Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts from a Repentant NY(C Marathon)er

Growing up in New York, I thought it was the only place to be. It had lots of people, it was loud, it was fast, it was happening. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Then something funny happened. I moved away and stayed away for over ten years. During this time, I discovered something interesting. There were many things I didn't miss about New York. The large crowds, the noise, the energy. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure I wanted to go back.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about running in general the past week, and the New York City Marathon, in particular. I was shocked when it was not canceled right away and then flabbergasted in the way that it was, so close to race day. I thought of my friends who were supposed to be running, as well as what I would do if I had to choose whether to run, but mostly I thought about the victims of the storm and how small and petty we runners must have looked to them.

At one point, I too wanted to run NYC. It was one of the biggest and most famous marathons in the world and it was so close to home. After running it (twice, in fact), I understood why it was so famous. The crowd support, 1st Ave., running through the five boroughs and so much more. Still, I also finished with a feeling of not wanting to do the race again. It was too crowded, it was overpriced, it was run by an organization, NYRR, that I believe in many ways has lost its way. Since then, I have discovered the joys of small town races, with their charm and scenery, cheaper prices and room to breathe out on the course.

I was heartened by the way so many runners responded with kindness in the days following the storm and the cancellation. I'd like to think there is an additional silver lining. Many of my friends who were supposed to run have chosen to run in other races that are relatively close to New York. Some will be small town road races, others involve people trying the trails for the first time. It is my hope that they will discover that there are many great opportunities out there and ways to run. NYRR might not change, but perhaps some runners will.

Finally, given the choice of running or deferring, what would I have done? Would I have let my training go to waste or would I have refused to take part, realizing that it was not all about me? Perhaps the best way to answer the question is with a story.

A rabbi once asked his student what he would do if he found a wallet with ten thousand dollars inside. “Return it” said the student right away. “What are you, a fool?”, said the rabbi. The next day, the rabbi again asked the student what he would do if he found the wallet. This time the student answered “I'd keep it”. “What are you, a thief?” replied the rabbi. Unable to think of any other possibility, the student asked the rabbi what he should have said. “I will not know until I am in that situation”.

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