Sunday, May 2, 2004 I ran in my first Marathon. It was, of course, the Long Island Marathon, where I have lived almost the entirety of my life. Running this race was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The lessons learned will remain with me for the rest of my life, and they will be used in much greater capacities than running.
The paramount lesson learned? Confidence. Running 26.2 miles—8 more miles than I have ever run—tremendously boosted confidence. Previous to the race, when thinking of races or even really long runs, I would question myself. Can I really do this? Am I in good enough shape to do this 17 miler? Now when I head out for a long run, or ponder another Marathon, I am at ease, knowing I have been there before. That doesn't mean I still don't realize that it was a lot of hard work that got me past the finish line with the 500 or so other Marathoners, but I now possess a new confidence that has altered my way of thinking. Speaking of mentality, many people think that all one needs to be a good marathoner is raw strength, and maybe the genes of a Kenyan. Wrong. The way one perceives things, whether in a positive, up-beat way, or in a cynical manner, hugely affects his or her running ability and performance. That brings me to my second lesson: find a buddy to run with.
For many people, including myself, one of the greatest benefits of running is that you steal some quiet time. It's just you and the road. In my case, it's me, the road, and the deadly car emissions along Main Street, and those same cars nearly running me over. At the Marathon my eyes were opened to the necessity on not going it alone. Early on—and completely out of character—I leached unto other runners, partly because I was so enthralled with this new experience, and partly because deep down inside I knew I needed it. Maybe it was a ploy of my psyche to simply survive. After all, I had been ardently rejecting its pleas throughout my training.
At the end of mile 12 the half-Marathoners make a right and run the last mile through Eisenhower Park, which is where the race starts and finishes. The full-Marathoners, as you may have guessed, make a left and run the second half of the race. Well, much to my dismay, those turning left were a small trickle, while those turning right seemed like the mighty Niagara Falls. Needless to say, it was a very lonely place to be, and I was beginning to tune into the advice of my then faint-hearted psyche.
But then I ran into Christina Reigler at mile 14, who was also running her first Marathon. I had seen her in the previous mile, noticing that we were running around the same pace. Upon leaving the water station, I ran up along side her and asked how she was doing. Before we knew it we were running side-by-side; pushing one another, encouraging one another, and enabling one another to complete the arduous task at hand, that for both of us, at one point, thought could never be accomplished. Without Christina, I am sure I would have finished, but it probably would have taken longer, and it would have been much less enjoyable.
As much as Christina was fundamental to my success, she pales in comparison to that of my wife, Esther, and my daughter, Sarah. Christina may have been a driving force behind my running, but what really drove was the knowledge that my family was at the finish line, eagerly waiting for me to arrive. Not only would they be at the finish line, but they would also be in my life the next day, and the next, and the next. That's worth running for.
My time of 4:37:14 didn't even come close to breaking any kind of record. If fact, I finished in 384th place out of roughly 500 runners. But I come away with a crown filled with gems of priceless knowledge, to which I have added to my arsenal of running wisdom. Next year, for the 2005 Long Island Marathon, I will bring along my new friends: confidence, a different mentality, a running buddy, and my loving, supportive family.
To top it off, the whole thing was done without arms. I lost both of them in 1995.