Groups gathered that morning in the village, waiting. Trucks of food were parked along the perimeter. Rows and rows of portable toilets stood ready, looking deceivingly welcoming. People wrapped in silver space blankets shivered, sipped coffee, and shoveled something resembling bagels into their mouths.
As if this were a normal morning.
Trash bags doubled as sweatshirts. A team of Frenchmen bounced in place, shaking out their legs in tattered sweats. Debris covered the ground as some walked off when they were called. No one glanced back.
As if this were a normal day.
Oddly enough, this was not a shanty-town or a disaster relief area. The crowd of thousands of skinny, shivering people was the start village of one of the world’s biggest footraces.
Before this November’s ING New York City Marathon, I had never identified with this breed of human. The runner was a power-gel addicted, disciplined, ultra- fit athlete who put socks on in a certain way to ensure a safe race, or who put Vaseline on her thighs for “lube.”
The runner was too superstitious. Even Shalane Flanagan, super bad-ass and the second place, American female finisher of the day, considered a number lucky.
“The New York Road Runners knew that,” she said. “My bib is 108. My table for my water bottle is 8. And even my hotel room is on the eighth floor.”
I wasn’t that into lucky charms.
So when my friend called me in May to ask if I wanted to run the race, I laughed. Well, giggled nervously. Then when we realized we’d have to raise $7,000 to run with charity, I thought about declining.
Perhaps it was disillusionment from the race being so many months away, or a headache from general revelry the night before, but I said yes.
I signed away a chunk of my summer. And aforementioned revelry.
I then embarked on my journey to becoming this “runner,” the toenail-less, ultra-hydrated creature in the summer of 2010, on this 2500th year since the marathon began.
Others curious as to what started this breed of mortal insanity can look to the ancient myth of the first marathon.
Legend has it that the marathon began in 490 BC with the Greek messenger, Pheidippides. He ran without stopping from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce a Greek victory. Upon arriving in Athens 26 miles later, he collapsed and died.
An ultimate athlete gave us the ultimate event.
What was it that kept this man, presumably without much water or food, running to his death? What possesses someone to continuously increase their mileage, until they can run 26.2?
I never would have known.
My weekly mileage climbed, my toenails bled and my metabolism resembled that of a gangly 13-year-old’s. Slowly but steadily, I became the runner.
I realized then that we all have something to run for. It’s stress relief, it’s healthy, and it’s the pure enjoyment in realizing your body can go further than it ever has.
Running is also a drug, man. Surprisingly, fitness junkies love getting high.
Recent research says that “running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.”
My work-out high became chase-worthy. This slightly made up for my diminishing social life. Early weekend runs didn’t allow for much booze and belligerence.
Sure, I had angry, little “poor me” moments along the way. Training changes your schedule completely. Grumpiness sets in around 9 pm. Pasta becomes a requirement. Relationships with NRPs (non-running pedestrians) become harder to maintain.
Sounds sad, right?
It was all for this:
Race day is like one of those dreams you have just before your alarm goes off. Some details are hazy, but the important ones stick. They may just change how you create your life.
From the shanty-town start village, through streets filled with music, cheers and support, I realized the most important thing, after all, wasn’t all those weeks of soreness, fatigue, and long runs.
It was the long run.
After you cross the finish line at the 26.2 mile marker, you realize that the word “can’t” doesn’t fit as nicely in your vocabulary anymore.