I’m Never Running Again

Note: I haven’t posted on here since August. There’s a reason for that… I recently completed a 10-week writing course at NYU and wanted to focus my writing efforts solely on the class. I spent a lot of time reading and learning and I really, really enjoyed it. Now that I’ve learned, improved, and adopted some new writing techniques/ideas – I’m going to post some of the pieces from that class. Enjoy!       

I’m Never Running Again

 The bucket list. Everyone has one – whether a hypothetical list of things you’d like to do before you die, like skydiving or Machu Picchu, or a literal to-do list of 25-50 things in the back of a notepad somewhere. Mine is more of the latter. Things like “Visit one foreign country every year,” or “Learn to surf” seem to drown in the sea of pages flooded with New Year’s Resolutions and terrible money-making ideas.

One drunken night, my fiancée, brother, and sister-in-law were talking about our bucket lists over wine and cheese. Most consist of things that are achievable but just hard enough to blame on an account of laziness – ‘fly on a hot air balloon,’ ‘speak Spanish fluently,’ or ‘attend the World Cup.’ A few were physical-based goals: one that I’ve always had my mind on was to complete a marathon. Earlier this year, I had already crossed off running a half marathon, but it absolutely sucked. “Why would I put myself through that torture again,” I asked myself. It then dawned on my sister-in-law, Chelsea that the lottery for the 2019 New York City Marathon was only several days away.

Before I pretend like I’m some novice who has never run long-distance before, let me give you some background. I played competitive football, basketball and lacrosse my whole life, I’ve run four triathlons, and I’ve never missed a week of working out since I was fourteen, and I currently do CrossFit (couldn’t not mention that). That said, I’m no physical freak either – just disciplined and very routine-oriented. But I hate running.

That’s going to sound weird to you after everything I just laid out, but it’s true – I truly despise running. I can do it, and I’m naturally pretty good at it, but that does not mean for one second that I like it.

Running has always been a necessary evil – you do it to burn off calories, to stay in shape for sports, or just to get a sweat going in the summer before jumping in the water. It feels good for about fifteen seconds, until your legs start asking you “Why are you doing this? You know you can literally stop whenever you want, right?” That’s typically when the average person wises up and says “Oh yeah, I can stop!”

Everyone I know who has run a marathon has gotten injured in some capacity. Have you ever seen a normal person as they cross the finish line after 26.2 miles? They’re in agony. There’s a reason Pheidippides died after the Athenian army defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

My family is full of athletes, but it’s also full of knee surgeries, fractured ankles, plantar fasciitis, torn Achilles, herniated disks, and chronic aching and stretching at every family event. Being subject to some of the aforementioned injuries myself, I was not looking forward to partaking in a sport where the average person is almost guaranteed to suffer a setback of some sort.

About a month after we drunkenly threw our hats in to the lottery, the drawing came in. We had a group text with the four of us asking who got in. Crickets. I finally refreshed my email and was both excited and dejected to see a big “CONGRATULATIONS” in the subject line. I was locked in. No turning back now. At least I’d have a family member to run along beside me. Right?

Nope. No one else got in. Just me. First year trying and I get in just like that. No charity to go through, no qualifying races, no history or prior accomplishments – just “Yep! You’re in! Best of luck training to run for four straight hours!” Luckily, the training wouldn’t start for another few months, but I knew from seeing friends and family (who actually enjoy running, by the way) suffer through their training, how hard this was going to be.

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At the NYC Marathon Expo at the Javit’s Center – November 2nd, 2019

My friend Keith had run the marathon in 2018 at a record pace so I had him send me his training template. I realized once I made the announcement on social media just how many people have run a marathon in their life. You’d be hard pressed not to find someone in your circle of family or friends who has some experience in long-distance running. It’s a large, strange cult that I was unaware of until recently. Is it something innately human that drives us to run long distances? Is there something deep in our hunter-gatherer DNA that needs to be let out? Whatever it is, it’s stupid. You hear of the term “runner’s high.” What exactly is that? I’ll spoil it for you – over a six-month period, not once did I get “high” from running. Not one second was enjoyable. In fact, I want to start a PSA for people who are thinking of running a marathon – “IT’S NOT WORTH IT, GUYS!”

Granted, there are plenty of people out there who genuinely enjoy running (psychos). But that said, there is a feeling of accomplishment knowing you went from barely being able to run for thirty minutes straight to running for literally four to five hours at a time and crossing that finish line.

The training was to start right in the peak of the summer heat on July 1st and would last eighteen weeks right up until race day on Sunday, November 3rd. It did not start off easy. The training method called for four runs a week. Medium length runs on Tuesday/Thursday, a short tempo run on Wednesday (at the pace you intend to run the full marathon at), and one longer distance run on Saturday. The first Saturday called for an eight-mile run (pardon?). And it was only going to get harder from there. The training would affect my both my travel plans and my Friday night dinners with friends – where I’d normally indulge on great food and a healthy portion of alcohol – I would now have to scale back, knowing that the next morning would bring a potential hour and a half-long run.

