOSH GEORGE: I am, yeah. It's a rough one, but I'm excited.

Q. Right now the forecast is looking pretty good. So that's nice.
JOSH GEORGE: I hope it stays that way. We're due for a good one. We're due for a nice one. It's been rough the past couple of years.

Q. Last year, obviously, was brutal.
JOSH GEORGE: Last year killed me. I don't know. My fitness is good. My fitness is really good. Hopefully, it pays off.

Q. At this point, you do what you can do.
JOSH GEORGE: Exactly. Just go out there and race.

Q. You'll know soon.
JOSH GEORGE: By Sunday afternoon, to be exact. Ask me at 10:00 in the morning on Sunday, and I'll tell you what kind of shape I'm in.

Q. So we've talked in the past that it's cool when you guys are close together and having a good competition out there. Do you plan to do that?
KURT FEARNLEY: It's much better when you're five minutes in front actually.
JOSH GEORGE: Never experienced that. I'll take your word for it.
KURT FEARNLEY: It's good racing. Always good racing.

Q. Sometimes you're out front. Sometimes you're close.
KURT FEARNLEY: The last five years, it's been closer.

Q. There's been a ton of really close finishes.
ERNST VAN DYK: No one's taken it away. There's been a minimum of two people finishing together.

Q. Your speed is unbelievable. It really helps. Crazy course anyway. It's nice to have someone else out there working with.

Q. Unless you're five minutes ahead.
KURT FEARNLEY: Sometimes it's so much nicer to be on your own.
ERNST VAN DYK: You would agree with Boston?
KURT FEARNLEY: You're on your own. You run your own race.

Q. It's mental, right?
ERNST VAN DYK: No. It's mental having five guys around you.
KURT FEARNLEY: You don't know stress until you've got 200 meters to go with five guys. When you're on your own, you just set your own pace. Let it roll out.
ERNST VAN DYK: It's no fun doing a 400 meter guts out sprint after you've just done 26 miles. The New York roads and wind and cold and that start.
KURT FEARNLEY: And ups and downs.
ERNST VAN DYK: I mean, that start up the bridge, just because you warm up a little bit, but then you sit there 15 minutes, and you go cold again. Then the gun goes, and it's a mile climbing your guts out.

Q. And then you've got to race?
ERNST VAN DYK: And then you're in trouble for the next 26 miles.

Q. That's why we do it.
KURT FEARNLEY: You've only got 25 miles after this.

Q. And this isn't the slow part of the season. This is after you're tired.
ERNST VAN DYK: For some maybe.
KURT FEARNLEY: You shouldn't be too tired.

Q. Really?
KURT FEARNLEY: No. After this, you will be, but most races up until now, you haven't really had a race harder than training.

Q. And with the weather this year looking like it's going to be better. That was a killer force we had last year.
KURT FEARNLEY: It's looking much nicer.
ERNST VAN DYK: I just looked at it now. Looks like the wind is picking up.

Q. I can never trust what they say. It's the one job you don't have to be dead on. I don't believe them, but it will be nicer.
KURT FEARNLEY: It will be very surprising if it we get too many years like what happened last year.

Q. Hopefully that was a rarity.
ERNST VAN DYK: This has been weird. We've had a race canceled. We've had a shortened course in the last five years.

Q. Mentally, that messes with you too. The course and all the changes, I'm sure.
KURT FEARNLEY: We'll see how it goes.

Q. We're psyched.
KURT FEARNLEY: I think this year will be a quick lead. That's my thought process.

Q. Watch it, guys. Kurt is taking it fast.
ERNST VAN DYK: I'll be up there.
KURT FEARNLEY: Huggy Bear as well.
JOSH GEORGE: This man is the silver bullet.
KURT FEARNLEY: J.G.'s in good shape.

Q. You guys all come to New York. You guys all take New York really seriously as almost a World Championship sort of in itself, don't you? All the best guys are here.
KURT FEARNLEY: Yeah. Finishes the season. So most people are still building through the races throughout the year.
ERNST VAN DYK: We won't miss the Japanese this year because they have the selection race next weekend for Rio. We'll miss them to complete the field.
KURT FEARNLEY: I won't miss them at all.
ERNST VAN DYK: I'm going to Japan next weekend to race with them there.

Q. So when do you head out?
ERNST VAN DYK: I fly home on Sunday night, get home on Tuesday morning, fly to Japan on Wednesday morning.

