It has been the strangest autumn of my life. Or, at least the strangest autumn of the last fifteen years – since 2002.
I’ve shared on these pages before that I’m not running a fall marathon this year.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling. And I don’t particularly like it. The beloved New York City Marathon, the race I love and adore, will go on without me.
Usually when I don’t get into the New York Marathon (I don’t run it every year, although I was actually in it this year which makes this hurt even more), I run a different fall marathon. This is what brought me to Chicago, Philadelphia, Hartford, the Poconos, the Lehigh Valley, and to Washington D.C. for their marathons.
Autumn, for me, means running 26.2 miles.
As the leaves turn, my body does as well as I ramp up for a task that is never easy and always beyond my understanding how I even do it.
Autumn means long training runs. It means cold mornings. Dampness. Sometimes dread. It means hard work that never gets easier.
The marathon defines me. Sometimes I think it’s who I am. It’s what I do every fall.
Sometimes I think the marathon runs me more than I run it.
While I have run marathons all over, I love New York’s most of all.
I love the city. I love the streets. I love the crowds. I love the grit and the grime and the tension and the toughness that is New York. I love the rugged streets. I love the bridges. I love the coolness in the air. The brashness of New York. I love the brashness.
I love the police and the fire departments who line the streets. I love Sinatra. I love the music and the fact that the whole city comes together.
I love the neighborhoods. I love the spectators and the high fives – mile after mile, after mile.
I love the hard pavement and the feel of the raw metal of the bridges on my tired feet.
I love those things that make New York, New York.
There is an edginess that is unique to New York City. It’s what New York is in so many ways. And it’s what I relish about the city whenever I am fortunate enough to be there. The city’s inner strength, the mean streets…they speak to me and call me out.
Sometimes, sometimes… I think the marathon runs me more than I run it.
I love everything about that race.
I love struggling.
I love achieving.
I love the euphoria that comes and goes on the 26.2 mile journey. I love the despair and the hopelessness of the marathon. And I love Central Park, especially, when it finally arrives. I sometimes cry when I finally reach Central Park. But, I always, always, keep moving forward.
Sometimes, even right now, when I close my eyes, and the world is quiet around me, I can hear the crowds, those wonderful crowds, cheering, cheering, cheering. Yelling, screaming, hooting, hollering. Cheering. Cheering…for me.
That’s the New York City Marathon.
Oh, how I’m going to miss it.
Oh, how it hurts.
I had to give up my dream of running this year’s race when my body, tired from a difficult winter, a tough spring, and an even worse start to the summer, let me down. My body told me to stop, and when I didn’t listen, for just a moment, it stopped for me.
I came back, I trained as hard as I could. I pushed, but as I have shared, I didn’t have that endless reservoir of strength that I had always had in the past.
A few times I fooled myself. I ran 15 miles one day in September. On that day the marathon seemed within reach. But it was a mirage. As it turns out, that run, for this year at least, was my marathon.
And as Marathon Sunday inches ever closer, there is a very real personal (and selfish) sadness inside of me. I long to be out there running.
I want to be with 50,000 other runners just like me pushing, doubting, and advancing step-by-step, mile-by-mile, over the streets of New York’s five boroughs.
But right now, I’m just on the sidelines.
It’s funny, runners are supposed to know their bodies. And I think I know mine.
This year I didn’t recover from long runs like in past. I attributed some of that to the fact that I’m approaching fifty. And that might be part of it.
The stiffness and the pain and the aches, and hobbling that are part of every long distance runner’s life, this year at least, seemed more prevalent. And constant. Ever present.
I hobbled out of bed. Stairs were a necessary torture. For as long as I could, I put up with it, until I realized that it was all for naught. I wasn’t able to push my body any further than those 15 miles I ran in September. My scheduled longer runs ended up being shorter.
On those weeks, the clock seemed to move too quickly. I lost one week and then another. And another…before I realized that the marathon wasn’t part of my 2017.
So, I finally listened to my body and shut it down.
I haven’t run for well over a month now.
It’s funny, my Achilles has ached for a long time. In the first days and weeks after shutting it down, it still hurt. It tuns out, I have an Achilles tear. The pain has been there for as long as I can recall. At least since last winter. Like all runners, I just ignored it as a necessary evil and pushed beyond the misery it caused.
Now, for one of the very few times in my life, I’m letting it heal.
I forgot what it’s like to walk without a constant dull throbbing pain in the back of my leg.
And here’s the funny thing – Yes, it feels good, but I don’t really like it.
I don’t like it because it reminds me that, right now now at least, I’m not a runner and I’m the farthest thing from a marathoner than I have been in over a decade and a half.
And that makes me sad.
And yet, the lack of running has left me feeling strange in other ways as well.
I’m gaining weight (I still exercise daily, but without any cardio, it isn’t the same). That’s not good. Since I stopped running, I also haven’t felt particularly well. In the past, if I felt a cold coming on, I’d dress in layers, including a heavy sweatshirt, and run, hard, on my treadmill. I’d run. I’d pound my body. I’d sweat. I’d beat the heck out of myself and, in the process, I’d somehow defeat the illness.
This autumn, coincidence or not, I have a cough that has lingered and lingered. I can’t shake it. Yeah, I know, you can’t run an illness out of your body. Yeah, I know, you can’t sweat it out. But I always did. I know, it’s crazy.
And, while the pain in my Achilles is waning, I’m finding that there are still days when my legs are tired and sore. I think my legs are confused – unable to comprehend why they aren’t working so hard.
I do feel somewhat refreshed. But when I go up or down stairs, or rise from sitting on the floor, and my body doesn’t groan in agony as it did before, I’m not filled with joy.
When I feel as good as I should, I feel sad.
I don’t want to feel this free of aches and pains in the autumn. I want to feel the soreness and the pangs and the throbbing that indicate that I am alive and well and vibrant. I want the physical misery that comes from being a marathoner.
Alive and well means being alive enough to be a runner. And not just a runner… a marathoner.
I’ll probably find myself with tears in my eyes as I watch the coverage of the NYC Marathon on TV. I’ll be happy for my friends who are there. I’ll also feel more than a bit jealous and more than a pang of regret that I’m sitting on the sidelines. Somehow that tells me that right now, at least, I’m not that strong.
My legs and my body are getting ready to get out there again. (I have a great chiropractor who is a master in sports medicine.)
My heart and my mind are also ready. As is my soul. So much of running comes from the soul.
I don’t plan to miss any of this next fall.
After all, I’m a marathoner.
That’s who I am. It’s who I was. And it’s who I will be…again.