I want to say that the reason why there have been no posts since late June is that I was training at altitude in Kenya and am preparing to run the New York City Marathon in 4:59:59 which is the stated goal of this blog.
The truth is I was abducted by aliens. Yeah, that’s it. I was running hills one night and saw a bright light above me. I was lifted into the air and the rest was a blur. I definitely remember that Scott Baio gave me pink eye.
Unfortunately, part of me not writing was just that life got busy. The twins have enough energy to run 5 marathons except for the fact that they can’t really run yet. This means that in addition to not writing, I haven’t been running the way that I should. That’s also part of why I haven’t been writing. If I could post some super-arrogant “I ran 432 miles this week” I would have been writing all the time. But that hasn’t been the case.
First things first: I completed my second marathon in San Francisco on July 27th. I set a new Personal Best for that distance even though there were a lot of issues in terms of the logistics of the race. Without going deep into it, I had no idea where the race course was for about 3 miles which slowed me down. I’ve had a block trying to write about the marathon and have started 4 posts about it and was unable to complete any of them. I know I owe you a post about San Francisco and you’ll get it but not right now. It’s amazing that writing about the race is harder than running it.
October 9th was the 20th Anniversary of Fred Lebow’s death. I never knew who Fred was until 2011 and as far as I know, Fred never met me. For a full background on Fred, I heartily recommend the movie Run For Your Life. It is the Fred Lebow story but is also deals with the confluence of this man, the NYC Marathon, New York City in the 70’s and the running movement in general. He was the right man at the right time and without him the marathon might still just be loops around Central Park. Actually, it might still be the Cherry Tree Marathon in the Bronx. And the entrance fee would be only a $1.
The first modern New York City Marathon was held in 1976, the year I was born. Part of the appeal was that it would be a big event in honor of the country’s bicentennial. A lot of people thought that 1977 would see the race disappear back into Central Park.
Fred convinced sponsors and the City, which was undergoing tremendous financial difficulty, to support him. He spoke to the Hasidic Community in Yiddish to allow and to encourage a bunch of half-naked adults to run through their neighborhood. He gave local gangs shirts and hats and made them course marshalls. Finally, he convinced everyone to come and run.
While the marathon was his baby, he was so busy planning and organizing the race that he didn’t take the time to run it. In 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer which was treated and went into remission which allowed Fred to run the marathon in 1992. He was surrounded by friends and supporters, most notably Grete Waitz, a 9 Time Winner of the Marathon who had come out of nowhere and shocked the running world when she won her first New York Marathon in 1978 after being entered into the race to provide a pacer for the runners who were expected to win.
Watching him cross the finish line always makes me tear up. He was finally able to experience what it was that he was giving to everyone else. In honor of the anniversary of his passing, I’d like to thank him for one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Since its initial run, the Marathon has become more than just a race. It is a celebration. It’s a celebration of the city. It’s a celebration of humanity. It’s estimated that over 2 million people turn out to watch the race. Sparks of passion thrown from runners ignite wildfires in the crowd, people vowing, some silently, some right out loud, that they too will run this race. For some, it’s the alcohol talking. For others, the sparks might not fully ignite and they will stand on the sidewalk again next year hoping to be consumed by whatever it is that’s making the runners run.
There are too many stories for the spectators to ever figure out what it is that chases the runners or what it is the runners chase. T-shirts with pictures of loved ones or names with words like Cancer, Autism or Wounded Warriors give clues as frequently happens, it’s only part of a story. There’s always something more, something that possibly we as runners don’t even know or realize.
More than these stories, the Marathon is triumph. 2013 was run through neighborhoods devastated by Superstorm Sandy the year before. It was run in defiance of terrorists like those who struck in Boston earlier in the year. In 2001, the Marathon was run less than two months after the attacks at the World Trade Center in a time when wounds were still very raw and the world was still reshaping itself. I was reminded of the attacks and the terrorists while on the Staten Island Ferry riding to the start. The Ferry was flanked by Coast Guard Gunships and the new World Trade Center was visible, rising proudly on the southern tip of Manhattan.
And it’s not just those nationwide triumphs either. It is each individual’s triumph. For as many running groups out there, it is simply you when you are out there. There is nothing else. There are two marathons per marathon. There is the training that leads to the actual day and then the day itself. To make it do race day is a victory, your first step across the Starting Line is another but it is also a promise. It says, “I will complete this undertaking.” And while we follow the same course route, no two runners run exactly the same race the same way our paths to get here have not been the same.
Then there is the triumph of finishing which seems to be more beautiful the more broken it is. The obstacles that we face during our lives, our training and that day break us down but they also make us stronger. We learn to overcome, we can adapt. We can make ourselves better, even if it’s only for one afternoon in November.