Q. So you're not tired yet. After that, you'll be tired.
ERNST VAN DYK: I'll sleep on the plane.

Q. The finish here last year was incredible.
ERNST VAN DYK: For who? Not for me.

Q. For the public, for the fans.
KURT FEARNLEY: Tell me again how incredible it was (laughter).

Q. For us journalists reporting it.
ERNST VAN DYK: The last two years for me, second in sprint really sucked.
KURT FEARNLEY: It's a hot sprint.
JOSH GEORGE: Two years in a row now?
ERNST VAN DYK: Two years in a row. First year was Marcel. Last year was Kurt. Two years ago, Kurt was third.
KURT FEARNLEY: That was something two years ago. That was a hot, hot, hot sprint, both.

Q. Fans will wonder watching that, how is it possible to race 26.2 miles and have what last year was five guys really like that? How is that possible compared to a runner?
ERNST VAN DYK: What was unique about last year was two guys were away. Kurt and Tomasz was away. And then three of us caught back up to them. And just before the park, and then we had a sprint. So it's not often that that happens.
If two guys get away or one guy gets away, it's pretty rare for the race, especially on a course like this, to catch them, and we did.
I mean, we were a little bit more like cycling. That's why it's possible for so many of us to be together at the end because we do use the draft, and it was a very windy year. So the draft did matter a lot. So that's why there was five of us at the end.
KURT FEARNLEY: In the sprints, what else are you going to do? Like when there's five people there with each other.
JOSH GEORGE: Put your head down and go.
KURT FEARNLEY: There's not a lot of options.
ERNST VAN DYK: Would have been nice if the finish was before that little hill.
KURT FEARNLEY: No. It would be nice if you could take the downhill out of those bridges. Is that possible?
JOSH GEORGE: Could we do that?

Q. Work on that next year for you. So I assume the three of you, in catching up, all worked together?
KURT FEARNLEY: Yeah. Every race is different. Every day is different. It depends on how you feel.
ERNST VAN DYK: It depends on the dynamics. We'll see what's going on. At the moment, I see four, maybe five of us.
KURT FEARNLEY: I see two to four‑‑ a pack of two to four.
ERNST VAN DYK: Yeah, possibly. And the thing where the Japanese comes in handy, they can close those gaps in between, like they can really work and push and keep it together. So we'll miss them. I think it will be more scattered. Much better.
KURT FEARNLEY: (Shakes head "No").
JOSH GEORGE: You can tell the different race strategies here, right?
KURT FEARNLEY: The energy usually works out. If you look around the people, you say, I've got a better chance of working with them at a higher pace or slowing the race down and backing yourself up. You make that choice, and it depends on who's in the race. It depends how you're feeling. It depends how far into the race. It depends how you think that other competitors are feeling. So you're making the call in the moment.
If I'm sitting there and I know that Josh has got a better sprint than me or I've got a better sprint than Josh, I'm going to make a different call for that.
ERNST VAN DYK: And we have different strengths and weaknesses. I'm bad as a climber, but I'm good on the downhills. Not so great on the downhills.
KURT FEARNLEY: Not so good.
ERNST VAN DYK: Great on the climbing. Even worse on the downhills [Indicating Josh George]. But great climber.

