Run 116 miles in a day: How Oz Pearlman set a new Central Park loop record

Better known by his stage name Oz the Mentalist, his long run would be yet another display of mind over matter

Before sunrise on Friday, Oz Pearlman loosened up in front of Engineers’ Gate, one of the entrances to Central Park. He rubbed up his thighs and underarms with petroleum jelly, then peeled off his toe socks and coated his feet. This would not be a typical weekday morning jaunt through Manhattan’s preferred and most storied running terrain.

Dressed in Ukraine’s national colours, and wearing two GPS watches to record distance and time, Pearlman laced up his Day-Glo runners and stood in the middle of East Drive, in front of a Ukrainian flag, with a handful of spectators. He planned to run all day and into the night as he attempted to break the record for most Central Park loops completed in a single day, while raising money to help Ukrainian children displaced by Russia’s invasion of the country.

Pearlman, 39, who lives in Brooklyn, is better known by his stage name, Oz the Mentalist. (Oz rhymes with “clothes.”) His long run would be yet another display of mind over matter.

The record Pearlman hoped to break was set in 2021 by Robbie Balenger, an ultra-runner who rose to prominence by knocking off multi-day ultra-distance challenges. In 2019, Balenger ran across the continental United States. Last summer, he completed what he called the Colorado Crush: 1,176 miles of running and over 300,000 vertical feet of elevation gain in 63 days, capped off by the Leadville Trail 100-mile race.


According to Fastest Known Time, the digital platform that collects and certifies “FKTs” on terrain both well known – such as the Seven Summits – and obscure, Pearlman would have to do more than simply run one mile longer than Balenger. He would need to complete another full loop.

To prepare for the Central Park Loop Challenge, Pearlman completed several runs over 20 miles, usually on the road before or between shows. He has trained in Central Park for nearly 20 years and committed every bend of the road, and each hill to memory. “It’s home ground,” he said. “That 6-mile loop is my comfort zone.”

But there would be a ticking clock. Central Park is open from 6am to 1am, and runners are not permitted on the roads until five minutes after opening. They must be out of the park five minutes before closing time. That gave Pearlman 18 hours and 50 minutes to set a record.

At 6:05am sharp, he took off hot. He ran uptown, counterclockwise, at a pace under 7:30 per mile. Mike Halovatch, a fixture in New York’s ultra-running scene, was his only pacer for the first loop, which he finished in under 45 minutes. It would have been faster if not for last-minute advice from a stranger who insisted he walk the two big hills.

Pearlman has won the New Jersey Marathon four times and the Hamptons Marathon three times. His personal best in the marathon distance places him just outside the range of men invited to the Olympic trials.

“Oz is a true thoroughbred,” Halovatch said. Referring to Pearlman’s personal best time in the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014, he said, “You run a 2:23 marathon, that’s running.”

The sun broke through clouds on his third loop, and his pace held steady as the sky brightened and the miles piled up, much to the concern of Halovatch and his wife, Kate Pallardy, an elite distance runner and triathlete. They have learned from experience that a slower pace early usually yields a better result in this type of event. Pallardy ran 18 miles with Pearlman at midday, just five weeks after giving birth to her third child.

In total, about 40 runners came out to pace him. In typical New York fashion, many of them just happened upon Oz and joined right in. He chatted breezily, and did his best to entertain them all. “It’s the performer in me,” he said. But like Pallardy and Halovatch, he knew the suffering would begin at some point, and just before Mile 50, it hit hard.

“Your mind plays tricks on you,” he said as he finished his eighth loop. “You start thinking of how much further and how much time you have, and doubts creep in. They just eat at you. It’s your mind telling you to quit.”

Twenty miles later, on his 12th loop, his digestion faltered. He had been consuming nothing but gels (he sucked down two or three per lap), caffeine gummies and orange Gatorade. Perhaps that took its toll. Or it could have been that he had worked late the night before and managed only four hours of sleep.

He vomited twice and had to find a toilet. His pace dropped from eight minutes per mile to over 12. The colour drained from his face. He felt blisters form on the bottom of his feet. His right shin started to throb. His team filled his hat with ice, which he dumped on his head to wake himself up. Once his stomach settled, he popped more caffeine gummies to keep himself humming.

As is often the case with ultra, that period of pain and deep exhaustion was chased by an extended flow state. Toward the end of his 13th lap, he hit top gear. Rocking to playlists he had curated for the occasion, he sang aloud as he ran. His 91st mile was his fastest: 6:43.

Pearlman completed his 16th loop, and 98 miles, at around 8:20pm, to equal Balenger’s distance record. He ran roughly four hours faster than Balenger. Two miles later, he hit 100 miles with a time of 14 hours, 36 minutes, beating his own 100-mile record by two hours.

When he finished his 17th lap at 9:15pm to set the Central Park Loop Challenge FKT, he paused to hug his wife and celebrate with friends who confirmed that he had also surpassed his fundraising goal of over $100,000. But he wasn’t done. His pacers, some of them seasoned ultra-runners, wouldn’t let him go home. They insisted he tack on a few more laps to the new Central Park Loop Challenge FKT. So a few minutes later, he was running uptown once again.

His 19th and final loop was his victory lap. “I told the guys, we’re going to finish the way we started: strong. And I just went for it.” He ran, all out, often with his eyes closed. It was up to his pacers to make sure he stayed on course, and they did. When he reached Engineers’ Gate for the final time just before midnight on Friday, after running a total of 19 loops and 116 miles, he fell to the ground, elated yet spent.

“I had a spectacular day,” he said. “There’s just no other way to describe it.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.