The First Time

Is it your first marathon? There’s a first time for everyone–here’s my story.

My introduction to distance running was in 1973, when I was 12 and went off to a summer camp in Vermont that was located on the shores of a lake that was six miles around. A group of counselors would run that 6-mile loop every day before breakfast. This was inconceivable to me, as was my dad’s decision five years later to sign up for the New York City Marathon. He dropped out that year, but managed to finish in ’79 and ’80–we still have the medals to prove it–and so he decided in 1983 to return as a volunteer. I had moved to NYC (okay, on my $12,000/year salary I couldn’t afford Manhattan, so it was actually Weehawken, NJ) and accepted Dad’s invitation to volunteer with him. Thus it was that I found myself on a cold and rainy October morning at Fort Wadsworth, gripping an odd little contraption and asking perfect strangers to pull up their sweatshirts and jackets so I could scan the bar codes on their bib numbers and thus mark them as official starters of the race.

Our duties completed, my dad and I jumped into the car to go watch the finish. Even in those days, nobodies like us couldn’t get anywhere near the actual finish line, so we settled for East Drive behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had no clue who Geoff Smith, Rod Dixon, nor any of the other top men were, but we both recognized Grete Waitz as she strode purposefully toward her fifth victory
(she’d go on to win four more, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past quarter-century). But what really got my attention was the parade of humanity that followed–thousands of people from all backgrounds, running (or walking) in that cold, wet rain, 24 miles from where they’d started. The “if they can do it…” feeling stuck with me, so I had to try it for myself, and of course it had to be in New York. I entered the lottery, and I trained with my best friend all the following summer (she even came to Weehawken for long runs). It was the hottest NYC Marathon on record (still is). A friend snapped a photo of me on Central Park South, about a mile beyond where I’d watched the previous year, and though you can see my muscles cramping, you can also see a ridiculously happy grin on my face. I cried tears of joy as I crossed the finish line and dipped my sweaty head to get that amazing medal around my neck. I cried because I’d experienced what the marathon has to teach us, that life is right there in front of us, every moment of every day, and all we have to do is reach out and grab it and live the heck out of it.

I’ve finished lots of marathons since then (too many, some would say), but it doesn’t get any better than finishing your first. So when I start to feel a bit desperate here at work over the next couple of weeks and there are just too many details and I know that not everything will get done exactly the way it should and that I’m just going to be tired, tired, tired a lot of the time, I think about what it’s going to mean to those first-timers as they cross the finish line on November 2, and I put my head down and just keep plugging away. Because the marathon is about creating opportunities and experiences that people treasure for the rest of their lives, even if they only take advantage once, I know that in some little way I’ve helped them to achieve something really, really special and to reach out and live a memory that they will cherish forever.

Not running ING NYCM 08, but with you in spirit,

Gordon

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One Response to The First Time

  1. Roger says:

    Gordon,

    As a first time marathon runner staring at the count-down clock to the NYC Marathon start, a sincere thank you to you and your coworkers for those long hours putting together what will be a wonderful and amazing time for me an my fellow newbies. Great blog post, thank you for sharing the story.

    Roger

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