My wife wants to know why I consider this my sophomore season when I have been running for three years. At the moment, though, I am lying in my running clothes on the long-end of a sectional couch. I am staring at the stucco ceiling in my den and fanning my index fingers in front of my eyes.
My wife doesn’t run and, therefore, it’s easy to see why she doesn’t get it.
My first year I was so overweight, I didn’t think of it as running at all; rather I experienced a bodily disaster. To be kind, perhaps I could call my start a pre-season of sorts, but, in truth, how could it be a pre-season if I couldn’t even jog around an indoor track without doubling over and dying? (Spread-eagled out on the mat; zumba instructors running for water and a defibrillator; over-weight women and frumpy old men staring down at my twitching form; “See what happens if you walk too fast,” I hear one say.)
Certainly, it was not like a year later, my first winter when I actually was running, and long distances too, having marked on my calendar an upcoming half-marathon scheduled for March. That winter large black hawks (or were they buzzards) circled overhead to support me, and packs of wild dogs (or were they wolves) sought to show me the way. Yes, it was a fairy tale, and, in training, I was like the Gingerbread Man. Catch me if you can!
That was then. However, this is now.
Now, as I struggled through my second winter and months of icy conditions and unseasonably frigid weather, I see the cold, harsh, back-country roads of North Carolina for what they really are: cold and harsh, and I am —
“–just not into it.” I explain to my wife when she asks why I am flat out on our couch and not running instead on such a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, our first warm Sunday in months.
“There’s something wrong with me, but I don’t know what it is,” I say, “Somehow and from somewhere out there,” — I point to the serene, sun-filled cul de sac beyond our window — “I contracted a bad case of sophomore let-down.”
I peak over at my wife nestled in on the other end of the couch. She doesn’t react to my diagnosis and remains focused on her knitting. She is watching a Nazi documentary, but I bet, she was totally surprised when I slunk into the den, threw a throw pillow against the far arm of the sectional couch, and flopped down. I told her earlier I was going running; Sundays, most times, are my long-distance days, and today would have been perfect, that is, if I wasn’t dying!
“Jeez, I’m tired all the time and anxious too,” I say, listing my symptoms, “and, if that’s not enough, I constantly eat chocolate chips: chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip ice cream, even chocolate chip bagels — and worse yet: chocolate chip toast, chocolate chip club sandwiches, and chocolate chip tuna salad, heck, you name it and if it has chocolate chips in it, I’ll eat it — oh, and we’re out of chocolate chips too! — But does that sound a man who has long to live?”
Karen continues to knit while watching the Nazis. She doesn’t look at me, but her needles are twitching. I look over at the television: hundreds of screaming people run in and out of buildings, up and down the streets — they are much more motivated than me.
“I think,” Karen announces, her eyes focused down on her long, silver knitting needles so comfortable in her hands, “I think, you’re nervous; you don’t know whether to run in a race this spring or prepare for the New York Marathon.”
Ah, the New York City Marathon. Once again, the topic of this particular marathon — the monster in the room — has been raised!
The NYCM, I call it, though it sounds like a medical procedure, is this November, and I have been waiting all winter to learn if I’ve gotten in. I qualified for the race last November and submitted my application within the very first hour of the very first day back in December, but I think my entry fell all the way down to the bottom of the pool, which consists yearly of approximately 80,000 runners I am told, of which only the top 50,000 are chosen.
After months of agonizing over it and whining about the whole thing, it is clear to me: I applied too soon; I won’t get in.
“I’m not nervous,” I counter with a huge sigh. “I could lie here all spring and still have time to prepare for the marathon, even if, by chance, I am accepted, which I won’t be. I mean, how much effort does it take to run around New York City?”
“Actually,” Karen says, “A lot – twenty-six miles through the five boroughs of New York. That sounds pretty tough. Aren’t there a bunch of bridges involved?”
“No, I’m told they bus you over the bridges.” After all, I calculate with my fingers: 50,000 runners all at once on a bridge, wouldn’t that shake the hell out of China?
“I read on the webpage,” I say to her, “you run to a bus stop and when the bus arrives, it takes you over each bridge.”
“You did not.” she responds. “You better be prepared to run over bridges if you want to run the New York City Marathon.”
“Hmmm,” I say. “I’m not worried about any stupid bridge.”
Not a twitch in response from her. How can she continue to knit as I lay dying?
“Besides they ferry us,” I tell her, changing my answer. “They run ferries from Staten Island, where the race starts, to Brooklyn or the Bronx – past the Statue of Liberty and Sing-Sing. I just have to run and catch the ferry.”
“Sing-Sing, don’t you mean Ellis lsland? You better study the route,” my wife says. “You don’t know a borough from a burger.”
“Well… why do I care? I told you, I’m not running in the New York City Marathon. My chit is stuck to the bottom of the pile.”
“Listen,” I say, “When Miss America selects the names for the race, she will never be able to reach her hand far enough into the barrel to scrap my name off the bottom. Her big breasts will get in the way.”
“What?” Karen looks up at me, at last, from her knitting. Her face twists into a scrunch. “What are you talking about?”
“You know. Donald Trump and Miss America.”
“You’re saying, Donald Trump has Miss America pull 50,000 names out of a barrel?”
“Yes, with 80,000 chits it takes a month, but that’s Miss America’s number one job. She does it in Atlantic City so people will gamble while they watch her. She wears her bathing suit and everyone stares at her boobs.”
