To appreciate success you need to suffer and I have done lots of the latter the two times I have run the New York Marathon. Both times the same predictable thing happened. I had my usual melt and cramp down between miles and 20 and 22, making what should be a triumphant run up Fifth Avenue and through Central Park a death march. It’s kind of hard to look cool and fit when you are walking and there is nothing worse than acknowledging people who treat you like a member of the Achilles Track Club with sympathetic support. So I don’t acknowledge – I silently redirect my self loathing at my mental and physical weakness by cursing them in my head and refusing to look at them. Of course they have 35,000 other chances to cheer better people than I on.
Despite the race being an overall awesome experience, I was left with bitterness, anger and disappointment when I ran the race in 2005 and 2007. It wasn’t my times that killed me (3.51 and 3.41); it was the fact that I didn’t accomplish my bare minimum – run the entire race. Time is important but so is the general goal of the race – run the whole goddamn thing. No one sets out to run 22 and walk 4.2 No one. So I cautiously approached the 2010 with hope but fear.
The first 22 miles were an afterthought, an obvious. With little training I could do 22 miles. But not the point. So when I started feeling the first calf cramp (ironic that I have virtually no calves but they are always the first to go). In the Bronx I assumed I was back in my usual home of misery. My hope was that meeting Mike at mile 21 for the final run in might prompt my ego to override the faulty wiring.
And it worked. At the risk of being dramatic, the last five miles of the race are as enjoyable a run as I have ever had. It hurt, it wasn’t fast (8.15/mile or so pace) but I ran every step of it. The cheers along 5th Avenue and in the Park weren’t transcending but this time they weren’t annoying. And when I turned the corner from Central Park South to go back into the Park, I knew I had done it. The time (3.37) was satisfying but not the promised land. That’s for next year. Because I have entered the gates, now I aim for the prize.