NEW YORK – At 8 a.m. in a small Flywheel Sports indoor cycling studio in Chelsea, James Blake eats a banana and drinks some water in preparation for his first spin class. Luckily, the workout—a 45-minute ride that includes climbs, descents and a weighted arm workout—fits into the former tennis pro's marathon training program. Like World No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki did in 2014, Blake plans to run for charity in this year's TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 1.
"Every year my foundation asked me to run and every year I sort of haven’t been able to—I was either on tour or it was just really tough with my family," says Blake, who retired after the U.S. Open in 2013 at the age of 33. "This year there was an opportunity to train for it and I figured I might as well while do it while I'm younger, rather than waiting until later, when it would hurt a whole lot more."
The 35-year-old is readying himself for the 26.2-mile race by working with John Honerkamp, the coordinator of the official NYC Marathon training program and senior manger of runner products and services at the New York Road Runners. Honerkamp, who also ran last year's marathon alongside Wozniacki as her pacer, sends Blake detailed workouts weekly, ranging from long runs to sprints and "flex days." (The indoor cycling class fulfills the "flex day" requirement.)
"Before this, I never ran more than five miles in my life," says Blake, who now runs four days per week with cross-training or weight-training exercises mixed in. "This week I'll run 12 miles and build up to [runs of] 18 to 20 miles. A sprint workout could be half-mile repeats."
The James Blake Foundation is one of 300 charities officially registered with the NYC Marathon, and Blake will be running for the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering, in honor of his father, who died of stomach cancer in 2004. After winning 10 ATP titles and earning a career-high ranking of No. 4 in 2006, Blake still plays tennis—he just recently defeated Andy Roddick 7–5, 6–4 in the men's legends match at the Connecticut Open in New Haven and will make an appearance at this year's U.S. Open as a part of the TWC Tennis Legends Q&A Sessions—but for now, his focus is on finishing the marathon in under four hours. He hopes to use some of the lessons he learned while playing on the court to help him through.
"One of the best things that happened to me was being on a bad baseball team. It was so frustrating to play well and have your team not do well," says Blake. "I love tennis for the fact that you go out there on your own and you have to solve the problem and call back on all the training you’ve done. I love that feeling.
"So a marathon will possibly be like that. But you’ve also got thousands of people running and doing the training with you, so it will be fun to do something as an individual but still be part of a group."