Over the course of five months, the training would take me running through the hills of Los Angeles, the highways of the Long Island, the deserts of Arizona, the Seine River of Paris, and the bridges and boroughs of New York City. I got to see a lot, and running was truly a great way to experience these new cities. After a couple of months, seeing Saturday, October 19th 12 Miles on the training agenda wasn’t nearly as horrific as it was back in July or August. Six miles felt like a warm-up. Eight miles felt like a good, solid workout. The one thing I can say I kind of enjoyed was running in the hot sun in July and August, believe it or not. I liked leaking sweat and feeling like I put everything out there so I could enjoy an ice-cold beer and a burger later on in my backyard. The longer runs were always tough. No matter how much training you do, twenty miles is twenty miles – it ain’t easy. I realized how important hydration and nutrition are when putting your body through that much activity.

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My 5-month training log, taped on to the refrigerator.

You realize weird things about your body when you log so many miles. For one, water and salt are essential. You’ll notice in some of my marathon pictures that I have salt stains all over my black shirt. That’s because you PORE sweat, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You need that salt to recover the amount you lose from sweating. Another realization was that I was always starving. Yes, it’s nice knowing you can get away with eating a lot of food – as you’re burning thousands of calories. But what get’s strange is the foods you crave. See, when I’m doing a lot of weightlifting, I get the same hunger pangs, but for healthy foods – eggs, meat, avocado, dark chocolate, salmon, or something whole and hearty to build my muscles. But as I started to run more and more, my internal appetite only craved junk food – cookies, candy, chips, and bread. It was nice, don’t get me wrong… I could eat all the ice cream in the world and still stay slim – but after a few months of that, I felt like dog shit. It’s like in Back to the Future when Doc just starts pouring trash in to the DeLorean’s fuel tank.

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With a week up until the race, I was anxious. I had completed my eighteen weeks of training and only missed three runs along the way. I did cut some corners, shaving the 19-mile run down to 16, or the 15-mile run down to 11. All in all, I knew I would be able to run for four hours, I just didn’t know how fast I could do it, or how painful it would be.

The morning of the race sucked. Not only does it fall on Daylight Savings, causing panic and anxiety for 50,000 runners setting their alarm clocks, but you also have to wake up in the middle of the night – around 4:30am for me – and trek to Staten Island either by bus or ferry. Once there, you’re awarded the joy of sitting on a cold parking lot in forty-degree weather until your start time, which for me would be four hours away. That’s right. On a Sunday in November, before the biggest race of my life, I laid in a parking lot in Staten Island under the Verrazano Bridge wrapped in warm clothing and garbage bags for four hours, sipping coffee, electrolytes, and eating bananas.

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Staten Island parking lot – 6:09 am, Race Day

I will say, the actual race was really something else. The atmosphere, I mean – everyone and their mother was out on the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan cheering their hearts out. Miles one through eighteen blew by and I felt like this thing was going to be easy. I actually surpassed my pacing time and it looked like I was on pace to finish in under four hours, something I never would have imagined five months ago.

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Mile 18 – Upper East Side. High fiving and feeling good!

But then it all came crashing down in the Bronx, mile twenty. Reality set in. My legs said, “NO MORE!” and gave out. My will was going to have to carry me for the final six miles. I took my first long break, swigged some water, and got an anti-inflammatory agent from a medical rep spraying something called Bio-Freeze on my knees and calves. It did nothing for me. The pain was excruciating and as I looked at my watch, I saw the sub-four-hour mark quickly drifting away.

I swallowed my disappointment that I would no longer be accomplishing the sub-four mark, and now set my sites on just crossing the finish line intact. The pain was such that I was not able to walk – it would only be jogging or stopping – that was the only way to temporarily silence the pain. In the last six miles, I saw three waves of my family – first my aunt Marie and cousin Grace at 96th St, followed by my parents, brother, and fiancée’s family at 88th St, and finally an unexpected sighting of fifteen of my cousins at the south-east corner of Central Park. I did all I could to muster a smile and pretend like I was pain free.

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Mile 23 – Fifth Avenue and 96th St. Taking a much-needed break from the pain

As I crossed the finish line, there was merely a moment of joy. Maybe two seconds. Then the pain really set in. My stomach was in knots, I was pale with low-blood sugar, and my knees and calves felt like they had knives all over them.

People will always tell me it’s an incredible accomplishment, and the medal on my mirror will remind me of the five months of suffering I went through for one four-hour slog through the city. For me, it’s just crossing something off the bucket list. I ran and completed a marathon in four hours and nineteen minutes. I’ll never do it again. On to skydiving…

-KB

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