Monday, August 20, 2007

Running For Her Life

"Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood..."
Those words echoed through my head, through my heart, through my soul, as I along with 10,000 others, climbed one of Central Park's infamous hills. Infamous to athletes and pseudo-athletes before me who have left their blood, sweat, and tears on this hill. I had completed less than one-third of the race. I was approaching mile 4 of 13.1.
The reason I run
This was my idea of getting away, taking a holiday from the neighborhood. Run the half-marathon. It's a mere 3 miles more than I'd ever run before. Ten miles plus a 5K. No problem. But every mile, there were moments when I couldn't help but think about what was happening in the neighborhood from which I was running. Is she awake yet? Is she happy? Did she eat? Are my in-laws disobeying my wishes and having her watch television?

And that's what drove me across that finish line. That's what drives me to run in the first place. My daughter. Her face. Her smile. Her voice. Her.

Someday she'll ask me why I wake up some mornings before she does. And I'll tell her, so I can stay healthy. So I can live longer. I'll also tell her that when she's old enough, she's going join me. I choose to challenge myself, and I'll ask her to do the same.

That's me in orange. Mile 8... hurting
Here was my game plan: don't run fast. That may sound odd to you, being that I was participating in a race, and that I have the patience of a mosquito. However, the first 7+ miles was around Central Park and all of its treacherous hills. Hills that I have run in the past, but 3, 4, 5 miles at a time. Never this many, then another 6 after that. So I paced myself. I slowed myself, and I was cruising. I figured once I get out of the park, I can kick it into another gear, since it's all flat or downhill from there. Good plan, yes? No.

As I approached mile 7, and heard the crowds screaming in the distance in Times Square, my legs turned into anvils. I was mentally fit, but physically tired. That's when doubt starts to creep in. Did I train enough? I should have practiced on more hills. I should have run longer distances. Then my number one fan popped into my mind.

Knowing how I am, how my game is mostly mental, she provided me with my mantra the night before. As she dropped me off to sleep in the city, she turned to me and said two words that got me through the rest of that race. Two words that rarely come out of her mouth: "f*ck it."

I was stunned, and thrilled, and I must admit, a little turned on.

My #1 fan
That's not all she said, though. Her exact words were "F*ck it, all you need is you." She told me not to worry about my iPod, or my bagel, or my sneakers, or my headband. And I looked at her and I said, "No, all I need is you."

"I know what I'm needin', and I don't want to waste more time..."
So I dug deep, knowing I would see her in a few minutes. My wife was waiting in Times Square with my sister and her brother, waiting to give me support. There was nothing more exhilarating than running out of that park, into the most famous part of Manhattan, with thousands of people yelling for you to keep going. I looked up at the ticker on the Dow Jones building, and it read that Barry Bonds had tied Hank Aaron's home run record the night before, as I slept. Then I thought of how fast I would be going if I were on steroids.

Ultimately, I realized I'm not running from anything. I'm running to it. Yes, I need to run as a release. If I didn't do it, I would go insane. And when my wife gets annoyed at my need to squeeze in a run or two on the weekends, I simply remind her how some other husbands have far worse habits to release stress than mine. But I do it for the people I love, as much as for myself. That's the best motivation you can find.

Happy it's over
Two years ago, I watched some friends run the NYC Marathon, and it inspired me to lift weights less and to start running. And I've never felt better. It used to be that I did it so my wife wouldn't have to bury me too early. Now that my daughter is here, I have even more of a reason to lace up my sneakers, even on those days my body is screaming for a break.

There is nothing like crossing a finish line. Nothing gives you a more rewarding sense of accomplishment. I did it. I finished. I'm done. My time? A respectable 2:07:00. Now I have a goal for next year: less than 2 hours. Time for the next challenge.
"...I'm in a New York state of mind."

Four years later, I finally ran my second half-marathon. I didn't reach my goal of under two hours. But was still happy with my performance. Click here to read why.


  1. Congratulations, Justin! You ran a great race and showed some real mental toughness, which is sometimes more important than the physical skills!
    Are you doing the half marathon in October?
    I love your finish photo - you look strong and happy! (and you're working that orange!)
    way to go!

  2. ...and better than ever. Really love it this week, Justin--this might
    get me through MY next long race ;>)

    AND I'm glad to see that you're feeling good about your time. I am so
    impressed at how well you did for your first half...and glad to see
    you already have goal for the next one!

  3. I'm glad you're back - congratulations on the marathon - you and your words are inspiring...

  4. Boy, did Penelope pick up peekaboo FAST! Bet you ended up playing for
    a loooooong time. She is incredibly cute...and that smile! Love the
    T-shirt, Dad. And stop running. It's bad for you.

  5. The video is awesome Justin! She is getting sooo big. After watching
    this, I can't get your voice saying..."YYYEEAAAHHH" out of my head.

  6. Justin,
    Just saw the video. I loved it. It was great. What a wonderful idea.
    Penelope is such a cutie.


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