As soon as the cold wind settles in from the north, I know that the NYC Marathon is right around the corner. Each year has been a different experience and I think it's that unpredictability that has kept me interested and challenged enough to try it again. This year was the most challenging yet and through it all, I've come to understand more about who I am and a major reason why I've run these races.
In 2006 my back hurt a little, my pants were a bit more snug than I liked and boxing, though a sport I love, was something I knew I couldn't continue participating in forever. One day that summer on vacation I ran away from our house and when I feared I'd gone too far, turned around and went home. It was thrilling. I was seeing Martha's Vineyard up close, taking in the smells and thinking. Running would soon become my obsession that year and I would run away from home and back as often as I could. I entered some small races and liked the vibe. I tried a half-marathon and did well, and with about 10 weeks more training, ran my first NYC Marathon. I had done it.
Deep inside me though, I know I am ready to quit. I quit everything as a youth. I quit baseball, football, track and field and even boxing. I quit art classes and any sandlot game that didn't go my way I'd get on my bike and quit.
This summer one moment kept coming back to me over and over. It was the first time I was called out on this quitting habit, the day I quit a sandlot football game. I was perhaps 15 or 16 and some particular play did not go the way I thought it should and out of frustration I grunted that I was leaving and walked toward my bike. My older brother Dan, sitting on the ground after the play and about to get up offered in a smirked comment that it was typical, that I quit everything. My brain went black and I made a hard fist and punched him in the back of the head. I saw stars because I fractured my hand. He said ouch and got up and kept playing. I took my limp hand and busied ego home. Who was I and how could I do that to him? I'm ashamed to tell this story even now.
This knowledge of who I was, of the hardened heart I had become with a coward's core was part of who I was. I think all men struggle to find out what kind of man they will be growing up. I certainly did and this little moment provided a challenge to me for the future. Would I follow through with things that were difficult? Would I not shrink from a challenge but lean into it? I quit everything.
College proved to me that I could dare to try hard and apply myself. I was a successful student and earned a career in illustration. In Philadelphia, my first adopted city after college, I tried boxing again and found that I still loved it, but that I was even better teaching it. I could use my shortcomings and tendencies to help others face their fears and achieve. This was a soothing moment for me and I knew that I was becoming a man who had some integrity and could follow through with things.
So along comes 2006. I was turning 40 and was feeling slightly weary. 6 years of being a parent and and 19 years working hard had taken it's toll. I was thicker around the waist and moving stiffly around the house.
That running suddenly changed my summer and year was amazing. The marathon was exciting and I had pushed through all of the voices in my head that wanted me to quit.
To continue on was another matter. All through the year, week after week there are reasons to skip a run, skip a race and forgive yourself for the decision. But running was proving something to myself; I could face that quitter over and over and ignore him.
I would run a horrible NYC Marathon in 2007, passing out at mile 25 only to walk the last mile 45 minutes later. I would regroup and try it again in 2008 but that year I would start to deal with hereditary high blood pressure and lower my expectations a bit. In 2009 I trained well and tried to push a bit and achieved a personal best run only to get a painful hip injury.
Which takes us to 2009-2010, the year of a torn hip labrum, physical therapy and applying myself even more. Man, did I have a reason to quit. I couldn't lift my right leg over a curb when walking, but months of PT on that hip and core probably made me a better runner in the end. Had I not injured my hip I would certainly be breaking down in the next few years.
To alleviate the hip pain and put off surgery I decided to lose weight. To date I lost about 30 pounds and 3" on my waistline. Running today feels like running down hill. The pain is almost gone and I am less winded on runs and feel amazing.
I think I might have slain the quitter in me but I know that this force is strong. I know that I must turn my attention towards my work and career more in the coming years. It's hard to attempt something and not achieve what we want. I think many of us DON'T try as hard as we could to protect ourselves from the devastating disappointment of failure. I think there are things about my work and career that I have yet to strive for. By not reaching, I put off disappointment. However, I've learned something about myself in the past few years that takes me back to my stupid punch and my brother's words. It is easy to walk away and much harder to try. The victory is not winning or getting what you want. The victory is knowing you tried and won't quit, ever.
I'll run my 5th NYC Marathon on Sunday, November 7th.
I'll post an update after the race. I then scoot off for a few nights of camping in FROST VALLEY with my son and his 5th grade class. Just what a runner needs after a race.
See you all in New York.