What do you notice? What do you see?
As I stood in the middle of Madison Square Garden last night surrounded by twenty thousand other cheering fans, I meditate on that question. It is the third straight year my girlfriend and I have attended Phish’s New Year’s Run in New York City – where they play four consecutive nights at The Garden.
For me, there hasn’t been a better way to cap each of the past three years than with these series of concerts. You’re in the same exact place – listening to the same music. Yet every year, both the music and the person that I am has slightly changed. But when you’re in the same exact place – removed from all of the outside noise – you can fully appreciate the subtleties. Of how the music has changed. How you have changed. It acts as a mental check-in. A mile marker.
I remember during the 2016 run, I was talking to the gentleman sitting next to me, and we looked back on each of our years. He lamented many of the negatives that year – the celebrity deaths, the presidential election – while I felt slightly ashamed that I only had positives. I had made it to winter break as a first-year teacher, was working on my Masters, had just run my first half marathon, and had lost close to eighty pounds over the course of the year. It dawned on me that 2016 was perhaps the greatest year of my life.
But 2018 might have topped it.
It certainly has been an eventful year. I ran my first marathon. And then ran a second. The day after running a half marathon in a nor’easter. I ran in nine other races to guarantee myself entry into the 2019 New York City Marathon. I earned a Masters in bilingual childhood education (and the pay raise that comes with it). My relationship with my girlfriend is as healthy as it’s ever been. I’ve grown closer to friends and family. Hell, even the Oakland Raiders – in spite of another pitiful year – delivered me a win on Christmas Eve in what was probably their final game in Oakland.
But above all, I started writing again – for the first time in seven years – and reawakened a passion in me that had been dormant for so long. I abandoned that passion in 2011, along with all of my other hopes and dreams.
After the Cape Cod Marathon, I knew what I was put on this Earth to do. I was born to run and write. I had already started on one; I just had to take a big leap and start on the other. It wasn’t going to be easy. But if there’s one thing that running has taught me is that the hard part is you just gotta do it everyday. But it does get easier.
I started this blog two months ago with an idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to catch you up on my story. Unburden myself of all of those thoughts and feelings and experiences. I saw so many parallels between my life and running that I wanted to be able to share that with you. To give you a context – a compass – for where we are going next.
Because it’s what I realize at MSG each and every year: it’s not about just looking back. It’s about looking forward.
In just two months, this blog has given me the opportunity to become an Official Blogger for the 2019 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. When I was planning my 2019 race calendar, I had decided on this particular race, because not only was it almost exactly six months away from the New York City Marathon (giving me ample time to train for each), but I love the city of Pittsburgh. And it holds a special significance in my life. I had come across a posting for Official Bloggers and applied as an afterthought. I didn’t expect to get picked. I just started this blog and barely have any followers. My only social media account that has gained any traction barely has over 250 followers. As far as exposure, the race organizers have very little to gain from me, especially when I look at other bloggers who were turned down.
But maybe they see where I’m headed.
The eighteen week training plan I’m following for the Pittsburgh Marathon starts exactly on December 31st. A day after this post goes live. I have allowed my body to fully recover – for the first time in almost two years – by taking a two month hiatus from running. I feel as close to one hundred percent as I’ve ever felt. The first day I start running again just so happens to be January 1st. You just can’t make up these kind of coincidences.
At the halfway point of my training, I will be running in the Hampton Half Marathon in New Hampshire. Just as a check-in before Pittsburgh. After the marathon, it’ll be another two months off from running where I’ll go to the gym, pool, or stay at home and watch Yoga With Adriene videos. When I start running again, the focus will be on the NYC Marathon in November, but again at the halfway mark of the training will be another half marathon: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon.
Equipped with the knowledge and experience, I’m excited to see how I will do in these races now that I don’t have as much on my plate as in 2018 – between grad school, the nine NYRR races, and recovering from my injuries. But mostly, I’m excited because this is a precursor for what’s to come.
The reason my main races in 2019 are marathons is mostly because I am automatically entered in the NYC Marathon. And that is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I wanted to see how I could fare in marathons fully recovered and with a proper training plan.
But the endgame is really to dive into the world of ultramarathons. This is an idea that has been brewing since I saw a bumper sticker that had “100” written on it in the parking lot of the Queens 10K. Considering this was the race where I sprained my foot and finished it barefoot, I don’t think this was pure coincidence. I learned that day that maybe I shouldn’t be focused on speed. And that I was tougher than I thought. When I saw that bumper sticker, an idea was born.
I didn’t know much about ultras at that time. But I have done plenty of research since. In 2019, I want to feel like I’ve conquered the marathon distance. So I could then try my hand at ultramarathon distances in 2020.
Maybe this series of eight chapters was my way of preparing myself psychologically for that leap. In only two months, I wrote close to 150 pages on a word processor. My weekends were practically non-existent. I relived and thought about some of the hardest moments of my life. It was absolutely draining: physically, emotionally, and mentally.
But I did it. You’re all caught up. It’s time to move forward together.
My writing is rusty, but like running, it will improve with repetition. It’ll eventually settle on a natural direction. For now though, my next series will document my training for the 2019 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. Tips, techniques, training logs, the voices in my head. Culminating with the final race report. I will do something similar for the 2019 NYC Marathon. And then after that: the unknown.
But I’m armed with something powerful for the first time in my life: purpose. And I think this is what shines through. Maybe this is what caught the eye of the people from the Pittsburgh Marathon.
I feel different now. I am different. I’m not the same person I was fifteen years ago. Or ten or five or two. Or even a year ago.
What do you notice? What do you see?
I’m not from New York City, and I’m not running all of these New York Road Runners’ races as part of a running club, wearing a fancy uniform. I’m not from Colorado or Utah or California and can get valuable training for ultramarathon distances through beautiful running trails.
I’m from New Jersey. All I have are my experiences. The real human connections I’ve made over the years. And the Newark-sized chip on my shoulder.
I don’t want to win races, because I know I never will. I just want to be the person who never walks, who never quits. Distance is just a number.
But I also know that I’ve been able to accomplish everything I’ve set my mind to. Save up for an apartment when I didn’t even have a home. Get a Masters and become a teacher when I was stuck in a career path I hated. Run 40 miles over the course of a weekend when I could hardly walk. And that makes me very dangerous, because I know I am only tapping my potential.
New Jersey doesn’t have the rich running history of other states. And certainly not for ultramarathons. I want to be the Bruce Springsteen of running. The common man. The wrestler. All heart. Sheer will and determination. I want to be Rocky in round 14.
I want to be that. I want to keep fighting. I want to go the distance. Whatever that may be.
“I embrace my desire to feel the rhythm, to feel connected.
Enough to step aside and weep like a widow.
To feel inspired, to fathom the power,
To witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
To swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.
With my feet upon the ground
I lose myself between the sounds
And open wide to suck it in.
I feel it move across my skin.
I’m reaching up and reaching out.
I’m reaching for the random or whatever will bewilder me.
Whatever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind
We may just go where no one’s been.
We’ll ride the spiral to the end
And may just go where no one’s been.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.”
– “Lateralus” Tool
“You got your nice shades on, and the worst days are gone.
So now the band plays on, you got one life. Blaze on.”