Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Few of Your Favorite Things: A 26-Mile Mardi Gras

This year, I ran the New York City marathon. It was my first marathon ever, and I had no idea what to expect. My training had been about as diligent as Bud Selig’s anti-steroid enforcement, and I was in just about the worst shape of my life. I was terrified.

The morning of the marathon, I rode the ferry across to Staten Island, and as I looked back at Manhattan, it occurred to me that I was only getting farther and farther from the finish line. I questioned the logical supportability, the plain sensibleness, of traveling an hour and a half by four different modes of mass transit (taxi, subway, ferry, bus) only to return on foot. But, as I often do, I felt a kind of thrill to be flying in the face of reason -- not in a Jackass kind of way (not this time, at least); more in a "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" kind of way (minus the wimple). Mostly, I just hoped I wouldn't get hurt.

Not long after the descent into Brooklyn, though, after the long, lonely slog across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, my fears were displaced by my fascination with the crowd. Rock bands were set up outside of stores playing the themes from Chariots of Fire and Rocky on electric guitars. Little Spanish kids lined up next to their brothers and sisters with their hands outstretched for high-fives. A high school band played in Fort Greene. Gospel groups sang outside of their churches. A group of nuns (pictured; clicking to enlarge is recommended) in the Bronx stood outside their rectory ringing communion bells. A woman in a wheelchair in East Harlem cheered us on in a Statue of Liberty costume. Sloshed twentysomethings clotted the sidewalks outside of bars on First Avenue, cheering for the sake of cheering. Random people offered hard candies and bananas and pretzels to keep us going. (I clung to one of those pretzels as if for dear life for the last three miles.)

I'm sure the physical exertion had something to do with it, but all that simple effusion of joy and enthusiasm came to seem kind of pure and transcendent, and it's what I remember more clearly than the three middle toes on my left foot going numb or the weird feeling that may or may not have been pain in my knee. Maybe that's what's meant by a runner's high. Regardless, it was the most fun I've ever had. Much of it had nothing to do with athletic performance or personal achievement or camaraderie among fellow runners. The fun was in seeing the city, block by block, hour after hour (after hour, after hour, after hour) thronged with cheering strangers. It was like an incredibly wholesome and lucid Mardi Gras. I can’t wait till next year.

--Patricia Fernandez


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