Monday, November 2, 2009

Marathon Efforts

I was near tears watching runners move by me in a pack yesterday at the New York City Marathon. So many people trying, all in one place. Nearly 40,000, someone told me. Wow. 'Moving' takes on multiple meanings. I only had a few stars on me and even though by the time we got to 4th Ave., roughly mile four, the "runners" were mainly the slow jogging sort, it would have been awkward to slap stars on them. And who would I have chosen to single out? They all needed them. Even just a bit of cheering helped buoy them, made them go faster, you could tell.

A woman up a bit beyond me on the sidelines was shimmying and dancing and high-fiving passing marathoners, screaming out the names she read off of shirts, congratulating them.

"You're my hero!!" she yelled to one. "You're awesome! Keep it up!" she yelled to another.

Runners were so receptive to her, leaning in for her high-fives, smiling at her antics, moving past with a lightness to their step they hadn't had before. I loved watching it,watching her. I was going to give her a gold star but didn't want to interrupt her important work and, before I knew it, she was gone, maybe moving on to a different spot to continue her cheerleading, maybe moving on in her day. I'm sorry I didn't reach out. She could very well be a disciple. I can see her, easily, happily, handing out gold stars.

I tried to take my cue from her, doing a bit of whooping and cheering, calling out the occasional name. I tried to encourage my son Oscar and his friend to do the same. But it's not as easy as the girl beyond us made it look. It's slightly humiliating, even though you know, you can see, how much the runners like it, how much they need it. Giving encouragement to others takes a lot of effort, requires that you take yourself out of yourself and just give it your all. You have to get over the fear of looking silly. I didn't quite have what it took yesterday to give it my all.

Oscar tried, in his way. He got on my back and did bunny ears over my head.

"I think people are running faster, 'cause of my bunny ears!" he said.

He had been afraid to yell out as I suggested. "No!" he had said, adamantly, smacking me about the legs out of defiance, discomfort. He wanted to do it his way, funny, subtle, unique. Only as we turned to leave, to head back up the Slope to a friend's marathon afterparty, was he finally able to muster a "Keep it up! Good job!" backwards to the running mass at large. I smiled. Better late than never. He has a lot of time to muster up the courage to encourage others. It's baby steps, after all. I'm just learning now how very, very important it is, how much it really helps people.

The marathon is a strange thing. I thought as I watched people move past, some in great shape, some not, some smiling, some not, the guy carrying on his head a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower, the girls in bustiers made of chiffon flowers, how necessary it is for us all to have goals,something to strive for. I have heard that running the marathon takes a year off your life, not that I can imagine how anyone might have figured that out for sure. But, needless to say, running 26 miles is probably not so good for you. Yet thousands of people do it, thousands of others watch enviously, living vicariously through the accomplishment of those able to complete the difficult task, to finish something they've set out to do.

A relative of my friend's arrived at the party in his post-run foil poncho and received a warm welcome from the crowd.

"How do you feel?" he was asked.

"I felt really bad for about four miles," he said, "but I feel better now."

He looked shell-shocked. I imagined, as I watched him, that he must be in a completely different head space than the rest of us revelers, he must be in a zone of his own, having gotten there through pushing himself well past the point of comfort, well past boredom or pain. He just did it. Cool. Good for him.

I stood on the stairs as he went past, up to take a shower.

"Congratulations!" I said.

He smiled. "Thanks," he said. I gave him a gold star. I figured he could represent all his fellow marathon runners that day.

We saw the marathon winners on TV and it occurred to me that, even though the marathon is considered a "race," so few are in it to win it. They just want to cross the finish line, however possible. Few other places are you a winner just for completing the task, not for doing it the absolute fastest or best. That alone is cool. I can get behind that, for others if not for myself.

Later in the day, headed to a children's book reading in Dumbo, to reward authors for completing amazing books, their own personal marathons, I saw a runner, a man on my street, getting out of a car in his foil poncho, an outfit that, for a single day, confers a special status.

"Congratulations!" I offered as I passed.

"Thank you, thank you so much," he said gratefully.

It would be awesome if we could all don a foil poncho when we needed a little appreciation, to show the world we're really trying, even if haven't been able to muster the strength to run a marathon.

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