"I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards." -Alberto Salazar, three-time winner of the NYC marathon
I've been trying to avoid it, ignore it, put it out of my mind, and I've been pretty successful thus far. But this morning my eyes pop open at 5 a.m. My mind is racing and my stomach is doing somersaults. What the heckedy-heck! Oh, geez! Not this again...Please. Not yet!!!
In terms of running and life I've managed to distract myself fairly well concerning my next 'race'. I've run a couple marathons over the past month, been training fairly steadily, while balancing (not so well) work and family. But today it seemed to smash me in the face, completely out of the blue! I should have known. I've been feeling irritated and agitated and hyper (even for me!) for a couple days - denial does that to you. So today I got the dope-slap from my mind...Wake up you little fool! This is something you've wanted to do since you were a 15 year-old school girl.
Back in 1978, during the first running boom, you could still take an easy train trip into the city from the suburbs of New Jersey and watch the finish of the New York City Marathon. It was a big deal, even then, for anyone living in the NY metropolitan area, but nothing compared to the circus it is today. And it was a really big deal for me, a NJ High School runner, because Grete Waitz was running. We all need heroes. She was mine.
So as I stood in Central Park with my Father, about a quarter mile from the finish, and watched the graceful streak of Grete Waitz flow by me, I was completely ME at that instant, and knew something more true than anything I had (or would) know about myself: I love running, and I want to run this marathon...someday. Now this may sound melodramatic (but, hey, I was a teenage girl. It's all melodrama!) but it was one of those moments where the world seals off all around you, it's you and the world and nothing else exists, and your senses feel hyper-sensitive (like when you're about to pass out and you lose your peripheral vision and the world becomes a tunnel - only better). I don't even know how much time passed. Time froze...
Many years have passed. As it turns out, I was right on Oct 2nd 1978 - the one (and only?) thing I've been 'right' about. I do love running. And I've never stopped running since. And in 2 weeks I'll be running NY. And the thought is making me sick to my stomach...But in a good way.
But here's the thing, Salazar is wrong about us being 'cowards'. We are not cowards. To paraphrase Aristotle: Cowards run away in fear. Cowards feel too much fear, and are crushed by it. Courage, however, is feeling just the 'right' amount of fear, not too much and not too little. You feel fear but you push through it in a rational and reasonable way, facing it and thwarting it! Foolhardiness is feeling too little fear and doing something stupid. So as we stand on the starting line feeling nervous, anxious, apprehensive, excited, etc. we are courageous. We do this voluntarily. No one makes you run. You don't "have to" run. And as we each stand there, wondering why in the hell we've signed up for this anguish, we must make peace and accept that we each have our own reasons for being there. No one is there for exactly the same reason.
And at mile 18 it might be hard to remember why you clicked "register" 6 months ago. But I promise that none of us regret it by mile 26.
For me New York City has special meaning. It comes with a lot of 'baggage', and that's good and bad. When I was told in 2008 that I would NEVER run again, the very FIRST thing that popped into my mind was "Oh my God! I'm never going to run New York!". And that single thought brings me to this point in time. And now it feels like a lot is riding on this run, and I'm a little scared about it all - Okay - I'm terrified!! I planned this year to begin with Boston and end with NY, but NY has always been more important to me emotionally...personally. And this year is special because I've been running for 40 years. Perhaps I'll do it again at 50 years. I hope I still can.