Q. You all know that?
KURT FEARNLEY: Sometimes you surprise people. Sometimes it's a surprise that someone sees you, and you're climbing like a beast. Or someone's lifted their peak a little bit higher than the rest. Or someone's off a little bit. Or someone's changed their chair or whatever it may be.
ERNST VAN DYK: The wind on this course also factors in because, if you're going downhill and there's a headwind, little guy jumps in behind a big guy like me, I'll pull him along.
KURT FEARNLEY: The Ernst Express [laughter].
ERNST VAN DYK: Also, climbing, if I've got a strong headwind on the climb, his weight is so low, he's much, much more severely affected than me because he's got more momentum because of my weight.
KURT FEARNLEY: If we're climbing uphill with a headwind, I would stay back. If we're climbing up the hill with nothing, or for a tail, it's a lot more weighted towards the climbers. It's all these different things that you're going to take into account. It's a good race, exciting race.
ERNST VAN DYK: Not predictable.
JOSH GEORGE: This is probably one of the most unpredictable we do.
ERNST VAN DYK: All our races are like that. It's not like the runners, this guy will win and this guy will probably come in second. We like flip the coin every day.
JOSH GEORGE: Especially in New York.
KURT FEARNLEY: Has anyone ever won in the last three years of men's wheelchair, has somebody won two marathons in a 12‑month period?
JOSH GEORGE: Ernst and I have.
KURT FEARNLEY: Two majors?
JOSH GEORGE: Ernst and I both have.
KURT FEARNLEY: Within a January to February.
ERNST VAN DYK: Boston and Chicago, I did that.
JOSH GEORGE: He did Boston and Chicago. I did Chicago and London.
KURT FEARNLEY: You won Boston last year?
JOSH GEORGE: It hasn't been in a calendar year.
KURT FEARNLEY: In a calendar year.
ERNST VAN DYK: I won Boston 2014, and I won Chicago.
KURT FEARNLEY: You won Chicago in 2013.
ERNST VAN DYK: Yeah, but that would still be in the 12‑month period.
KURT FEARNLEY: I'm saying within the calendar.
JOSH GEORGE: That hasn't happened in years.
KURT FEARNLEY: If you go in a race series, I won New York, and I won Chicago. But if you're on the calendar, there's not one person who's won two races over a year.
ERNST VAN DYK: In the Men's Division. Extremely competitive division.
KURT FEARNLEY: Over the three years, we haven't had a back‑to‑back on the calendar. Not one.
JOSH GEORGE: We've had a different winner at every major.
KURT FEARNLEY: And how many sports have had that happen?

Q. That's a lot of competition. None of us have called that out.
ERNST VAN DYK: Even the runners do that. We don't.
KURT FEARNLEY: Not anymore.
ERNST VAN DYK: They might this year, which is fine.
KURT FEARNLEY: We're all trying.
JOSH GEORGE: We actually have a chance this year.
KURT FEARNLEY: We're all trying.
JOSH GEORGE: Huggy Bear won‑‑
JOSH GEORGE: Huggy Bear won Boston. So there's‑‑
JOSH GEORGE: There's a chance.
KURT FEARNLEY: Three guys.
ERNST VAN DYK: But that's not back‑to‑back.
KURT FEARNLEY: But it's within a calendar year. Two wins in a calendar year.

Q. Interesting.
JOSH GEORGE: It's been a long time.

Q. Exactly. We'll be paying more attention.
JOSH GEORGE: Who did it last time? You did a long time ago.
ERNST VAN DYK: If you count Berlin.
KURT FEARNLEY: You don't count that.

Q. Don't tell them.
KURT FEARNLEY: No, we tell them.
JOSH GEORGE: You don't count Tokyo, not yet.
ERNST VAN DYK: So it's London, Chicago, New York, Boston.
KURT FEARNLEY: I have no idea how long ago.

Q. Interesting. I'm going to go back and look.

Q. We need to go back in history on that one.
JOSH GEORGE: It's been outside of three or four years, I'll tell you that.
KURT FEARNLEY: I have no idea when it happened.
ERNST VAN DYK: I did it in 2006.
JOSH GEORGE: That might have been the last time it was done.
KURT FEARNLEY: I did '07. I won London, Chicago, and New York in '07.
ERNST VAN DYK: Chicago didn't count back then.
KURT FEARNLEY: I won London as well. So that's the last.
ERNST VAN DYK: Chicago only raised their game in the last three years. Before that, they were just one of the small races that people went to when they're winning.

Q. Did you guys know about the Chicago to New York challenge thing in the works before we did?
ERNST VAN DYK: It's been coming. We had the London‑Boston challenge too.
JOSH GEORGE: It's good. And then the Majors Series next year, it's really taking everything to the next level. That's nice. We're all excited about that.

Q. It's about time.
JOSH GEORGE: I think Tokyo might actually invite some international racers to test it out this year. It's going to be good.

Q. How's training with your brother? Is he doing anything these days? What I was trying to say, is your brother still training at all?
JOSH GEORGE: He hasn't been. He had some job changes. So he hasn't been training. He still has the chair, and I think he's out of the country right now for a couple of months, but when he comes back, he's going to start training again. I still want to try to get him in a race.

Q. What an amazing story and how cool he's doing that with you. He was out there working his butt off.
JOSH GEORGE: He was training hard, yeah. We just couldn't get him into this race. There were some stipulations there. But we're still trying to figure that out.

Q. I hope he's still super encouraged and working hard.
JOSH GEORGE: He did a great job.
KURT FEARNLEY: The poor bugger that has to listen back on this recording, my apologies.

