Last November I was able to strike a major item off my bucket list: run a marathon. But not just any Marathon. It was the New York Marathon, no less.
As far as I can remember myself I was into running. But it wasn’t until I read the book “Born to Run” circa 2011, that I really got excited about long distance running. This book completely reconfigured my thinking about running and what a human body is capable of doing.
So I started pushing myself to run longer and longer distances. At first I was only able to do a couple of miles. But as I kept pushing myself I was running longer and longer distances.
One particular Saturday I went running an 18 miles course. This was something I never attempted before and wasn’t sure that I can do. The day was particularly hot and humid but one way or another I was able to push myself to finish. When I arrived back at home I plopped myself on the sidewalk and was literally motionless for about 45 minutes.
But what I wasn’t expecting, was finding myself in a particularly wonderful state of mind. It’s very hard to explain in words, but as best as I can describe, I felt a complete clarity and serenity of mind. One I have never experienced before. It’s as if life’s burdens, troubles and pains were momentarily gone. It lasted for the rest of the day and was something I would never forget.
This particular experience proved me that I was onto something and convinced me to set my goal to running longer and longer distances.
But like in any good story, there’s always a “bad guy” and the “bad guy” in my particular story was getting into smoking. What started with a couple of cigarettes a week turned to a couple a day, then half a pack a day and then chain smoking. Soon enough I was running less and less and forgot about my dream of running long distances.
Until one day after feeling particularly sick to my stomach. Particularly disgusted with my health condition, particularly disgusted with how every item of clothing I own smell like a god damn ashtray I got up and decided to make a big change. I ripped whatever cigarettes I had left and threw them to the garbage, washed all my clothes and yes went for a nice long 10 mile run.
It felt great, it felt like I was being reborn. Sometimes in life you just know when you make the right decision. And this was one of these times.
After getting back from that run I vowed to never smoke again. But I wanted something more. I needed something bigger.
A few days later I ran into a friend of my wife. He told me that he is planning on running the New York marathon and wanted us to come and cheer him. I asked if I could run it too and he said that the lottery is already closed and that he was waiting for 7 years to run this marathon until his name was finally picked up.
I wasn’t ready to give up yet and if anything the challenge of not being able to get in motivated me even more. I found out that it’s possible to run with a group while helping them raise money for charity. I did my research and found a Jewish group and contacted them to see if I can run with them.
The next morning I opened my email and couldn’t believe my eyes. I was accepted for the race! I was literally jumping up and down with joy.
As the race day neared I was pushing myself to run harder and harder. Luckily I found an experienced runner who was willing to take me under her wing and was coaching me and getting me on a proper running plan as opposed to my previous “run a lot” plan.
The night before the race was nerve racking. Can I do this? Can I finish the distance? Am I fit enough? Will I finish last in disgrace? You know, all this internal pep talk we all love to do with ourselves before something big is going to a happen.
I woke up at about 5am and headed out to the Staten Island ferry. The place was packed. There were people all over the place of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t feel alone in this anymore. Others are doing it too. And they seem to be figuring it out themselves as well.
At about 10am I finally made it to the start line. My adrenaline was at its peek. People were cheering, the national anthem was playing and the air was electrifying. The gun went off and we all sprinted ahead. Like many around me, I’m sure, I was thinking “holly crap! I’m running the NY Marathon!”.
As I was running through the various boroughs I was struck with amazement with the people on the streets. I’ve had old people I never met in my life high fiving me. Moms holding their babies to wave at the runners for good luck. I’ve seen mariachi bands coming to cheer the runners. I’ve seen christians, muslims, jewish, police men, fire men, moms, dads, republicans and democrats all coming together and dropping their differences and hatreds. It was shocking. If I needed any reassurance that the human race still has hope, this was it.
And so after 4 hours 10 minutes and some seconds I crossed the finish line. But once again, the biggest surprise wasn’t with the physical challenge — although I can attest that there was definitely plenty of that — but that indelible experience that changed me forever.
What’s next? Well, I was lucky enough to be accepted again this year so I’m training pretty hard for that. Hopefully I can break that 4 hour barrier!