“Where do you come up with this stuff?”
“It’s true. Donald Trump owns Miss America. He has a gambling casino in Atlantic City and flies every night by super-helicopter with Miss America to his apartment in Manhattan. After all, this is the Big Apple NYCM.”
“And I suppose,” Karen retorts, “They meet up with Billy Joel and the ghost of Frank Sinatra at the Algonquin Room and announce who will run.”
“Well. Not the Algonquin Room, but somewhere in the Empire State Building next to Times Square and that ice skating rink with the Christmas tree.”
“Rockefeller Center, you mean?” she asks.
“Yes, which is next to the Empire State Building. And don’t forget Mayor Koch and Grete Waitz – they’ll be there, and, I bet, John McEnroe is involved somehow too, not to mention George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees. In fact, did you know the race ends in Yankee stadium, and we all watch the Yankees play Boston for the two-hundredth billion time? You’ll see, it’ll be a five-second segment on NBC News with Brian Williams.”
“Oh yeah? I thought you told me it ends in Central Park. You don’t know the first thing about this race.” Karen shakes her head and goes back to her knitting, adding: “Well then, what about Bob Dylan? Isn’t he involved?”
“No, not Dylan.” Jesus, I have to explain everything to her. “He hangs out in Woodstock with the Band and Lou Reed. They run Ultra marathons in the Adirondecks, you know.”
“Adirondecks? Isn’t it Adirondacks, like in ‘the Adirondack Mountains’?”
“No, it’s like in ‘Windex.’ Adirondecks. The Adirondecks are famous for their chairs.”
“Are we still talking about the marathon?”
“I’m not talking about the stupid marathon because I won’t be selected. We’re discussing my debilitating sophomoric disease.”
“Then, Hon, what is it? Why are you experiencing your little let-down?” I can hear it in her voice, she is tired of this conversation. She looks at me from over the top of her glasses and pauses her silver needles in mid-stitch. I now have her full attention.
Did I mention, my wife knits washcloths and only likes the color white? We have a growing pile of white washcloths on the coffee table to go along with the many more piles of white washcloths that I moved temporarily to the front of our books on the bookshelves here in the den.
My wife is a cottage industry unto herself. We just need a thatched roof and a bunch of sheep coming in and out, and we would be a perfect, pre-industrial revolution couple. Of course, then I wouldn’t have time to run. I would be focused on my cow and my turnip patch. Maybe buy some magic beans…
I like the white look for the den, but I definitely don’t like Karen’s full-frontal one-on-one stare, especially when she reaches over to the remote control and puts the screaming Nazis on pause.
Okay. I have to say something.
“I think it’s my weight.” I say. “I can’t run the New York Marathon. I weigh too much to run, and I lack motivation to lower my weight once again…”
I grit my teeth because I know this will cause a reaction.
She looks at me like I am crazy.
“How much weight have you gained?” she asks slightly sour.
Here it comes:
“ – And, before you answer, just let me say this, Buster: it better be a lot or I’ll reach over there and stab you.”
Why is she pointing her needles at me?
Why can’t we discuss this like sensible adults?
I look down at my feet, wishing now I taken the time to put on my running shoes, maybe even steel-toed boots. I have a vision of silver knitting needles sticking into my feet, like tiny little flagpoles, nailing me down to the couch.
I am fifteen pounds heavier than when I ran the Chicago Marathon in the fall. Ten pounds, more or less, from what I weighed at the end of the racing season.
I decide, rather, I should respond by being less specific, more general, more approximate if you will…
“I am thirty pounds heavier.” I say to see how she will react.
“You are not,” she says. “No way. One more time you’re exaggerating.”
First of all, I don’t exaggerate. I embellish.
“Well, okay, maybe not thirty pounds, but close.”
“How close is that?”
“Closer than I want to be.”
“Literally, I will stab you right in the eye if you don’t tell me.”
I can see it now, there I am at the New York City Marathon, the very same one that I won’t get into because of Miss America’s boobs. “Look people,” the race announcer broadcasts at the finish line as we enter Yankee Stadium, “see the blind man with the sewing needles sticking out of his eyes, watch him feel his way past the statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Turner. Only in New York, people, only in New York!”
Okay. Okay. Back to reality. Why do we, as a society, resort to violence so quickly?
Now, finally, this is an appropriate topic to discuss with my wife while prone on the couch on a glorious Sunday afternoon watching a bunch of Nazis on TV…
“Hey, keep your damn needles to yourself.” I say as an introduction to my discourse on violence, but she doesn’t allow me to get started.
“–Get up, you old bum!” she says. Then, by god, she reaches over and stabs my thigh!
“Yikes! Hey, that hurts! Jesus Christ, have you no sympathy?”
So now I’m up and running…
…in spite of my sophomore letdown diagnosis.
And with every stride I take a surge of blood squirts from my knitting-induced wound and splatters the road in front of me.
She’ll be sorry, the Nazi, when I need an ambulance to get home.
The next day I get an email in the hospital from Miss America. I am lying on a gurney in the emergency room with my leg in a thick white cast tied to the ceiling. A tube recycles my blood still squirting out of my leg back into my neck.
“You have been selected,” Miss America writes, “to participate in the New York City Marathon.”
“Well, what do you know,” I say to the orderly who washes my bottom with a white washcloth my wife donated for the occasion. “Well, what do you know.”
“P.S.,” Miss America adds, “My boobs aren’t that big.”
Categories: History of Running