Q. I want to ask sort of a narrowly focused question for all of you guys about the technical aspects of wheelchair racing, particularly here. Downhills matter to you guys in a major way and also cornering. So maybe just what are the hardest spots on the course for you guys? Is or the biggest challenge?
KURT FEARNLEY: Just depends.
ERNST VAN DYK: Depends who you're talking to.
KURT FEARNLEY: This is the most complicated and the most challenging and different setting for every single athlete than any other race because there's lots of ups, lots of downs, lots of turns.
ERNST VAN DYK: Rough roads.
KURT FEARNLEY: Rough roads, winds, which sends you in each direction.
ERNST VAN DYK: Smooth roads.
KURT FEARNLEY: So the chair control is a lot of work. I ended up in hay bales once because I snapped the steering off my chair throughout the race. So a lot of time spent technically making your way through the stuff, which is why this is the most fatiguing marathon that we do.
ERNST VAN DYK: I've always said, if I look at the way I feel after a hard New York Marathon, it's probably the way a boxer feels after 12 rounds of a heavyweight fight because we get beat up a lot. You're hitting potholes. You're hitting uneven surfaces, and the chair hits you on your gut, on your ribs, the whole time.
You miss strokes because it's uneven, and you hit your arms into the push rims, and it's cuts and bruises and blood. So you're beat up. You're beat up badly.
KURT FEARNLEY: Once even crashed on this course and ended up with pretty good bumps and bruises. Hands down, the amount of muscle damage you go through on this course isn't comparable to any other marathon.
JOSH GEORGE: All those bumps and bruises, and then you add in the physical fatigue of it all. Just the muscular fatigue.
KURT FEARNLEY: And parts of these courses, it's like a time trial. It's five different categories of wheelchair race doing five different versions of the New York Marathon. It's a tough, tough race.
ERNST VAN DYK: The most challenging part for me is the Verrazano Bridge where you always attack?
KURT FEARNLEY: 59th, Queensboro.
ERNST VAN DYK: Queensboro Bridge. That is the hardest section of the course because I always get dropped, and then I have to work to catch them again.
KURT FEARNLEY: I remember the year that he won, all I heard was this howling coming from behind me because I remember I attacked, and you just‑‑ it was‑‑
ERNST VAN DYK: I buried myself.
KURT FEARNLEY: It was crazy. I heard this gorilla [howling].

Q. On the bridge itself?
KURT FEARNLEY: Yeah, and it's in the tunnel, and the whole way up‑‑
JOSH GEORGE: He was in the zone?

Q. And did he pass you on the bridge?
KURT FEARNLEY: No, he caught back up on the downhill. You caught back up‑‑
JOSH GEORGE: First Avenue.
KURT FEARNLEY: And then we stayed with the pack of three, and then you broke us on the first downhill in the park.
ERNST VAN DYK: But he had a flat front tire.
KURT FEARNLEY: That was painful, and it was my first year.

Q. Coming down that bridge, there's a slope to it as you come into Manhattan?
ERNST VAN DYK: And there's a sharp corner at the bottom. That's where the hay bales are.
JOSH GEORGE: So you're doing a 180 degree turn off the bottom of that bridge.
KURT FEARNLEY: That's where I chewed on a couple of oats.

Q. So as you're coming into that, did you slow for the turn?
ERNST VAN DYK: Oh, yeah.
JOSH GEORGE: You have to.
ERNST VAN DYK: You have to. You can't do it. You'll flip over.
JOSH GEORGE: On all the downhill turns, you pretty much have to break into them. That kind of sucks too. All that momentum you had, you have to scrap it to make the turn, and then you have to build back up again.

Q. So your danger is the high center of gravity just‑‑
ERNST VAN DYK: Tipping over.

Q. Tipping over. So I'm picturing it. You're leaning in like maybe the other direction.
KURT FEARNLEY: Those who can lean. I don't have a lot of trunk.
JOSH GEORGE: Yeah, those who can.
KURT FEARNLEY: I've got my left arm. My head's tilted to the left. I'm trying to get every part of my weight as far to the left as possible. And even turning my right hand across the left hand part of my steering just to get it a little bit more weight over to that side.

Q. So if you did have more trunk control, you would be able to have other techniques.
ERNST VAN DYK: You can't really because you are still locked into your chair because you want your chair to fit as tight as you can. You can maybe do this, but you're still not going anywhere.
JOSH GEORGE: You can't bank into it like you can on a bike.

