Yes, I am one of those people. I am among the 0.5% of all Americans who have completed at least one marathon. In fact, I have done two. And this November, at age 52, I will take on the course in New York City for a third time. Why? My reasons weren’t very clear or even rational when I qualified two years ago, but a funny (or not so funny) thing happened as my miles tapered off to virtually zero since that time: the lack of activity and camaraderie with my teammates started to make me feel physically old and emotionally disconnected. You’ve heard of that feeling of euphoria many athletes get during vigorous workouts or runs called runner’s high? I suddenly came down with a bad case of “non-runners low”—and it was seeping into all aspects of my personal and professional life. The shin splints, achy calves, feet blisters and bouts of plantar fasciitis were gone, only to be replaced by maladies of the mind not so easily treated.
Which is why, starting on April 1, I will begin training in pursuit of a New York City Marathon trifecta. My goal this time around is to quicken my pace, but more importantly, I am going back to the basics: running for fun and fitness, reconnecting with friends and teammates, and recapturing the spirit and privilege of what it means to be part of an exclusive community of humans (only one in every 200) that successfully cross the finish after a grueling 26.2 miles. Tens of thousands of runners around the world are repeatedly denied entry into the New York City Marathon, and here I am about to embark on my third. The first two times I ran for charity; this year I earned it the hard way by completing nine scored New York City Road Runners races and serving at one volunteer event in a single calendar year.
As any runner will tell you, the sport can often be solitary and monotonous. It’s why training on different types of surfaces and in varied race lengths and locales is important to keeping things interesting. It also helps belonging to a running club—something I found out firsthand when I became a member of Runners United NYC. On the days you run together, you celebrate together. During those moments when you are too tired or lazy to train, seeing your teammate’s accomplishments on social media keep you motivated. The best part is that you are accepted into a community of like-minded athletes, no matter your age, speed, fitness level, or socio-economic background. I plan to reconnect with many of my running friends this training season, but also hope to welcome new friends into my running universe. To that end, I will be reaching out to 26 fellow runners (each representing a mile in the marathon) for training runs between now and race day. Some I have already met or communicated with on social media, others will be getting random invites to join me. In addition to video documenting the entire effort, I will donate $26.20 to each training partner’s favorite charity or the cause for which they are running (interested? email me).
Running, at least for for me, has always been about the feeling of belonging and pushing your mind and body into accomplishing goals far beyond your wildest imagination. As a student I failed miserably at most athletic endeavors, particularly team sports, but I have always been pretty adept at putting one foot in front of the other, maintaining my breathing, and reaching the finish line with minimal pain or injuries. This is not to say that I am fast—far from it. My best marathon time is nearly 7 hours, and for shorter runs I average a 12 minute-per-mile pace. This time around, I hope to set a personal best for a marathon, however the real victory will come not only from the results, but from the journey. The Road Runners’ mission statement declares that “running takes your body, mind, and spirit to a better place.” I suspect that even before I cross the finish at Central Park and another medal is placed around my neck on the first Sunday in November, I will have already gotten to that place.