After months of training, Willie Geist is running his first marathon!
The Sunday TODAY host is hitting the pavement for the 50th New York City Marathon in honor of his father, Bill Geist. In addition to running the 26.2 miles on Sunday, he's raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is committed to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease, something Willie's father was diagnosed with decades ago.
Willie told TODAY he never saw himself running the epic race.
"Last year, as the gravity of the pandemic began to settle in, my wife Christina and I — neither of us runners — decided we'd run the marathon to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation," Willie said. "My dad has had Parkinson's disease for 30 years, so there is personal motivation built in.
"The marathon was canceled last year, and a knee injury kept Christina from continuing the training, but I kept going and here I am — about to line up in Staten Island and run the New York City Marathon. I can't believe I'm saying that."
Because the 2020 event was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, Willie ran his own half-marathon, again raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Last year, he raised over $75,000, and in 2021, he's already exceeded his fundraising goal of $100,000.
Willie said that being able to raise so much money for the organization has helped motivate him.
"I'm running for my dad, but also for the 5 million other people who suffer from Parkinson's and for the millions more who will be diagnosed in the years ahead," he said. "If a nickel of the money I raise by running the marathon contributes to a cure or better treatments to improve the daily lives of (Parkinson's disease) patients, it will be worth every grueling mile."
Willie Geist runs in New York City marathonNov. 8, 202101:35
He added that he's looking forward to running on "the best day of the year in New York City." The marathon stretches across all five boroughs of the city, and the route is lined with spectators cheering on the runners.
"It's a giant outdoor party for millions of people whose only plan for the day is to have a bloody mary and to will runners through those 26.2 miles through the city," Willie said. "I've watched from the sidewalk many times and honestly never seriously dreamed of being inside those railings as a runner."
The Sunday TODAY host also had some words of wisdom for first-time marathon runners: Take it slowly.
"As someone who likes to be active, but never liked running, it took awhile to get this operation off the ground. It truly was one step at a time," Willie said. "Last year, I sent my wife a selfie holding up two fingers to show her I'd run two miles. I was proud, and she was shocked I had run that far without stopping at a medical tent after mile one."
"Just today, I finished my last little training run before the marathon — it was two miles, and after all the long runs over the last year and a half, it felt like a breezy jog in the park," he continued. "We've come full circle. I'm ready."