Over two years ago, my friend Phil and I went to cheer our mutual friend Sharon on during the New York City Marathon. While we cheered her on around Mile 23, I remembered two things. One was that she seemed so happy to see familiar faces to give her enough of a boost to carry her to the finish, about 3.2 miles from that point. The other was that Phil and I had both chatted about the thought of doing the marathon.
I was captain of the cross country team in high school. And I was always knew that the New York City Marathon was something I always wanted to do.
Being in New York or close to it, the marathon is a large part of our identity, it’s a large part of the culture here. Some people might look at 26.2 miles as a steep hill to climb. When you’re here, though, it’s something that you consider doing without question.
I don’t know if it’s like that in any other city. But to have enough clout to shut New York City down essentially for one Sunday a year so people could run the streets freely, I’d say that’s a pretty big event. More so than say the Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade that just shuts down one avenue in midtown.
To give you an idea of what we did in those last two years to get in wasn’t short of challenging. I’ve run three half-marathons. I developed arthritis in my foot. I hurt my back a number of times. I managed to finish a 10K after busting my ankle two weeks prior. I also was invited to several sports shows and podcasts to talk about my fundraising efforts, and was featured prominently at several websites for the fundraising efforts of Team McGraw.
As part of the New York Road Runners “9+1” program, you run nine races and volunteer for one. That’s how Phil got in. I decided to get in how Sharon did, and that was run with the Tug McGraw Foundation, a charity that supports brain cancer survivors, victims and those suffering from neurological disorders a better quality of life.
It was not only me. My oldest childhood friend, Kara, had brain cancer directly affect people in her life. She also volunteered for Team McGraw. My friend from high school, Jay, decided to run for a children’s charity. Between the three of us, we raised over $13,000 for these respective charities. We are far from the only folks who did such a thing in conjunction with setting a personal challenge goal of completing 26.2 miles. In fact, most runners get in via charity.
But it was more than that. When you are running in excess of 30 miles per week (but it’s not even running five miles per day six days a week, it’s more 8 miles one day, 12 miles another then two five mile runs), it’s easy to let the mental more than physical part get to you.
To have that taken away from you after putting so much of your life into it…and when I tell you how much I put into it…I couldn’t take a part time job for fear of losing it ANYWAY because I needed time off for the race and training. I missed two family weddings. I’ve missed even more family gatherings. I had to put off seeing friends for months because of the grueling training schedule. I didn’t drink (that’s not a bad thing for me, but bad for the liquor stocks). I ran in heat and humidity that would make a Navy SEAL cry. When I made friends with a slight Romanian woman who did her daily walks at Central Park, she told me I was doing a great thing and to keep it up. I lost my short term memory and common sense. All I knew was my training schedule. I knew, when November 4th came, that it would have been all worth it.
I guess this is where we say there are no guarantees in life. Sure, I paid a $250 entry fee to cover the costs of fluids, nutrition, safety, police presence, road closures, loss of revenue, bib technology, that were already allocated to the race. I know $250 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but multiply that by 50,000 runners or so and that’s a large amount of revenue to the city and New York Road Runners. Not to mention the businesses that generate a lot of revenue because of spectators.
That’s not to say I don’t agree with the decision to cancel the New York City Marathon in 2012. I did agree with it. I wish they had done it SOONER, as I know several people who came in on Thursday, from outside areas, in order to fulfill their charitable obligations. In fact, the only reason I was so defiant is that if the city and NYRR TRULY BELIEVED that it would be a good thing for the city and that it wouldn’t impact recovery efforts, well, goddammit I wasn’t going to apologize for working my ass off this year and putting MY life on hold for a few hours of running a road race that in the grand scheme of things is small change. Especially with the devastation in my home state (New Jersey) and my adopted state (New York).
This was my story. Thousands of other runners shared the same or similar stories. I was shocked by the amount of scapegoating involved in the race itself. I understand it needed to be cancelled or postponed (the reason for cancelling outright was due to city logistics, getting the elite runners back here and even weather conditions outside of, you know, a fucking hurricane at the end of October). What I didn’t get was the scapegoating. There were people and things to demonize. Don’t demonize the runners.
So now, I have to rethink my philosophy on life. My philosophy has been to help others. To put a cause or a mission ahead of myself in order to help those less fortunate.
It hit close to home this week too.
I had been running for a brain cancer charity. The Mets lost two icons to brain cancer, one they honored all 2012 season.
For me, it got personal. My friend Kara, whom I’ve known since three years old, has lost two family members to brain cancer, and her father suffers from a neurological disorder. My uncle passed away from a brain tumor.
Then I found out my friends Colleen and Jamie lost their 16 year old nephew to brain cancer this week.
Take that in for a second. A 16 year old child (and I remember when he was friggin born) lost his life to brain cancer. He wasn’t living in a storm-affected region, but it was still in the midst of chaos in our world, a 16 year old lost his life.
If there was a chance I could run, you goddamn better bet I was going to do it.
So now, four and a half months of hard work, three half marathons, tons of carbs later, a mission I’ve had since I was 16 (to run the marathon) was taken away from me by nature. It is what it is, and I can’t do anything about it.
But what you can do – what we all can do – is volunteer. Get on lists, go to your local Red Cross, no matter what your denomination is, go to your local churches or synagogues.
Several of us did our part. Don’t demonize people who were going to run to do their part for the spirit of the city.
I told one of my friends that 2012 hasn’t exactly been a great year for me. From a sports fan perspective, it’s sucked. The Mets are irrelevant, the Rangers lost to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, now there’s a hockey lockout (and the Rangers are the closest team I have to ever winning a championship in my lifetime), the Jets suck, and now the Marathon can’t be held. This one stings because it was the year I had looked forward to. I also couldn’t find a full time job and had to start my own business. I was so not ready for that (that’s actually been a bright spot for me, the business). I left an apartment I loved because my husband and I needed to cut down on home expenses. Now Hurricane Sandy has trashed the shore line I grew up in and has damaged a city that I have adopted as my own.
What’s next? Are the Mayans right?
The one thing I had to look forward to was the marathon. And now that was taken away.
I’ve spent my life looking at the bigger picture of things, and have always taken things well even if they haven’t worked to my advantage. I realize that the world isn’t all about me. That’s something I learned early on, actually.
But this one, this one is going to sting for awhile. I spent over 20 years getting mentally prepared for this, and I’m not doing this again. I don’t have it in me. I will have a big part of my life that’s unfulfilled because of it. That may be hard for some of you to get and may tell me to get over myself. Those who know me and love me will understand that about me. I don’t really care. I’ve spent most of my life looking at the larger picture, and now I’m allowing myself to grieve for everything that I’ve lost (not just from the marathon, but my memories of the shore and childhood) but for something that was out of my control.
Yet while I thought I had broken my foot (it was arthritis), while I was chugging along at mile 16 of 20 on some training runs, one thing I kept telling myself is that it was all temporary. The pain is temporary.
With the craziness going on all around us, we’ll learn that we’re resilient, and that the pain will be temporary.
The pain will be temporary, even if we have to tell ourselves this every day for awhile.