The marathon is 26.2 miles, but it's a much longer journey than that. It's months of preparation, hours upon hours of running alone in the heat, thirsty, fighting injury, waking up exhausted, questioning yourself why you're even out there. It's not an easy thing to do. Bodies don't naturally want to run that far. People don't just do marathons to do them. Most marathoners have a deeper reason for running. Mary Elizabeth Williams' article at Salon.com is a powerful example of someone running for a personal reason.
I've blogged about this before, but I am running for my father. 13 months ago he had a stroke and simultaneously battled pneumonia. He was in ICU and rehab from September until February. He's now back at home, but things aren't easy. He can't speak, eat or move really at all and is battling Parkinson's while trying to do rehab. It's been a battle to be an optimist. My father was a runner my entire life. When I was a baby, he ran the NYC marathon at 65 years old. I always knew I wanted to do the NYC marathon because he inspired me, but I decided I needed to do it this year because I wanted my dad to see me do it.
Running has brought me closer to my dad. He's spelled out running routes in CT on a magnet board very slowly, telling me 20 mile routes he used to do decades ago. I bought him a marathon winter beanie and he wears it proudly. I get back from a 4 hour jog back home and lifts his arm up to proudly hug me, his eyes wide that I did it. He then immediately starts doing physical therapy, and I stand in front of him to help. We motivate each other. Every step I run, I imagine myself at 13, chasing after my dad, embarrassed that my 70 year old father could smoke me that badly. We are a competitive family. I've watched videos of my dad jogging, teary eyed, remembering his athleticism, his wave, his smile, hearing his voice, which I feel I'm starting to forget each day that passes. For his birthday, my family and I framed huge poster sized photos of him finishing the NYC marathon with inspirational quotes painted onto the glass. I don't think a gift has touched him more.
I completely understand why people think the NYC marathon should be postponed. The hurricane devastated NYC and surrounding areas, and it depresses me deeply to think about how much life was lost and how many people are suffering. I've already donated money and plan on doing much more to help. At the starting line, I'm wearing many layers of winter clothing that I will throw off and will be donated on Staten Island.
I am still running the marathon despite all the pain and suffering. I am angered and sad that people are taking it out on runners. My Facebook page and newsfeed yesterday were full of negativity towards runners. This race means so much to me. It's one of those days I will never forget. When I got the email saying I got into the Marathon through the lottery system I sobbed for about 20 minutes (maybe even longer) and called my dad. I told him over the phone. Despite hearing no verbal response, I knew he was thrilled.
If people want to come out and protest and boo and wave angry signs I can't stop them, but I do hope that they also spend as much energy volunteering and helping people in need rather than being negative. I had trouble sleeping last night and gave myself a really bad stomach ache because of the guilt people are putting on runners that are still participating. I started to question why I was still doing the marathon. I woke up with a headache and have finally decided to defend myself. I will be running 26.2 miles on Sunday like it or not. I will smile for the photos and hug my dad and family proudly when I see them. This past year has been impossible for me for so many reasons and I've had to fight negativity in my own head.
My father's life is pretty much like that movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." People like to complain about the marathon ignoring or moving past suffering as if we don't feel bad or have no empathy, but runners are the most empathetic people I know. The marathon is about overcoming. The last thing I want is people throwing pessimism my way as well. I know I'll be surrounded by thousands of other runners out there with personal reasons for running, but Sunday is a day for me and my father and I am beyond thrilled. He won't be able to cheer, but I'll imagine him screaming my name and saying, "Run like the wind," like he used to when he cheered on my soccer team.