Every year, the closer it gets to the first Sunday of November, the worse it gets. Without fail, I get Marathon Envy. Specifically, NYC Marathon Envy.
Four years ago, I ran the NYC Marathon, my first (and, sadly, only).
I’ve never had a Life List. I’ve never been a planner, never been one to commit. I’ve always just sort of gone with the flow and seen what would happen (see: me, quitting a job I had for 15 years to move to Italy). That 2008 marathon is the only thing I’ve ever planned for, worked toward and finished.
Back in 2001, V. and I were in Cenral Park for some reason that I can’t remember. We had just moved to Scarsdale and it being a Sunday, I really have no idea why we were in the city. It was late afternoon, as the more regular runners were streaming in to the park.
I was awed and inspired. There were old people and young people, people in wheelchairs and on crutches and strangers were standing on the edges, urging them on. Some of them had their names magic-markered on their arms or the backs of their shirts. They were all doing this amazing act of physicality, together but separate. I thought, “One day, I wanna run this marathon.”
I had never run before. Not really, anyway. I don’t count the shuffling four times around the high school track, more walk than run, during the President’s Physical Fitness challenge or whatever the hell it was called, for which we were supposed to run a mile as fast as we could and also try to do some pull-ups. I never successfully completed either.
Nor do I count the times M., K., & I would tell our moms we were “going jogging”. What we were really doing was putting on our sweatpants with the elastic around the ankles and our Champion sweatshirts and jogging/walking to the convenience store about half a mile away to buy cigarettes, which we would then smoke as we walked home.
I was also overweight. A lot. But, I thought, “One day, I want to be one of these people who can do this, who can run 26.2 miles.”
Fast forward two years. I was living in White Plains, alone. I had lost a lot of weight, because when you’re heartbroken, you sometimes go off your food. I had a lot of time on my hands and needed to fill it, so I started running on the treadmill at the gym in my building.
A couple of years later, I was in that special hell I like to call Florida for Thanksgiving. My sister, always the athlete, had signed us up for a “Turkey Trot” 5k. After all these years, we’d found something else besides our shared history to help link us across the miles. She and I got up, drove to the race, completed it and drove back to her house together. No one managed to meet us there at the finish for that momentous occasion, our first “race”, but that was ok. In fact, it was perfect.
In 2008, I took the leap. I signed up for the NYC Marathon. I didn’t have to enter the lottery and wait, I didn’t have to do it for a charity, I didn’t have to do the 9+1 NYRR volunteering, tho, now, I wish I could volunteer for NYRR races. One of my responsibilities at work was handling a massive account with one of the race sponsors and they graciously gave me one of their spots. For the longest time, I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do this. Then, I thought, if I don’t tell anyone, it’ll be easier for me to not do it.
|Pierre Herme, rue Bonaparte, Paris|
I made a race plan. And I slowly let people know what I was doing. For the first month or so, I followed the plan religiously, afraid any lapse would result in failure. I ran around Larchmont, down to the Sound, back up to the Post Road, up thru Mamaroneck, back down past Walter’s Hot Dogs and home, sometimes twice. And then in September I went to Paris. And while I ran there, I never got in my 14 mile run. And I ate macarons. And steak tartare. And oysters and mussels and smelly, runny cheeses. And when I got home, I tried the long run. And hurt my knee.
So, the rest of my training was less than perfect. I couldn’t up my mileage to get in a run longer than 16 miles before the marathon, for fear of hurting myself so badly that I wouldn’t be able to even try.
I had marathon anxiety dreams. One of the things you do (if you’re me) when you’re obsessed with a momentous run (like I was) is read everything you possibly can about the race. Especially if you are terrified you might not finish it (and I was). One thing they say is that the course closes, that there is a “sweeper” truck that stays a bit behind the last runners on the course and picks up anyone who’s not gonna make it to the finish before the organizers pack it in. In one of these dreams, I was being followed by the truck and the road behind me was churning up, threatening to swallow everything in its path. And it was gaining on me.
I ran the marathon on 1 November 2008. I had a respectable (for me) half time of 2:30. I walked the water stops (and the hill of the Pulaski Bridge, getting lapped by a guy with one leg, on crutches). I walked the hill of the 59th Street Bridge and helped someone with cramps who wasn’t feeling so groovy. I ran onto 1st Ave. And I forgot to take my 2nd salt packet and proceeded to be racked with calf cramps all the way into the Bronx.
I chose not to have my name on me for strangers to shout and I had my iPod, but I never turned it on. I was cheered on in Brooklyn by gospel singers, by NYFD and NYPD folks along the way, by Hasidic school kids and Brooklyn hipsters and by numerous strangers as I headed back in toward the Park by telling me I was “almost there”. I wanted to hug every little kid who tried to hand me water and thank every single person who was out there to cheer on strangers and I wanted to kiss the guys in the lonely stretch of the Bronx who had Sugar Hill Gang’s Rappers’ Delight booming from their turntables and tell those last people, as I headed into the park, to shut the hell up. I was soooo not almost there. I had a couple of miles and several hundred feet to go. And I was having trouble remembering why I wanted to do this. But then I passed the signs for the firefighter who’d been hit by a bus and unable to walk and was now running this marathon somewhere behind me. And the tops of my feet were cramping. Who knew they could do that? But I was gonna finish this. And I got passed by a guy in a cow suit on Central Park South. The plushie was beating me. And the meters and feet were counting down. And I saw V. on my right, his burgundy corduroy baseball hat near the finish line. And I crossed that finish line. Right behind the one-legged Italian, wrapped in his red, white and green flag who threw down his crutches and did a goddamned push up.
|My Office, W. 50th St., NYC|
And I limped to work the next day, like a jackass.
I was registered to run NYC again in 2009. I had run the NY Half during training that August. I really wanted to beat that first marathong time of 5:44, but two herniated discs kept me out, so I deferred for 2010.
I ran the Disney Half in January of 2010 with my sister.
|the Happiest, er, Magical, um, Darkest Place on Earth, Orlando, FL|
It was fun. But it wasn’t NY. There are long stretches with nothing to look at, few sideline observers and I’ve never been a huge fan of larger than life cartoon characters or, honestly, the Happiest /Most Magical Place on Earth. If my sister hadn’t been there, in the cold and rain, laughing at me and with me, it would’ve sucked.
Last year, I was holed up in a cold, leaky apartment in Italy, wondering what we were going to do after the plan that brought us there got all kinds of messed up. I hadn’t deferred again, not wanting to part with the huge race fee, not knowing where I’d be or if I’d be able to afford the trip back to NY for 2011.
So, now, I’ve got a new race plan. The Maratona di Roma is in March. I just have to really start training a few weeks after the NY Marathon. No more of these piddly little 3 or 4 times a week, 5 or 6k runs up and down the hills around here. I just have to navigate the registration process that includes a medical certificate from an Italian doctor and some sort of athletic association membership fee in this language that I don’t speak and cough up a bunch of euros. It’s just an idea right now.
I just have to decide that running through Rome, past the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona and to the Coliseum can hold a candle to NY. It might not happen. I’m not too good at commitment. Maybe my sister’ll sign up and then I’ll have to do it. Maybe not. But if I do it, I won’t have to go to work the next day.