That's the slogan for the New York City Marathon; the one they use for everyman runners like me who get in through the lottery. Marketing and PR people, the smart and creative people they are - I'm sure the New York Road Runners Club consulted, at least, one to help them with their promotional campaign - came up with the perfect slogan. "I'm in" is exactly what I said when I discovered I had been drawn to run this year's edition of the 26.2 mile race.
I've run the New York City Marathon (NYCM) twice before. I don't know if 'run' is the correct word to use, really, but it's an acceptable one. Whether you actually run the distance or mix bouts of running with walk breaks to preserve your legs, as long as you cross the finish line, you're allowed to say you 'ran' the marathon. The word 'jog' has really gone out of favour. It implies a casualness and callousness to pounding the pavement. 'Run,' on the other hand, regardless of your experience or speed, connotes a sense of commitment and training and changing one's lifestyle. Besides, unless you're a professional or elite runner whose focus is to run fast and win and qualify for bigger events, like The Olympics, runners approach races for a variety of reasons. For some, it's to challenge themselves to achieve a physical goal. For others, it's to lose weight. Some run to belong to a group of like-minded individuals and some do it to relive past glories or to delay the decline of speed that was taken for granted over high school and college running careers. And, of course, there are runners who race to raise money for worthy causes like cancer and leukemia research and treatments.
I run because it's great fitness, I want to lose weight and get back to my pre-married level of fitness and because it's something I can do on my own. Generally speaking, I'm one of those people who likes doing this by himself. I also run to achieve a sub 5:00 time for 26.2 miles. This is something my friend, Ian, and I have been going for since the Disney Marathon of 1999. My time goal is sub 5:00 and his is 3:30. Oh, and I run the marathon because it's a magical distance. It's long enough to be a major challenge and short enough to be doable, to earn me some respect (self and otherwise) and some pride. It's a challenge; one that's achievable without killing yourself. My feeling: anyone who runs and who has ever, however fleetingly, thought of running the distance should go ahead and do it.
My desire to run the NYCM came about in 1983 when I saw Rod Dixon, on a delayed TV broadcast shown in a Hong Kong sports program, across the finish line. There was drama when he beat the runner who was in front of him, it was raining and the look on his face and Dixon's dropping to his knees made a major impact on me. In fact, before becoming a devotee of Saint Jude and wanting to and, consequently, naming my son Jude, I'd thought about naming any children I'd have - male or female - after my favourite runners - Dixon, German (after German Silva), Khalid (after Khalid Khannouchi) and Haile (after the legend, Haile Gebrselassie). If my wife and I have another child, I'd consider these names still. If we have a girl, I might throw in some combination of Paula (after Paula Radcliffe) and Jennifer (my older sister who died a few hours after her birth and, for some strange reason, I feel connected to. My screenplay Jenny is named for her).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was a very serious runner. For a single, straight mile I was running about 6:50. For longer runs, naturally I was slower; anywhere from 8:30-11:00 per mile depending on the distance. In the 1999 Disney World Marathon, I was running well and did the maths in my head as my feet hit the ground. I was heading for a 4:40 but at mile 17...BOOM!. My left hamstring went and I had to start using long walks with short running spurts. One of the volunteers at a water station even rubbed my leg down. Just before the 26 mile mark, I stopped altogether. I felt tears wanting to run down my face knowing I was so close to finishing but feeling like I couldn't take another step. But, I was on my feet and recalled one of Ian's and my mantras - "DNF is not an option." (DNF is runnerspeak for Did Not Finish.) So, I took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other and ran, ignoring any and all pain and discomfort. After a few yards, as if it felt my my conviction, my hamstring became my ally and did its best to divert any injury I'd suffered nine miles earlier. When I crossed the finish line, Ian and another friend of his, Mark, were there cheering me on. I didn't get my time goal but I'd run a marathon fit and prepared. I felt good. Not getting my time goal wasn't because of my laziness or lack of fitness but by simple bad luck and getting injured. I could accept that.
I don't know if I'll get my PR (Personal Record) at the NYCM this fall. I'm in worse shape than I was when I started training for Disney 1999 in the fall of 1997. I'm older and my knees have suffered more wear and tear since then. In 1995 I ran the NYCM but without being properly prepared. I did it again in 2005 but I was already out of shape and, again, I didn't train properly. This time around, 6 weeks into training, I'm committed to doing it right. I'm being disciplined in developing my base. I've started something new and been running with a partner, my friend Lu who I kind of conned into signing up for this fall's Philadelphia Marathon. I'm adding walk breaks into my training runs and I'm feeling fitter already and smarter as a runner. A couple weekends ago I managed a 10 miler in 2:05.16. I've lost nine pounds over the last six weeks and I'm feeling leaner and my knees hurt less. I'm also not doing this on my own. I'm running on my own, except for the once or twice a week workouts with Lu, but I'm sharing my exploits. Lu and I share running stories and insights. There are other runners at work we talk to as well. In fact, training for this marathon feels like training for Disney 1999 and that was, apart from my injury, a success.
Lu was with me when I found out if I'd been accepted to run NYCM 2012. We watched the live online show but that didn't reveal anything. Via Twitter, another runner told me to check my credit card account online. Nothing. Well, that was until after lunch, when I checked and saw I'd been charged. I knew what that meant but I didn't want to count my chickens before they hatched so I waited until I got a confirmation email. The NYRRC website said we - the applicants - wouldn't find out until the following day but I found out that afternoon. I'm in. As the saying goes in The Hunger Games, although for not getting selected, the odds were in my favour and I'd gotten chosen. I was happy, in a way I hadn't been in a long time, and I was - and still am - mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to train for the race.
Runners World Magazine did a column on the levels of running commitment and I fell in the 'Serious Amateur' category. That was around 1998 or so. Back then - single and childless - I was able to juggle work, coaching, writing and my social life around my running. That's a little harder now because I'm married and a father and have more work obligations but I'm no less committed to my training than I was then. And with my wives' support - Guada, my real wife, and Lu, my 'work wife' (that's a topic for another blog) - and the support of very close friends (like AC, who never seemed to lose belief that I'd regain my fitness), I know that I'll be properly trained for my fourth marathon.
Will I achieve my sub 5:00 goal? I don't know. I'll do my best and, if I don't, Ian please don't be hard on me. New York is a tough course with lots of hills and bridges but I'll do my best. I'm going to shoot for it but I can't make any promises other than aiming for 4:59.99 or better. What I do know is that, even only in base training, I'm already a fitter person and a happier person. I'll be a role model for my son and my students and athletes (I teach Physical Education and Health and I coach Volleyball and Track and Field). And, if being a fitter and better dad to my boy is all I'll get, I'm okay with that.