2003-11-06 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s

Running First N.Y. Marathon Was Exhilarating
By Neil S. Friedman
This Week’s Attitude By Neil S. Friedman


Running First N.Y. Marathon Was Exhilarating

After years of sitting at home and watching the New York Marathon, I decided last November to give it a try in 2003.

Last Sunday morning, as I stood surrounded by tens of thousands of runners, the women started the 26-mile, 385-yard course through all five boroughs. My anxiety began to mount, knowing I’d soon be racing across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn.

As I waited, I began jumping in place, hoping the jitters would ease along with imaginary leg muscle spasms. I also started to reminisce about what it took to get me here.

A week before last Thanksgiving, I contacted the Road Runners Club, which organizes the marathon, and asked if they could give this out-of-condition novice (who, except for when I was a kid, only ran when it was to the mess hall at chow time in the Army) some advice about how to start preparing for the 2003 event. They gave me the names of several trainers, including one who lived in my Brooklyn neighborhood. After playing telephone tag for a few days, we finally hooked up after Thanksgiving weekend.

The first thing Marcus — the trainer — told me was to radically change my diet and establish an exercise routine that would have to gradually intensify. For a nominal fee, he agreed to train me for three months. He said if I met his expectations and adhered to strict dietary rules, he’d work with me through the following summer to make sure I was prepared to handle the arduous task that few even dare to consider.

In our initial meeting he was curious why I wanted to do this at this stage in my life. I told him I
didn’t really know because despite being moderately active in my youth and maintaining a reasonable walking regimen the last few years, I wasn’t really the athletic type — in mind or body. It was, rather, something about which I fantasized every fall.

At first the training and diet were almost unbearable, but I found the challenge and changes invigorating. If I accomplished this, I thought, maybe — just maybe — I could start the novel that I’ve aspired to write.

Two weeks into the regimen, my body felt different — aching, somewhat rejuvenated, but strange. Marcus encouraged me and said I was doing well. Those who saw me frequently — friends, co-workers — may have noticed a change, but they never said a word.

When the three-month training period came and went, Marcus never said a word and kept working with me. By then I’d managed to start running five miles a day, three times a week in nearby Marine Park. I still had a long way to go, but even this was remarkable for this part-time couch potato.

When summer began, Marcus enrolled me in several mini-marathons around the city so I could experience an actual race atmosphere. I barely finished most of them, until mid-July, when I competed a 10-mile race in Eisenhower Park on Long Island. I finally gained the confidence that I could do this.

The man next to me interrupted my thoughts and asked if this was my first NY marathon. I nodded and he said it was also his. He asked me if I wanted a marathon partner. I agreed. We exchanged names and shook hands.

As we reached Mile 4 in Brooklyn, a bunch of friends, from as far away as Baltimore and Albany, loudly cheered me on. I looked at them and waved then got my head back in the race.

By Mile Ten in eastern Brooklyn, my running partner had fallen far behind me. A mile back, he realized he couldn’t keep up and wished me luck.

More than five hours after I crossed the Verrazano, the Central Park finish line was in sight. Yet it still seemed miles away. Nevertheless, I was excited I had the stamina to complete the 26-mile course. My thick legs were as heavy as anvils. My body was drenched in perspiration partly due to the unseasonable weather. My body ached from head to toe. But my heart and mind were elated that I’d accomplished this.

I got a last minute boost from my friends, who were now stationed near the finish line, once again giving me thunderous, vocal support.

I glanced to my left, smiled and raised my hands in triumph, still several yards from the finish. As I crossed the line I heard what sounded like an alarm, which startled me. After crossing the finish line, I collapsed, closed my eyes, when someone draped a foil blanket around me so my body heat wouldn’t dissipate too quickly.

I heard the alarm again and opened my eyes to find myself lying in my bed in Brooklyn.

My marathon race had merely been an exhilarating fantasy.

Maybe next year. Probably not, but, a guy can dream, can’t he?

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