This is the most pain I’ve ever felt after a marathon, and I didn’t even run.
I was due to run my third straight New York City Marathon last weekend as a guide runner for a disabled runner with Achilles International, an amazing nonprofit that matches able-bodied marathoners with those in need of a guide on the course. As even the non-pavementally-impaired world knows, New York Mayor Mike “Marathon Man” Bloomberg finally cancelled the race last Friday afternoon, given the outcry from New Yorkers who still lacked power, water, and heat.
Hizzoner certainly bungled the cancellation, first alienating the outer boroughs by seeming unconcerned about their plight and then infuriating the marathoners, who had traveled from across the globe to run New York after his assurances that the race would go on.
For me, it was a punch to the gut. I’m 54, slower than molasses, but blessed with great endurance. Running as a guide the last two years ranks among the most powerful, exciting, moving, and enjoyable experiences of my life. When you wear the Achilles International guide t-shirt, you feel like you’re escorting royalty or rock stars through the streets of New York. The two million people watching the race don’t know what your runner has overcome, but they know he or she overcame something serious and now has recovered to the point of running 26.2 miles. The adulation the disabled runners receive is indescribable, and you’re not just witnessing it but helping make it possible.
And then there’s the Achilles starting area at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Think a Civil War encampment in Spandex. People are missing one or more limbs. There are blind runners. Amputees. People recovering from strokes. All about to run or roll the distance. Talk about the greatness of the human spirit.
Waiting for the start of the race and getting to know your runner and your fellow guides – it’s inspiring beyond words to see what people can accomplish, overcoming limits that would derail most of us.
And the race itself is one long party, from the tens of thousands of runners singing along with Sinatra as the race begins on the Verrazano, up through Brooklyn, ducking into Queens, rolling up First Avenue through Harlem to the South Bronx, visiting neighborhoods you never knew existed, seeing the broad spectrum of New York people, places, parks, and landmarks. (With great snacks all along the way.)
You enter Central Park for the last few miles and then, at last, the finish line. You cross it hand in hand with your runner and your fellow guide or guides…it’s the most satisfying feeling in the world.
Then you see them into the medical tent or onto the right subway, and you feel that you’ve conquered the world.
I can’t imagine the suffering of my fellow New Yorkers, many of whom still lack life’s basic necessities and are waiting an hour or more to buy gasoline. Last week, when it appeared that the race would go on, I felt a twinge of unseemliness about the whole thing, but I was going to be there. I live in Southern California and won my black belt in Tae Kwan Do on Saturday. I had a first class seat on a red-eye from LAX to JFK that would get me into the City around 4 a.m., and then I would grab a cab to the starting line.
It was to be my own personal Warrior Weekend, a chance to test my own limits while being of service to my runner, a cancer survivor in his 60s. The logistics were complex but I was good to go, my running gear assembled so I could reach New York and (literally) hit the ground running.
And then, late Friday afternoon, came word that the race had been cancelled.
Repetition of earlier disclaimer: what I experienced was inconvenience and disappointment. The good people of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens have lost loved ones, homes, possessions, memories, and more. I’m not comparing my situation with theirs. I’m merely mourning the loss of an opportunity to serve, to have fun, to meet new people, to endure (and enjoy, as perverse as it may sound) the physical pain of a race, and to cross the finish line holding hands with my runner and fellow guides, all of us having accomplished our dreams.
I hold out the forlorn hope that the 2012 Marathon will be rescheduled and I’ll get to have my day in the sun (or rain or sleet or snow or whatever). Or we’ll just have to wait until next year. In the meantime, I’m recovering slowly from a marathon that I didn’t get to run. And that’s the most painful kind of recovery there is.
New York Times best selling author and Shark Tank contestant Michael Levin runs (in addition to marathons) BusinessGhost, Inc., America’s leading ghostwriting firm.