Ode to running

This may be the most outlandish, selfish thing I have ever written: I’m glad they didn’t run the New York Marathon last Sunday because if they had then I would have watched it and been very, very jealous.

There, I said it.

Staten Island is my hometown. I spent most of my life there until age 30. I ache because of what Hurricane Sandy has done to the place. Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Road Runners Club made absolutely the right call in canceling the race out of respect for the despair and suffering in the city, but especially on SI, where the marathon begins its route.

But I’m eight months pregnant with my fourth child and shaped like gourd, so I’m also happy I didn’t have to see – or hear about – tens of thousands of fit, satisfied people crossing a finish line on the world’s biggest stage. Yeah, I can be like that.

It’s because I have a long-standing love affair with the NYC marathon. I have either covered it, watched it in person, or run it every year for the last 15 years. Without fail, I tear up and watch (or run!) the entire thing with a lump in my throat. The emotional soup is partly the thrill of competition, partly amazement at the athleticism, partly a native’s love for the backdrop of the Big Apple, and, yes, serious jealousy.

I watch the elite runners fly by like fire-legged sprites with peaceful faces and shoulders – how do they DO that?

My heart seizes in joy when the wheelchair competitors pass by.

I relish the crowd’s enthusiasm and good will toward runners – total strangers. Unless you’ve run off the 59th Street Bridge and made the turn up 1st Avenue in Manhattan you can’t imagining how emotionally uplifting the wall of sound from the drums, screams, and vuvuzelas can be.

When I ran it, I sometimes couldn’t swallow the orange slices or cookies volunteers pressed into my hands or the water from the cups raced towards me at different locations. I was one of 40,000+ runners, for goodness sake! Yet they were worried about me – me! – and wanted me to be fed, hydrated, happy. Those people are awesome. They make you feel like the whole city is behind you, pushing you forward, willing you over the finish line.

The first time I “ran” the marathon wasn’t official. I’d been sent to the Verrazano Bridge in the pre-dawn hours to interview a runner with the Achilles Track Club, an organization that matches a typical runner with a disabled one for some training and the race. I arranged to meet with a blind man from Thailand running his first marathon and his mentor runner, a New York City businessman.

I was a very green sports reporter for my hometown newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, and I was supposed to get in a few questions and file the story by the early a.m. But this fellow’s effort and his remarkable story caused me to run/walk with him over the bridge … then through Brooklyn … then up into Harlem and into Central Park, and then, before I knew it, we were headed toward the finish line. In the final stretch, race officials ushered me off the course since I didn’t have a runner’s number (this was well before 9/11 when security wasn’t tight).

I filed the story in the early evening, instead, and retired to bed for about 13 hours.

I ran again, officially, the next year. I was 26. I then covered it for the New York Post for the next 4 years.

Ten years after my first run, and seven months after the birth of my second child, I ran again in honor of a dear college friend who had been killed in Baghdad a few weeks earlier.

I hope to run again when I’m 46.

In between, I have been taking my kids to the race. It gives me an opportunity to tell my eldest about the original marathon in ancient Greece and the fleet-footed, tragic final run of Phidippides. I want my daughters to want to run some day. Not because they will ever be elites. (I am hardly that! Over the past 25 years, I’ve been an on-and-off average runner — squeezing in somewhat regular jogs of 4-6 miles during the week. There have been a few years where I entered races or trained for something big. Other years I do hardly anything. I don’t look like a runner. I’ll never win anything or even come close.)

But running has been a calming constant for my adult life. It’s always been the best way for me to sort out work issues, boyfriend woes, various resentments, and mild depressions. I want this kind of soul-break for my daughters.

Best of all, a run has always left me feeling better than when I started. Knowing that it is guaranteed to lift my mood has gotten me off the couch, or out of bed, even as I’ve cursed the cold or grumbled about how I want to watch one more show, sleep 10 more minutes, eat one more Oreo.

But right now, I’m having trouble on my once or twice weekly walks up to the trails where I usually run. Women – other moms – stride by me with bouncy steps, and I’m angry. Jealous. DYING to run again. It kills me to think I’ve got an entire month of pregnancy left and then, at least, another month of recovery before I can even try to run.

Then again, before I got pregnant, I’d kind of hit a wall. I was feeling very eh about running. I’d come off a “season” of trying very hard to train for the Army 10-Miler in Washington DC, which I also ran for my friend on the five year anniversary of his death. I was getting lazy. This pregnancy has brought back that fire.

February can’t come soon enough.

*Gourd ID Chart courtesy of www.thegourdreserve.com



  1. This is great stuff. LOVE the gourd chart! I can identify with the last one. Oh, and thanks for making me miss New York again. I’m impressed with your personal marathon history. I also realize I need to read up on literal marathon history!

  2. Ursula Reel Hennessey says:

    Thanks for commenting, Vicki!!! Yes, depending on the hour, I can morph into a few different gourd shapes 🙂 Hope you and the fam are doing well. XOXO

%d bloggers like this: