Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back to the Egg

1997 NYC Marathon:
yep, that IS a cast on my leg
The Marathon. The first race distance I ever truly learned. The first race distance I ever truly respected. And the first race distance I ever truly loved. From 1991 to 2001, I was a student of the marathon. It taught me more about myself than anyone or anything ever had. It chewed me up and spit me out. And it made me stronger - both physically AND mentally. So when I get overwhelmed and stressed out and want to return to my comfort zone, I go back to marathoning. It's what I know best. And it feels like home.

And no other race feels more like home to me than the New York City Marathon - for two reasons: it's "my" distance; and it's "my" city.

During my formative years, there were two major cities that a Connecticut native could identify with: Boston and New York. My brother's passion was north - in Boston. Mine was south - in New York. I don't know why. It could have been the high school field trips there. It could have been the two college boyfriends from there. It could have been something else entirely. All I know is that somewhere after the age of 16, I began referring to New York as "THE City" (as in "let's go to the City"). It didn't matter where I was in the world - "the City" meant New York. And the City has never disappointed me. It is the place where dreams came true and some of my greatest memories were made (although Disney World has also been known to possess this power).

Disaster Magnet with Olly and Gale of Turin Brakes
(this photo doesn't really indicate how much pain
I was in from my bike accident )
My favorite moment in the City happened in June 2003 - about a month after my horrific bike accident. And it was just what I needed to lift my spirits. My husband Jim and I traveled from Cleveland to New York to see the English acoustic duo Turin Brakes at the Bowery Ballroom on their first U.S. tour. I had never met them but we were acquainted because I had painted portraits of them. The long-story-short version of this story is that it all ended in one of those once-in-a-lifetime fan experiences - not only did I have the opportunity to meet them in person, but they actually played my favorite song and dedicated it to me after telling the audience about the portraits. I still tell the story in awe that it ever even happened - and yep, it proved to me for the nth time that New York was a very special place indeed.

The New York City Marathon has also played a role in memory-making - not once, but twice. My first experience running the New York City Marathon almost didn't happen. It was 1997 and five weeks before the race, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my tibia. My orthopod, Dr. Sam Patterson, did something extraordinary that year to get me to the starting line (although he would probably claim it was the only thing he could do to avoid having me commit suicide right there in his office upon diagnosis). He let me train every other day on land with an air-cast. On the other days, I trained by running in the water. By race day, I had the choice of running with or without the cast - I chose the cast. Even though race day was cold and wet and miserable, I had so much fun with crowd interaction (mostly because I was running with a cast and wearing my Cleveland Indians hat right after the Indians knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs) that it remains - to this day - the only marathon for which I purchased the finish line photo. My air-cast stunt also resulted in an invitation to run with the Wackos - a legendary Northeast Ohio running group.

The second, and last, time I ran the New York City Marathon was a very somber event. It was in November 2001 - less than two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There was some fear that the run over the Verazzano Narrows Bridge - from Staten Island to Brooklyn - would be in danger. Rudy Giuliani made a moving speech before the start, and I got the feeling every American who ran across the bridge that day felt it was a collective act of defiance. I still have the singlet I ran in that day - it has the Team Wacko logo on the front and an American flag hand-sewn (by me) on the back. And the show went on.

So, yes, New York has been the place of special moments - in life and in running. And I will return there in two weeks to end my racing season, hopefully on a better note than the one I tried to end it on on October 8. It doesn't matter to me that I'm not really in shape to run a marathon. Because the New York City Marathon is more than just a race to me. It's a return to my comfort zone. To my roots. To my home. And no matter what the outcome, I know I will always be welcome back.

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