When I was still commuting between the moon and New York City last year, I would drive the New Jersey Turnpike almost weekly, on the weeks when I was not flying to California, or overseas, or to some nameless, forgettable airport for a day trip. There were weeks when I was in eight airports in a week; days when I was in three cities in a day. On the nights when I would drive between Washington and New York, I would leave Washington as soon as I could (read: late), and speed up the turnpike, taking international conference calls between cities.
It was, in short, not an enviable existence.
And I was not a particularly wonderful person to be around, either.
I think back on that time and wonder what I was thinking; wonder how I survived it, other than on the kindness of those around me – friends, family, even clients. People who maybe even had no idea they were being kind; people who knew very well that they were being kind and would do it again in a heartbeat if they could.
There was one moment, very late one night the week of the Marathon, when I was driving over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with the view of the road in front of me; cables above me; homesicker than I’d ever been in my life and close enough to touch the city I love. I had told my boss that I was not going to travel the week prior to the marathon, and he had given me three glorious days at home. At that point, I had not spent more than four consecutive days in one place in ten months.
All of my things had been moved out of my Washington apartment the week before, and had been moved out of my Manhattan apartment months before. Everything I owned in the world was somewhere in transit, or somewhere in storage. I had nothing but my suitcase, and the running shoes in the back seat of my car. I was to find a new apartment after the marathon; then head out to California for most of the month of November; then move…at some point.
So there I was on the bridge; post-midnight traffic; construction on the BQE. And Jay-Z’s “Empire State” came on. It was the first time I had heard it, and it took my breath away. White girl, in a red Jaguar, listening to Jay-Z…
Because I was so close to home. Truth be told, just about anything would have made me cry in those moments.
(A favorite to turn on the waterworks was Air Supply — any Air Supply. Or, God forbid, a rousing chorus of “Sometimes When We Touch,” if Delilah got sick of playing “House at Pooh Corner” and Janet Jackson’s “Again.”)
At that moment, at the crest of the Verrazano bridge, as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys finished out their song, it struck me that the next time I crossed the Verrazano into Brooklyn would be on foot for my very first New York City Marathon; my first marathon ever.
And the radio played:
One hand in the air for the big city,
Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty,
no place in the World that can compare…
I had endeavored to run the NYC Marathon last year as the final “to do” on a list of 50 Things To Do in 10 years. The others had been strange (to see a certain number of Olympic sites); questionably achievable (to get married, to attend a certain law school); and others had been lofty goals, but mostly achievable with time, patience, money, and a personality like mine (ski certain peaks in the Alps; hike the Great Wall; drive across the US more than once; climb Half Dome). The one I had saved for last was: Run the New York City Marathon.
It was the one thing I wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish.
Marathon day was gloomy; misty. I woke up to messages from friends overseas — cheers, jeers, congrats.
You have come this far; 40k is nothing.
I suppose I shouldn’t say “Break a leg” — that’s not what they say in running, is it?
And so, alone, in the early morning misty silence, I made my way to Central Park South; took the bus to the start at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.
While, up until that November morning, I had made many monumental steps alone — particularly between August and October — the steps had all been through places outside of New York — through Washington; California; other countries. I had been on a whirlwind tour of the rest of the world, and the significant change happening in my life had kept me separated from my home.
So I set out to conquer the concrete jungle. By myself.
As I made my way to the start, solo among 30something thousand people, I listened to the start music for the other “waves.” The Star-Spangled Banner. God Bless America.
I was in the third “wave.”
I made my way to my (very) non-elite corral (if they classified corrals by “non-elite” status, mine would have been in “slumming it;” maybe even in “dive” territory). And as we began to push forward, “Empire State” came blasting through the speakers.
There’s nothing you can’t do…
Now you’re in New York…
These lights will inspire you…
Five hours later, I was almost finished. There had been friends all along the way to cheer me on.
My sisters, CJ, and The Laura, met me at Mile 26, and CJ met me again after the finish. I had started to cry before I pushed for the finish; before Tavern On the Green. The leaves had turned in Central Park; the air was crisp; the day was perfect. And I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon, exactly as I had always hoped I would.
I have done a lot of things; seen a lot of things; accomplished a lot of things. But there is nothing I have done in my life that I am prouder of than finishing my first marathon; the New York City Marathon.
I wish there were words in any language to explain to you that feeling of…joy.
I made it through the labyrinth of runners and out to the Upper West Side where I met CJ, and we went downtown to dinner at my one of my favorite restaurants in the city — The Odeon (…Now I’m down in Tribeca…) — me still in running clothes; still wearing my medal.
I had to go back to Washington the next day; had to fly back to California a day later to begin the marathon that was my November.
I had begun the month of November a mere New Yorker, and by the evening of the First Day, I was a Marathoner. Everything had changed for me; the filthy streets had made me feel brand new.
I will run the Marathon again. It will not be quite the same as that first time. Because I ran the New York City Marathon; I did it. And since I made it here, I can make it anywhere.