NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. (WTOK) - One of my favorite posters along the race course of the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon had just the question ‘WHY?’ scrolled across the poster board in large black uppercase letters. It was funny but also accurate. Before Sunday and during the few months prior, I had often asked myself a version of that very question: “Why on Earth am I doing this to myself?!” It wasn’t until after I had crossed the finish line that I truly realized the answer.
It was sort of by chance that I found myself running the New York City Marathon. I had recently discovered running as a means of fitness and balancing my habit of stocking too many Ben and Jerry’s pints in my freezer. I needed a challenge that would provide me with something I could focus on outside of work while simultaneously pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I had previously completed two half marathons and always thought the idea of doubling that distance was ludicrous. And let’s be serious, running four hours continuously is a little crazy.
I needed a hobby in a town that lacked many of the sources of entertainment I was accustomed to growing up in a much larger city. I toyed with the idea of applying for the 2018 Chicago Marathon long enough that by the time my resolve had led me to the application for the umpteenth time I had missed the deadline. So I applied to the biggest marathon for arguably the most sought after bib on the offhand chance that I would be one of the 15% chosen from the lottery. I was.
For the better part of five months, I averaged over 22 miles of running per week with longer training runs ranging in distance from 14 to 22 miles to prepare for the marathon held Sunday. My training routine came second only to my habit of complaining about it: let me tell you, from the blisters to the chafing I left no complaint unturned. A long run would undoubtedly end with me exclaiming to friends back home, “Why does anyone do this to themselves?! It’s not fun!” And it’s NOT fun. But it IS rewarding. I never lost sight of the fact that I was given the opportunity to challenge myself through training and had the rare opportunity to run a race that many still hadn’t been given after many years of seeking entry. And I had also found something effective to occupy my time outside of work. You can only window shop at Bed Bath and Beyond so many times.
The actual race was something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Over a million cheering spectators and hundreds of live performers lined the streets of the five boroughs. From the start in Staten Island to the finish in Central Park, the atmosphere was positively electric. Between the roar of the fans and the beat of the live music there wasn’t an inch of that race that wasn’t charged save perhaps the Queensboro Bridge where spectators weren’t allowed. That said, the runners themselves were cheering in those moments and I distinctly remember someone maybe 10 feet to the right blasting Donna Summer’s iconic number “I Wil Survive” with others clapping to the beat.
And the signs! They were a steady presence along the race course and were humorous (my mother made a sign that said ‘Run Faster that Bad Tinder Date is Behind You!’), sentimental and everything in between. It was common to see blown up photos of the heads of the runners, their family members and even their pets bobbing up and down in hopes of cajoling their runners past the next mile marker.
The other runners – nearly 53,000 – came from all over the world and represented the widest of spectrums in background and ability. What struck me the most from the New York City Marathon was the amount of love that brought people to the act of training for and running a marathon. Many had pictures of loved ones or their names pinned to their shoes or clothing. Others had raised thousands of dollars for charities important to them and were adorned in the running gear from those organizations. The supporters were just as strong a symbol of the positivity and emotion surrounding the course. Friends and family spent hours encouraging their runners during training then traveled from all over the globe to support their beloved amateur athlete on race day.
I didn’t have a particularly good run on Sunday. But I finished. And for the first time, I had a more nuanced appreciation of why I undertook the task of running 26.2 miles for the first time. I learned how rewarding it can be to set, work towards and realize a long-term goal. The day afterwards I felt depressed – training and running the marathon has been my focus for nearly half a year. Nothing has tested me in the same and I’ve developed a need to continue pushing myself for my own personal growth. Which begs a new question: When’s the next one?