Monday, August 1, 2016

It's always been one of my favorite races

I got into running so I could avoid athletics. Really.

Back in high school there wasn't anything less pleasant than gym class. Balls, mats, ropes and more balls. They were all reminders that I was just a spaz. But a couple weeks into September the gym was filled with tables. All the coaches were there recruiting for their teams and I found out that if I got onto any team I would't have to go to gym anymore. In fact, they would make Jim my last period class and without going I would get a 95.

Baseball, football, basketball, soccerball, wrestling, gymnastics they all didn't want me. I was going to drop the ball get pinned or quickly fall on my face. Then I got to the track coach, I asked him what I had to do to get on the team. It was almost 40 years ago but I can remember what he said, "Show up. Do your best." I can do that! For three seasons a year for four years I showed up to every practice and competed in every meet. I never scored a point, but that didn't hurt the team, And I did learn to enjoy running.

I probably ran about 10 times in my 10 years of college, but when I moved back to Brooklyn I decided to start running again. One of the things that inspired me to run again was the fact that I now lived a block from Prospect Park. Prospect Park became my place to train for my goal of finishing the New York City Marathon.  To read about what it was like to attempt to run the New York City Marathon as a 17-year-old and then to finish it as an adult read this blog post I wrote for the Prospect Park Track Club.

I didn't join the Prospect Park Track Club because I wanted to be part of the team. I joined because I heard they could pull some strings to get me into the race and had a bus to get me to the start of the race, But it quickly became my team. I was accepted without regard to my mediocre race times. Because, just like back in high school if I wasn't one of the first five finishers for my team I was just listed as an "also ran".

So when you're on a team where everyone is your friend being confident that you will only be an also-ran has its privileges. When I race for the Prospect Park track club I know that my best is never ever going to score any points so I might as well maximize my fun. On what is always the most humid day of the summer the New York Road. Runners club puts on a race that is the most fun. Because in order to register you must be a member of a local club and they encourage all the local clubs to have a picnic/cheering zone for their teammates. Second, the race is not coed. Men and women run separately, that makes it so each gender can cheer for the other.

According to NYRR I ran the club team championship race 15 times.The times in those results are meaningless numbers representing 5 miles. Because sometimes I tag along with the women before the men's race and other times I ran all the way to the start so I can get in some extra miles. That always made it more fun.

On May 7, 2014 I stumbled into my doctor's office, kind of hoping she was gonna give me a prescription or something and I was gonna go home. Not so much. She said me to the emergency room, and I still thought I was gonna go home. Not so much. They sent me to intensive care and then I started canceling races that I had paid for. But I was really hoping to be out of the hospital in time for the club team championship race, in August. Again, not so much. A month before the race we were picking out rehab centers for long-term recovery. I knew that's where I would be and a little piece of me was hoping to get the second best rehab center because it would've been pushing distance to Central Park. That didn't happen, and the race went on without me in 2014.  In 2015 most of my teammates didn't realize that just showing up at the race holding onto a forearm crutch was a big accomplishment for me. I shouldn't say that. They probably did realize how big deal it was, and follow my lead by not making a big deal of it.

This year I was so ready for a 5 mile race. If the men were starting an hour before the women, I
would stand a chance of finishing while people were still cheering for the women. But this year the women was starting first, so I asked the nice people at the New York Road Runners club if I could start in the back of the pack behind the women. At first, I think they thought I was asking to compete against the women. But then I referred to my recent race times and they agreed.

Nobody even noticed me standing about 50 feet behind the last woman lined up to start the race. When the horn went off everyone walked forward to the starting line and then started to run. I did the same and made a mental note that the clock already said 1:40.

Then I ran. I ran over the starting line that and I just figured I'd keep running until I had to walk. That lasted about a quarter mile, but it was a good quarter-mile because there I passed some people who recognized me and figured out what I was doing. Janelle  even took this picture of me. I was about 100 yards into a 5 mile race and already I was unable to see the back of the woman's race. [Insert sexist joke here]

For the next 4 miles I was running my own race. The course marshalls was still out there, but they were just waiting for the men's race to start. Most were sitting in the shade or busy playing with their phones. I didn't mind, I knew the route. Then, just as I expected just before I got to mile 4 the fast men started passing me. I yelled to them what I always yell out when I'm being lapped or when I'm a spectator and I get to see the lead pack. "YOU INSPIRE ME!" I was not acknowledged, but I know my words reached their ears.

In the 4th of the 5 miles of this race, most of the rest of the men passed me. There were many familiar voices personally cheering me on. Many familiar faces. There are also people I didn't even know; maybe they knew me from this blog, or Facebook or whatever. But, strangers were cheering for me. Look at the picture below. With a half a mile to go my friend Gary said he would just walk it in with me. For the last few hundred yards of the race I changed my stride so I would be running again. It was a good thing I was running... Putting on a show because in those last few hundred yards all my teammates and all the other teams were watching me finish. And they were all cheering. (I have often joked that my favorite part of the New York City Marathon is running up First Avenue. Because everyone is cheering and the winner is already in the shower so they must be cheering for me.)  I knew they were cheering for me, because they were calling my name.

But you see the kid drinking a cup of water... He had finished the race a long time ago and came back just to tell me that I inspired him to lose some weight and come back into racing.  I inspired him? 

No, I never wanted to inspire these people. I never really wanted people to cheer for me. I just wanted to needed to show my kids how a person can get up after they've been knocked down.... That sometimes you have to work extra hard just to get up.  I never wanted to inspire strangers. I was always happy to be that mediocre runner going by unnoticed. 










But as I've said before, this feedback helps. I'm really keep getting better and you can keep cheering. Because, I rather be the daddy who got up and inspires people than the daddy who fell down. So when you cheer for me, just make sure it's loud enough so my kids can hear you




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