The New York City Marathon’s coming up November 1st. I ran NY in 2002 and 2003 and so I thought I’d post my 2002 marathon piece today, and my 2003 one just before the race. I’m a 5+ hour marathoner now, but vanity (or pride?) compels me to say that I used to be a decent runner. I ran 20 marathons, some ultras and a lot of short stuff. At my peak (age 36-38) I ran 5:00.8 for a mile, 35:20 for 10K, 2:51 for the marathon, and 7:24 for 50 miles.
In 2006 I ran my last marathon, joined by TNB’s Stefan Kiesbye, who finished ahead of me by 47 seconds. I’d like to say I let him go ahead, but that would be a lie.
In 2002, I was injured going into the race. Going out to the car to catch Jet Blue the day before the race, I slipped on a patch of ice I didn’t see, bounced down my front stairs and onto the sidewalk, tearing my rotator cuff and seriously bruising my thigh. But hey – I’d trained hard and it was my first marathon in 21 years, so I flew down and ran anyway. I hoped my thigh would hold up, but it went bad after a couple of miles.
So I’m dying – you know, that’s how we talk about it later, I died – and those spectators, Jesus Christ there were thousands of them, maybe a hundred thousand of them, no really, it’s true. New York City Marathon. Thousands of them, yelling at me: looking good! I couldn’t stand it.
You know what I mean? No?
OK. Like this: I’m dying early from a muscle ambush. Something’s busted in my right quad and none of my old fix-it-on-the-run tricks are working.
Plus I look like shit. I don’t want to hear about how I look good. Some people die, they don’t look so bad. They slow down, that’s all. Like this Italian woman who passed me, stayed out in front, then, I don’t know, five or six miles later she comes back to me. She looked good. Even coming back, she was probably dying, she looked good.
What? How did I know? Her shirt. Italia on the back is how I knew. Lots of that out there: France, Espana, a couple of big girls from Alabama, I think they were Meg and Rose. Yeah, names on the back, maybe on the front too, who knows? I was behind them. Must be so spectators can call their names.
Me, no way. Never did it, except once at Boston I wore my Buffalo Philharmonic A.C. shirt and people screamed, Go chicken wings! But a name, no way.
I saw stuff in duct tape too, like My husband made me do it. Duct tape! Not a lot of Jesus stuff, though, except a guy passed me, he was carrying a cross and a flag. OK, man, run your ass off for God and Country. Thing was, right, he passed me. I got him back in Harlem, though, the bastard died.
So that Italian woman. Maybe she was pretty or maybe not, but she had a nice ass which I watched for what, half an hour? What was I supposed to do? She was two steps ahead of me, I was dying, that’s what people do, right? Boats sinking, airplanes going down. OK, we’re all gonna die here, so let’s get it on while we can? Isn’t that what they say? Last chance.
She had black tights like mine, with white dried-sweat line showing me where her briefs were – French cut, you know, with the high legs and what looks to me like a permanent wedgie – and I was guessing mine looked the same, though they were ordinary Calvins, low cut. But I’ll bet you they were white-lined like hers, so maybe somebody behind me was thinking, hey, not a bad ass for an old guy but that white line is gross.
Makes it worse, see, I’m dying, I’m already dead, and what, I’m noticing nice asses? And I’m thinking, What’s wrong with you, shithead. Con-cen-trate. Don’t die. See, you don’t ever want to say you’re dying when you’re dying, because then it’s true and it’s all over. Afterwards you say you died but while you’re dying you don’t admit it. A little pain, a bad patch – that’s what the Brits like to say, a little bad patch. Christ, what a euphemism.
And me, when I’m dying I think of words like euphemism or I do some tunes in my head, even though in New York every mile or so there’s some band so it’s hard to keep your own tune going. There was a Korean church orchestra, all in black, sitting at an intersection, strings, brass, everything, but playing My Country Tis of Thee which to me is not good running music. I like the last part of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, it’s Italian, right, the part that just goes Santa Maria, Santa Maria, and then once I did a six hour race with Beethoven, Archduke Trio, first movement, theme.
My stride’s gone to shit too, see, you can say that to yourself because you can try to do something about it. But you can’t come back from the dead. And you can say you don’t look good, too, that’s OK. And I don’t. There’s snot running from my nose because it’s cold. The right cuff on my polypro top’s all nasty from wiping. My hair, what’s left of it, it’s gotta be sticking up every which way from the wind.
So where was I? Oh, names, signs. Buffalo, too. Yeah, Buffalo. I’m limping along and people start with Go Buffalo, and I’m thinking, What, how do they know? I’m outed.
Then this guy runs up beside me, he’s got Buffalo written on his shirt, front and back, I don’t recognize him, but I say, Wait’ll they start with the Go chicken wings and he acts like he doesn’t understand what I mean.
Oh yeah, I was looking good. Mister All In Black Man, but that’s because of the temp. You know what I mean? I only had black tights. Yeah. In these long ones you know you’re gonna feel like shit towards the end, you know, if you do it right you redline the whole way and there you are at the end, nothing left. Even the Kenyans do it. It’s not magic. You’ve got so much in the tank and then it’s all gone and the goddamn finish line’d better be there. But you don’t expect to die early, not if you’ve done your work and you’re being careful.
What am I supposed to say? They’re trying to help. Jesus, I’ve gone looking good myself even when I’ve figured in about thirty feet the guy’s gonna be down on his knees puking. Said it anyway. Said it to women too, just as bad. You know? It’s what you say.
Right? Am I right? Say it but you don’t want to hear it. Who needs that shit? It’s bad enough, dying, and then you gotta worry that you’re rude, too? Because, you know, it would be rude. To be, like, Hey, bud, you don’t know shit about this, do you? Any asshole can see I’m dying.
Right. So here’s this guy, he’s trying to help, you know he’s trying to help, and so you stick it to him? What a prince you are. For that you should die, you know, your goddam quad should just snap, blam! the tendons let go, it should writhe around in your tights like you’ve got some wild animal in there. You deserve it. But you know, what’re you supposed to do? Only saints are saints when they’re dying.
Oh man, then the kids and the hi fives. Man, those little Hassid kids back in Brooklyn, their fathers silent, nothing at all, their mothers smiling a little, and the little kids, all nicely dressed, hats, shy smiles, held out their little Hassid hands for me to touch them. You bet I did. Maybe they liked me because I was all in black, too. The kids in Harlem, the Hispanic kids being held out by their fathers, the Chinese kids, all the same.
All the kids were the same – Hey mister! Touch me!
Christ, can you imagine, you know, you’re dying, you feel like homemade shit, and these little kids reaching, wanting something from you, that little palm. No way you don’t do it. They’re just kids, even when you’re dying you know that. They don’t know what you’re feeling.
You don’t want them to know.