I first became aware of my fear on the bus ride after the ferry trip. The second time was when I realised that the weather warnings were no American exaggeration: the hospitality tents had been taken down, unable to withstand the icy wind. The third was when I dropped my running shoes into one of the charity bins at the start. Exposed to the cold, unforgiving streets, surrounded by 50,000 peoples’ excited chatter, I felt very alone.
Yet it was in the moment when I stepped out of my shoes and into direct contact with the cold road, that a simple calm washed over me. I went deep inside to find who it was in me who had chosen to do this, in this way. We connected, he and I. In my heart I drew my people around me, imaginative and brave, each in their own way. Lifting my head I looked at Lady Liberty, standing impervious to the cold. Declaring her legendary hospitality to the icy ocean, and today to me, I felt strong and grounded. As I faced the bridge which would take me from Staten Island into Brooklyn, and the enigmatic empire beyond, I set my resolve amidst the beeps of GPS watches.
A solid cannon boom, and Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York set me off into the 2014 NYC Marathon, barefoot, and without a watch.
Concerned for my feet, my training partner Dave made it his business to run slightly ahead of me to point out every possible danger on the road.
But I was confident from a year of running sans shoes on every possible surface, and I’d never been injured apart from a few little thorns and stones.
In fact, my running aches and pains had significantly reduced. Even my ankles, always a weakness, had strengthened.
I felt strong.
Up and over the bridge, we were confronted by a line of NYPD officers and cars, blue lights flashing, forming a guard of honour as the run swept into Brooklyn.
In awe of the classic movie scene unfolding all around, neither Dave nor I saw the broken glass...
It took a while for my cold feet to register the unwanted passenger in my left heel. Sitting on the sidewalk, I realised that I couldn’t get it out without significant time loss, despite the needle and tweezers I’d brought along. Lying to Dave that the blood was a sure sign that the shard was out, we ran on. I adjusted my gait and after another 10 kilometres or so it either went deep enough to stop worrying me, or came out on its own. (Tough guy! - Ed)
The crowd support of the New York Marathon well deserves its reputation. Wow! It was constant and powerfully positive. Unlike most other events where the spectators are just that, an audience observing from the sidelines, the people of the Big Apple give all of their juice to help the runners through. Their investment of energy feels that they want, even need, you to succeed. It feels as if their own dreams depend on seeing you achieve your own daring day.
I'm used to inane comments like: “Last hill!” (It never is); "Almost there!" (True, but the last few kilometres are a marathon in themselves) or "Looking good!" (Oh, yes? So why do I feel so k*k?)
The stationary participants of the NYC Marathon turned out in their tens of thousands, having prepared slogans and signboards for weeks. Live music of some sort was played every kilometre. The roar of support from start to finish, with calls of, "You've got this!" and, "You are doing this!" made it impossible to walk even once.
For days afterwards, finishers were seen wearing their medals around the city which continued to greet them with admiration, and discounts in diners and drinking dives.
Preferring quiet celebration, I found two post-race recovery trail runs.
The first was obviously Central Park, so big that getting lost was easy. Which runner doesn’t want to join the jogging scene of so many movies?
The second was a real surprise – an elevated linear park trail set up above the Meatpacking District (pic top right). The disused section of the former freight railroad had been earmarked for demolition, but a conservancy working with the Department of Parks and Recreation now maintain it. What an extraordinary public space to retreat above the busy city’s constant competition. On that thin green line I again connected to myself and renewed my resolve to live a more solid, worthwhile life.
Running (on and off road) invites us to step above life's relentless pace. It allows us to look at the frenzy and recalibrate our perspective. It offsets selfishness with priorities. It invites meaning back into our lives.
My favourite supporter while running the 2014 NYC Marathon was an older woman, wrapped up against the cold. She was standing straight, silent, sincere, in the chaotic clatter of cheering. Facing the ocean of runners, she caught my eye and stared me down, shaking her signboard slightly.
It read: "One day, you will not be able to do this. This is not that day."