Mine, Yours, Ours

I don’t really want to talk about it.

But I will. Because it’s what I do here. And because so many of you were so kind in sending me you well-wishes via email, text message, and carrier pigeon.

Bottom line: I finished the New York City Marathon in 4:30:49. My sixth marathon was my worst. Though not by much. I finished ’04 in 4:25:00, and ’03 in 4:24:00, all in contrast to my ’03 best of 3:56:00. Perhaps not coincidentally, my three worst times coincide with the three years I’ve released a new CD within a week of the marathon. More on that later.

As predicted, I was hot. I dunno for sure, but I’m pretty sure it was the warmest NYC Marathon ever. Certainly the warmest marathon I’ve ever run (and the last two were hot). Which ends up being bad news. I have a tendency to dehydrate — no matter how much water or Gatorade I take in — and sure enough, by mile seventeen, the dreaded goose bumps arrived. More on that later.

Chris, Jen and I stepped onto the bus at 6:00. I read “Fargo Rock City” all the way to Staten Island. It only took a half an hour, most of which was spent creeping across the Verranzano Bridge. Fort Tryon was nearly empty when we walked in. The bridge was largely obscured by fog. The air was cool and moist. Chris and I toured the corrals to decide where to start. We all had different colors and numbers, so had to coordinate.

Abbi and her sister Pembry met us around 8:00. I stretched, changed (black tights, sleeveless Dry Fit, brand-new Thorlo socks, and lots of Vasoline), and dropped my bag at UPS truck #52. We dropped the ladiesĀ¹ bags, and lined up in the orange corral. (There are three: orange, blue, and green. You don’t want green, as those runners end up on the lower deck of the bridge where they are showered by pee from above).

The start might have been the best part. “New York, New York” gets me every time. Chris and I sang it over and over as we packed up his pick-up truck and drove it here in 1995.

I’ll spare you the mile-by-mile (though you can click here for some photos), primarily because I have a massage in a few minutes, and secondarily because, well, I don’t really want to talk about it. In general, I never felt like it was my race. I never felt like I settled into my pace. I was in a constant state of worrying. Was I going to dehydrate? Was I being too conservative? Too ambitious? Would I have anything left?

I was pacing the sisters, as it was their first, but they were consistently a few paces in front of me. They were smiling, chatting, excited, and clearly reveling in the excitement of the event. Which is great. It is exciting. I am, perhaps, a bit used to the one million supporters who line the course. And — despite the heat — it was a beautiful day. But I am, perhaps, a bit used to the scenery. In fact, I found myself incapable of being present in any moment, as I was consistently around the next bend in my mind.

First Avenue was, as always, a highlight. We took a brief photo, stretching and Lifesaver break at 71st Street, then resumed. It’s a slow, steady climb into the Bronx, and by the time you get cross the Willis Avenue Bridge, it’s dead quiet. My hip flexors were tight, my head was swimming, and spikes of pain were shooting up and down my IT band, but mostly, I just felt heavy and slow. I felt like I was plodding. And I was. I passed the 21-mile mark at about 3:30:00. Even in my mentally compromised state (math becomes impossible), it was crystal clear that I wasn’t going sub-four.

Somewhere around twenty-one, as I lost the sisters in the glare of the afternoon sun, I thought to myself, ‘This was never my race.’ I was sagging, and had already acknowledged defeat. But then I heard a miraculous voice in my head that said, ‘Well then make it your race!’ Despite the constant shouts of “Go Benjamin!” and “C’mon Benjamin Wagner Dot Com,” that phrase is the only thing I heard for the remaining five miles. ‘Make it yours, make it yours, make it yours…’

I crossed the finish line alone, and with minimal fanfare, at 4:30:49. I was not happy. I was not celebrating. But I was happy to slip the medal over my head, and happy to wrap myself in the mylar blanket, and happy to change into my warm, dry clothes right there on the corner of 74th & Central Park West.

It was a disappointing finish. I had visions of crossing hand-in-hand with Abbi, all smiles, sub-four. I had visions of a raucous family reunion, a rare hamburger, and a tall, cold beer. I got some of that.

The marathon is an epic journey. From the moment one commits to it, to the moment one crosses the finish line is a modern day Odyssey. And in wrestling with Poseidon, fighting the Minotaur, and withstanding the Keeper of the Winds, one finds one’s self transformed.

My story does not end as I would have written it. But apparently that’s not the story this time. My story ends with a song over the credits (R.E.M.”Worst Joke Ever”) and a whispered refrain…

Make it yours. Make it yours. Make it yours.

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