Trading candy and costumes for Gatorade and tiny shorts

December 3, 2009

A child’s greatest nightmare is that Christmas (or whatever respective holiday he celebrates) will somehow be stolen. The fear of losing Christmas compels normally delinquent children to behave kindly during the holidays and rush willingly into their beds on Christmas Eve. This past October, my Halloween was stolen from me, and I had a taste of the bitter feeling that must have filled the Whos’ hearts the year the Grinch stole Christmas.

This year I ran the New York Marathon on November 1, which meant my October 31 was spent sleeping and resting—not partying and celebrating according to tradition. An arcane rule placing the New York Marathon on the first Sunday of November snatched my Halloween from me.

I had signed up for the New York Marathon after running 16 miles of the Boston Marathon with my mom last spring. Running through Wellesley and Newton had been so exhilarating, I figured that with some training I could run 26.2 miles in New York and maybe get that feeling again. I began training in June and continued until October 29, just days before the marathon.

When I arrived in New York the Friday before the race, I was excited and slightly nervous. I spent the first night out with a high school friend and didn’t turn in until after 3:00 a.m. When I woke the next morning, nervousness and weariness had replaced my excitement. I said goodbye to my friend that afternoon and headed to NYU, where I planned to spend the night before the race in another friend’s apartment.

At 6:30 p.m. I settled into a chair in my friend’s kitchenette and made an attempt to read “Bismarck: The Man and Statesman” by AJP Taylor. I could hear NYU students pregaming in a nearby room. Occasionally one or two would dash into the kitchenette, dressed as Snow White or a bunny, drinking and smoking and laughing and asking what I was doing sitting at a kitchen table reading a book about Otto von Bismarck while the rest of the world was enjoying Halloween.

The next morning, I waited for the 5:30 a.m. ferry marathon organizers had assigned me to, along with hundreds of other runners.  A couple dozen partygoers, still in costume, mingled drunkenly with the crowd of marathoners. I couldn’t help feel envious. They were returning to their nice warm beds. I was about to run through every borough in New York City.

I arrived at the race start around 6:30 a.m. and proceeded to curl up against a fence and try to sleep as a cold rain assaulted my bare legs.

Three hours later, I was herded into a coral and the gun finally went off. I looked ahead of me and saw a massive sea of people begin to advance, and I started to run. I expected to feel tired from lack of sleep, or sore from curling up and resting on the concrete ground. Instead, I felt the tension slide off of me as I ran. I was no longer anxious; the race was here. The race took me through Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx, and Central Park. It was exhilarating, and far less difficult than I had expected.

But I don’t think I’ll run another any time soon.  I lost a lot in training for the New York Marathon. On Saturday nights I went to bed early so I would be rested for my Sunday long runs. I rarely felt I had time to relax, and it sometimes seemed as if my life was scheduled around marathon training. Most tragically, one Halloween of my life is lost forever. I’m not sure that when I began my training I realized how much I would resent the rigid schedule and hours of preparation.

I’ve run about two times since the New York Marathon, and I can say that I have completely lost the fitness I worked so hard to gain. But I don’t mind so much. I’ll run again, but not until I really feel compelled. If you think you should run a marathon, you shouldn’t. When you feel you need to run a marathon, you will.

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