Originally created 11/05/06

Laid-back Armstrong ready for new challenges



NEW YORK - Lounging on a comfy couch in his plush hotel room, Lance Armstrong clearly savors the slightly slower pace of retirement - almost as much as he relishes an adrenaline rush.

"I haven't felt this kind of buzz since I raced," he says of a relaxing 4-mile morning run. "And I've never been passed in Central Park."

Armstrong hasn't raced, on a bike or otherwise, since winning a record seventh consecutive Tour de France title in July 2005.

That changes today, when he makes his marathon debut.

Crisscrossing the country to raise money and awareness for cancer research, the 35-year-old focuses these days on his foundation and setting an example for men his age.

"I don't want to be a 40-year-old couch potato, I want to be a good example for middle-aged guys," he said during an interview with The Associated Press. "It's hard for me to sit down and watch anything. I don't watch any TV. I have a tough time sitting through movies. Honestly, I don't have a lot of time alone."

Instead, he testifies at congressional hearings, preaches about kids' exercise at the Clinton Global Initiative and rides for charity in places ranging from Iowa to Oregon.

And he's always seeking new challenges.

Though he ran triathlons as a teenager, Armstrong has never tried a marathon. He's been training for this weekend's New York City marathon, but not very seriously.

"It would be foolish for me to say I've done workouts. I simply run. I don't do intervals. I just go every day and run, there's no science behind it," he said. "I'm realistic. I know I'm not a natural runner. I wasn't born to be a runner. I was born to be other things."

He's still feeling the effects of a 16-mile run a couple of weeks ago near his home in Austin, Texas. Armstrong has shin splints and some other aches and pains. Still, he's confident he'll finish the marathon, paced by retired distance-running greats Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Hicham El Guerrouj.

"I don't want to say there's no question I'll finish, but I can always crawl," he said. "If I start smart and conservatively, I'll be OK from a fuel and energy standpoint. From a pain standpoint, I can deal with it."

His goal Sunday will be breaking 3 hours, far behind the elite runners. He has a couple of targets to shoot for - his former wife, Kristin, finished the 2004 New York City Marathon in 3:45.53, and Tour de France cyclist Laurent Jalabert ran the 2005 New York race in 2:55.39.

Overall, life is good.

On this crisp November morning, a CD of The Fray plays quietly in his 43rd-floor hotel room overlooking Central Park. After a 15-minute interview, he heads over to a news conference at which nine-time New York City Marathon winner Grete Waitz says Armstrong has been a huge inspiration in her ongoing cancer fight.

Though his life is very public - "anyone with a camera phone is a journalist," he says - Armstrong is comfortable in the spotlight and knows his fame can be a powerful tool in raising money for cancer research. Although only a few journalists attended news conferences this week featuring top marathon contenders, Armstrong's briefing is packed.

His "days of professional, high-level sport are done," he said, but the future might include some triathlons and perhaps more marathons.

"If I can make it up L'Alpe d'Huez with a million people there and death threats, I think I can make it in New York," Armstrong said. "It's not about being competitive or winning, it's a personal goal."