If you happen to be like me, one of those people who will be cheering on the ING New York City Marathon, which takes place Nov. 7, you should know it’s not just an awe-inspiring event with 40,000 runners from all over the world—it is an occasion that can change lives—like it did for me in 2006.
On that marathon day, I came out to cheer on friends and walked away with a belief that if they could, I could! It was on the corner of 47th Road and Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, which is the midway point in the marathon. Inspired but also shamed, I thought, You will do this, you will run the New York City Marathon.
As a non-runner, I had to figure out where to begin. The first thing I did was join New York Road Runners, an organization instrumental in ensuring that after completing a year of running qualifying races and volunteering, along with paying membership fees and a marathon entry fee, you will gain entry to the New York City Marathon.
It’s inspiring to watch the elite runners in any race and especially on the day of the marathon, but for most of us the pace and finish time of the regular guy/gal runners seems much more attainable than the professional runner striving to finish in or around the two-hour mark.
But before joining NYRR and attempting to run one of their races, the first thing I had to do was actually run. So off I went, and to say it wasn’t easy would be an understatement—it was hell. At first, I was only able to run a few minutes before I would be sore and out of breath. So I would have to mix up running and walking. Gradually the running became more consistent, I walked less, and was able to run a mile without having to stop.
My first race was on a cold February morning in 2007. I managed to struggle, puff and pant my way through each of these miles and felt aches in my shoulders and back mixed with stitches and chafing. By the time I crossed the finish line, I thought I was going to vomit. I felt dizzy and had to sit on a bench in Central Park until I regained composure and started to feel relaxed. I had completed my first ever race at an average of a 10-minutes-permile pace. It felt great.
That year I completed 19 races, of which four were half marathons (13.1 miles), ensuring I not only lost weight and felt better about myself but also that I qualified for the 2008 New York City Marathon.
I ran my first New York City Marathon in 2008 and it was fantastic. I had followed a marathon training schedule that had me running up to 30 miles per week, but the long runs, lost toe nails and alcohol-free weekends paid off because I was finally in a position physically and mentally to complete my first ever marathon. It was not an experiment that would ever be repeated, though, as the race was overcrowded and congestion was a major annoyance for the runners.
This year I’ll be out at the half-way point again hoping to catch the first-time participants, and I’m sure I’ll be inspired all over again. This year Haile Gebrselassie, the record holder for the fastest marathon in the world from his finish time in Berlin in 2008, will be running New York for the first time, and there is also a possibility that one of the rescued Chilean miners, Edison Peña, will be here—he spent his time underground running each day before being rescued, and was invited by the NYRR president to be a guest or even a participant Nov. 7.
I’ll applaud the runners from the sidewalk when I see them dash past, but most of all I’ll cheer on those who were like me in 2007, running for the first time and all the sacrifices they made to get there. And no doubt I’ll be inspired again by the runners who have overcome so many struggles in their lives to be there, and also for those who don’t think they could ever get out there in the first place.