Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From the Newsletter of the Prospect Park Track Club August 2008

What you do not know because you are not me

I recently talked about my high school running experience, and how this led to running the NYC Marathon.

In 1980, I was 17 and the marathon was a different kind of event. I do not remember any major corporate sponsorship or an expo. There were no chips (there weren’t even personal computers, but that has nothing to do with this story). Back in the 70s and 80s men and women were separated at the finish line and there were things like “finish line chutes”. There also was very little advice given to new runners and there were no age restrictions for marathon entry.

As a high school student I received no coaching or advice on running a marathon. My track coach was not really allowed to acknowledge my entry into the race. I just figured that if I could run 13 miles with out dropping dead, then I could run 26.2 and drop dead at the finish. I did grew up in Sheepshead Bay, so I did all of my training by doing loops of (pancake flat) Marine Park, or running back and forth on Bedford Ave from Brooklyn College to Emmons Ave. I kept a training log; some days said “Kings Plaza and back 2X” or “2 mile race walk at the Armory”. It included other youthful actives like “3 hours dancing at CBGBs… great show”, “6 pack” or “Biked to Rockaway… swam some”.

I also remember getting special shoes to run in (I probably ran all my High School meets in Keds). My father knew somebody who owned a sporting goods store. My father told him I need special sneakers to run a Marathon in. When we got there he showed me theses amazing looking running shoes. They had no weight to them. He told me that I should never do anything but run in them or they would quickly wear out. The store owner also told me that I could also run in water and within a few steps all the water would come out. He told me I did not need to use socks when I ran. These shoes were great but they were nothing like the footwear offered at Slope Sports or Jackrabbit. I believe they were specialized track shoes for the steeplechase.

Race day was mostly a blur. I remember that The Running Start, a running store on Ave “U” provide a bus to Fort Wadsworth. The end of race plan was that my father would be waiting at the finish line. Looking back at my race strategy, I realized that I had none. The words “pacing” and “hydration” were not in my vocabulary. I have no idea how fast I started running, but it must have been fast. I also had absolutely no experience drinking while running. I remember getting thirsty in Greenpoint Brooklyn. I just stopped at table of cups of water and drank like I just came out of the desert. Within a half a mile I threw up. I did not think much of it so I just drank some more. This repeated a few times. On the 59th St Bridge things really got ugly. I don’t just mean “being passed by the guy with on leg ugly”, I mean “throwing up on (off) a bridge ugly”. OK, too much information.

Somehow I got to the bottom of the bridge and asked for medics. I must have looked pretty bad because I remember a lot of hands on me and then I was on my back. I told the doctors what happened and they gave me some Gatorade. I drank about a gallon and felt much better. I do not remember what happened next. I was told I stood up and passed out. I also threw up all over a very nice nurse. They told me that I had to lay flat for an hour and then they would see how I felt. They would not let me continue and in an hour they would decide if they would let me go home or take me to the hospital.

So there I was, laid out flat, at the bottom of the Queensboro Bridge. Not the plan. Really, not the plan. By that time, my father was waiting by Tavern on the Green. Remember, it was 1980, he did not have a cell phone. The medics wouldn’t even let me walk across the street to use the pay phone. They did however call my mother at home and tell here where I was. Then, I had to wait for my father to realize I did not finish, call home, and drive around Manhattan to pick me up. It took my father forever to find me. I was never even sure he knew where I was.

That was the end of running for me. Done, Finished, Enough. “This is crazy”, I thought.

In 1981 the Roadrunners club added a rule to the entry requirements to the Marathon. You have to be 18 years old to start the race. I suppose I had an effect on the marathon.

Twelve years later I got caught in a huge traffic jam. I had to get from Long Island to Park Slope. I could not cross 4th Ave. I was alone in the car and went nuts. It was beyond road rage. I realized I was incomplete; I still needed to finish the race. In 1993 I finished the NYC Marathon. I cried like a baby, it took me 13 years, but I finally finished what I started as a teenager. This year I will be attempting to finish my 15th NYC Marathon. As I type this I am also tearing up. I now define myself as a person who runs marathons. It is who I am.


  1. michael,

    i hope those are tears of JOY :D

    see you at fort wadsworth in november - if not sooner!

  2. Sounds like a good chapter for the book that I want you to write.


You do not have to be nice!


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