Thursday, August 04, 2005

And now... The Bitter

It's been more than a month since I've run.

Watching the marathon on Sunday made me happy for my sister, but also left me wallowing in a San Francisco Bay's worth of self pity. Oh, if only for the shinsplints, if only I was more disciplined, if only I wasn't moving, if only...

It's a unique feeling to be handed a sack of swag for a race that you're not running. It's strange to have a tech shirt that says: "Run SF: You should have been there." I was there, but I really wasn't.

And it's with more sadness that, on Sunday, I came to a realization as I watched all the fit folks cross the finish line: 26.2 miles is a distance to be respected. It's no walk in the park like a 10k, no 2-hour jaunt like a half marathon. New York is three months away, and with the time commitment of moving and the desire to do well in my first year of law school, I don't think I can devote the race the time it deserves.

So I'm dropping out.

I'm not going to run New York. I'm still going to run, as soon as I get to LA, for all the reasons why running is a great thing to do: fitness, sanity, comedy. I'm going to run for the sake of running, without an immediate goal. And if I can do that, if I can prove to myself I can keep a regimen for its own sake, then I will have accomplished something almost as good as crossing the finish line in Central Park.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bittersweet Day

Bittersweet Day.

That was the headline of The Monterey County Herald the day after 2004's running of The Big Sur Marathon. It was the year before I would run the race.

It was a beautiful, sunny marathon day. As a nonrunning reporter, I arrived at the finish line about two hours after the start, and proceeded to the VIP tent buffet to gorge myself on free shrimp. After downing my first plate of first-class food, I proceeded to plan out my story: a feature on the free massage tent, profiling the body workers and the runners who would benefit from the expertise. I spent a half-hour in the tent, chronicling every rub, every grunt, every cramp of those three-hour runners as their legs were contorted, stretched and bent as if they were play-doh.

It was just another Sunday writing features on the city desk. But things took a dark turn. The weather was warming up and a rumor was beginning to make its way north to the finish line. A man had collapsed at Mile 17: he was getting CPR. Soon, an ambulance crossing the finishline confirmed the worst: the man who collapsed was dead.

So, the story was changed. Instead of "Massage Tent Rubs Runners The Right Way," we got "Bittersweet Day: Runner's Death Mars Marathon." It was a glorious day: 3,000 people crossed the finish line, but one didn't make it home alive.

Not every marathon is marred by tragedy, but I think all marathons are bittersweet. Goals are met; goals are missed. The race is a glorious culmination of six months of training; the race is gone and only emptiness is left. Triumph... Disappointment... Heady stuff. It's unsurprising that tears join sweat as the saline liquid byproducts of the finish line.

This Sunday's Runner's World San Francisco Marathon was no exception to the bittersweet rule.

But for today, only the sweet:

My sister Mara, bless her strong, healthy heart, finished the race in 4:17. She runs a 1:45 half marathon, but five bathroom breaks kept her from the four-hour barrier. We woke up a 4:30 a.m. and schlepped to the start line together to deliver her into the morning fog.

After seeing her off we went to Starbucks, drove to the halfway point, got stuck inside the course, got stuck inside the presidio, searched for parking, and tensely waited at the finish line.

How many times did this 250-pound (so sad) man cry? More than he can count. A man who survived a heart attack crossed the finish line? Turn on the faucet. What about the four-year-old who jumped the fence to finish the race? Here comes the waterworks.

The my sister finished. I As I ran along the course urging her to the line, I tried to take pictures through the tears. I was so proud of her and so grateful that she inspired me to run Big Sur. I know I'll never be as fast or athletic as Mara, but I know that she can inspire me to keep training and to run for the joy and health of the sport.

And as she crossed the finish line, she glowed.


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