Born To Run
I’m often asked why I run the New York City Marathon. Here’s my top ten.
10 – It’s There. Or, more succinctly, it’s right here! The Marathon route comes within four blocks of Abbi and my apartment. In fact, yesterday, as we barrelled towards Columbus Circle, I said to Abbi (in an attempt to galvanize her resolve), “Look, there’s our grocery store.” I don’t think it helped. But seeing the Empire State coming down Fifth, Cat Hill in Central Park, or The Plaza, is energizing. It’s my back yard. I don’t think I could stand to sit it out.
9 – Bragging Rights. I won’t front. It’s cool to hit the office on a Monday morning and answer the “So what’d you do this weekend?”inquiries with “A triathlon,” or whatever. I like to be that guy, the one who goes a bit further, does a bit more, pushes a little harder. And I don’t mind talkin’ about it.
8 – Scenery. New York City is pretty spectacular, from Fort Wadsworth to Fort Green to Sheeps Meadow. On a crisp fall day like yesterday, there’s a lot to look at: downtown Manhattan from the Veranzano, the 34-story Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower from Fourth Avenue, the Midtown skyline from the Polaski Bridge.
7 – Fitness. Wagners are not a small people. They make ’em pretty big in Iowa. I’d bet that the average weight of my uncles is in the high two hundreds. I’m about six feet tall. And I love cheeseburgers, beer, and ice cream. So I run.
6 – Pain Is Temporary. You see a lot of t-shirt slogans on the course. I’ve grown fond of two: Pain Is Weakness Leaving Your Body, and Pain Is Temporary, But Glory Is Abiding. Cheeseball? Maybe a little. But true, and helpful up there around mile twenty-two. Sure, my quads are a bit sore today. But the excruciating, nausiating pain in my knees and hips and soles of my feet ended as soon as I crossed the finish line. Anything worth anything costs something. And real growth often comes with real pain. I’ve never regretted give this race everything I have. I try and leave everything out there.
5- Adulation. Again, I won’t front. There are two million spectators out there between Bay Ridge and Central Park, and if you’re like me (and Abbi) and you put your name on your shirt, you feel like a rock star. I must’ve heard my name a hundred times yesterday, and it made me smile every time. I’ll take it.
4- Inspiration. Chris and I were bit by the marathon bug, I think, watching my cousin Roxane slog up First Avenue in a full-on, bone-chilling downpour. She finished in something like 3:20:00 (which is ridiculously good). But it was the sea of humanity and the dedication writ large on their faces that inspired us. Marathons are not solely for high school track stars and Olympic hopefuls. The field is crowded with everyday people digging deep inside themselves to do something big for one reason or another: to honor a passed loved one, shed unwanted weight, find inner strength, inner peace, or outward resolve. When you see a few thousand of those people pass by — all struggling through the pain, through the fatigue, and through the desire to give up — it’s impossible not to be moved.
3- Teamwork. It’s tough to run 26.2 miles. It’s even more challenging to run it with someone you love. For starters, there are 38,000 runners so just keeping track with one another is difficult. Moreover, you get a little chippy with one another somewhere in the fourth hour. The real challenge, though, is working together on pace. There are moments when I feel weightless, like I could run forever but Abbigail is suffering. And vice versa. But we made a deal — yesterday morning, and in front of that big ole oak tree in South Carolina. We’re in it together. For the long haul. So running the marathon together is the perfect…
2- Metaphor. I’m not sure there’s a single more symbolic event than a marathon. Everything is meaningful. Train hard, sleep well, wake early, start easy, lean back, settle in, find a groove, enjoy the view, endure the pain, finish strong, smile big, rock the medal, do it again.
1- Strength. I think I’ve said it all, but — other than the love of my friends, family, and wife — I’m not sure any single thing’s made me stronger than running eight of these things. It’s an annual reminder that I can do anything I set my mind to.
So, how did we do yesterday?
We started strong, logging ten minute miles with just two frustrating bathroom breaks in the first thirteen miles. We started slowing, I think, at the sixteen mile mark as we ascended the Queensboro Bridge. That’s when the pounding started taking its toll. I popped two Advil, which kicked in somewhere above 96th Street. Still, Abbi wasn’t feeling great. Our miles slipped into the 12:00/13:00 zone.
We stretched a while up in the Bronx, then pointed ourselves down Fifth Avenue. I finally persuaded Abbi to choke down some Advil around mile twenty-two, and began in on a bag gummy bears. I was feeling strong, but hung just off of Abbi’s shoulder waiting for her second wind. Whether it was the Advil or the legions of Central Park spectators yelling “Go Abbi! Kick Benjamin’s ass!” she got it, and started sprinting towards Tavern on the Green.
The last mile was a blast, laughing and smiling and blowing past struggling marathoners all the way through the finish.
We crossed together at exactly 4:42:00.