Slow Learner

I joined a book group back in the mid-1980s, when I was young and single and had time for such things, and the first book we read was Slow Learner, a collection of short stories by Thomas Pynchon. Not much from the stories has stuck with me over the years, but recently I reread the introduction to the volume, in which Pynchon talks about the laborious process of becoming a writer and describes himself as a “slow learner” who has to absorb and reabsorb the same lessons seemingly endless times. On this morning of the 39th running of the ING New York City Marathon, I have awakened early and I’m thinking about my own laborious process of becoming a member of the vast collection of people who put on the marathon.

There is so much to learn in life, though as I get older I find more and more often that the lessons boil down to some of the same basic elements. To get a job–any job–done, you must see the job in its entirety, yet understand intimately the details that apply to you. You must establish and follow your priorities. You must check in frequently with your colleagues and communicate clearly with them. You must listen, really listen, and maintain at all times a respect for those around you. It goes without saying that you must do all of this thoroughly and efficiently–that is, you must not only work hard, but work well.

I have learned all these lessons many times, and yet I am constantly, constantly relearning them, and never more intensely than during marathon week. I like to hope that the learning process has made me a “seasoned” member of the marathon staff, but as NYRR Foundation executive director Cliff Sperber said to me yesterday at a beautiful memorial service for Ryan Shay, “The only thing we really know is that we don’t know anything.” This feels very true at the moment.

My mind is full of the day ahead–of the entirety of the ING New York City Marathon, which will see close to 40,000 people parade through the five boroughs, and also full of the details of my tasks and those of my team, which will center on reporting the day on the marathon’s website in words, photos, and video. It will be a long day, a day filled with many decisions and most likely some indecisions, as we all learn, slowly, how to perform to the best of our abilities. And at times we will feel that we don’t know anything.

For the marathoners, too, today will be full of unknowns. My amazing husband is to run his 22nd consecutive New York City Marathon today. It means so much to him to complete this race each year. Yesterday, while I worked all day, he shepherded our three kids around to the usual Saturday round of soccer practices and birthday parties, and somewhere along the line, while pushing the stroller with our 3-year-old, he strained his back. This morning, despite lots of Aleve and warm baths and rubbing, he is hobbling around the apartment. He briefly considered staying home, but he’s decided to go to the start and give himself the opportunity to run. He is extraordinary in the way that all marathoners are: for for accepting the unknowns, for not giving up, and for what he is capable of achieving.

Good luck, everyone!

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