Q. And what speed are you slowing down to at that point? We're not talking slow.
ERNST VAN DYK: He can talk in miles. I do kilometers.
JOSH GEORGE: I'm going slow. To go through that 180 at the bottom of 58th, you're probably going 12 or 13 miles an hour. You're going mid‑20s, high 20s the whole way. This guy is going 30s the whole way down the hill and then you have to decelerate down to the low teens to get around the corner, and then you have to accelerate back up to race pace. That's the tricky part of the race. First Avenue is not easy.
ERNST VAN DYK: There's a little downhill after that. If you got dropped, you can make up a little bit.
JOSH GEORGE: But then you've got a left‑hand turn 100 meters down from there.
KURT FEARNLEY: It's a loose left there.
ERNST VAN DYK: Yes. But after you do the left hand, then it drops.
KURT FEARNLEY: First Avenue is the worst.

Q. For the runners, we love it, it's so exciting. But it's such a technical race for you guys.
KURT FEARNLEY: You look up and think, I've got to push into the Netherland. It just seems‑‑
ERNST VAN DYK: It goes on and on and on.
KURT FEARNLEY: If it's into the headwind and you've got to brake. In your head, you're picturing three or four guys working together.
JOSH GEORGE: And it's a rolling net down, though, which also sucks for little guys.
ERNST VAN DYK: But it's a pushing.
KURT FEARNLEY: It's a pushing and pushing.
JOSH GEORGE: Still a net down.
ERNST VAN DYK: But it's pushing hard.
JOSH GEORGE: Still a net down.

Q. Yet you come back and do it every time.
KURT FEARNLEY: We love it. We're not talking it down.
ERNST VAN DYK: We respect this course.

Q. You never miss it. That shows something. This level of difficulty and this level of competition.
JOSH GEORGE: I can't say I've ever been happy at the end of this race, though.

Q. You don't have energy left to be happy.
ERNST VAN DYK: The corner that scares me the most is the one just after the start as we come down that hill.

Q. After the brake?
KURT FEARNLEY: I've never had to brake for that, though.
ERNST VAN DYK: You don't go that fast.
KURT FEARNLEY: No, I don't. Me on my unicycle.
ERNST VAN DYK: That one in a crosswind, if you drift‑‑ Amanda's gone sky high there on a roll.
KURT FEARNLEY: She went sky high on the bridge.
ERNST VAN DYK: Going down.
KURT FEARNLEY: Not turning.
ERNST VAN DYK: Before the turn. So yeah.
JOSH GEORGE: It's pretty sketchy.

Q. Have you ever gone into a smaller race where they don't give you a lot of information on the course where you're blind going in? Obviously, here, you know everything that's going to happen.
KURT FEARNLEY: Yeah, but usually‑‑
ERNST VAN DYK: You usually go into the Paralympics blind. It's not like a race you've done before.

Q. Do they give you the elevation?
ERNST VAN DYK: That's never accurate. It depends on the scale.
JOSH GEORGE: Once you get past three turns, for me at least, I can't remember what the next turn is.
KURT FEARNLEY: This race I have it fairly well solid.
JOSH GEORGE: After you do it for a while, yeah.

Q. Dreams and nightmares both.
ERNST VAN DYK: I like Boston. It's only got one turn.
JOSH GEORGE: Yeah, at the end. You don't have to turn till the end.
ERNST VAN DYK: Yeah, in the middle at the fire station. Go right. That's it.
KURT FEARNLEY: Then you go left across the train tracks.
ERNST VAN DYK: I don't even think about that.

Q. What's your highest recorded speeds [pointing to Ernst]?
ERNST VAN DYK: Miles per hour?
JOSH GEORGE: Go kilometers.
ERNST VAN DYK: Kilometers, in Boston, about 71.
KURT FEARNLEY: I've done 70 in my chair.
JOSH GEORGE: Have you really?
KURT FEARNLEY: There's a car racing track where I grew up, where it would take me 26 minutes to go up and 4 going down.
ERNST VAN DYK: I've done 94 kilometers per hour.
KURT FEARNLEY: I've done about 78.
JOSH GEORGE: That's unreal.

Q. Where was the 94?
ERNST VAN DYK: In Germany, when I was young and stupid.
KURT FEARNLEY: Same. I did it when I was about 16. I would never do it again.

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