by Lori Fradkin
My friend Josh and I have a Friday tradition. At the end of each workweek, one of us contacts the other with an e-mail titled “Plans,” a self-explanatory note in which we describe the various events of the days ahead. Sometimes these e-mails come through early in the morning before I even get to my office. Sometimes they slip in just before midnight. But for the past few years, we’ve been pretty diligent about our routine, detailing everything from “finish book” to “clean my apt because it is a disaster after my party last night.”
This weekend my e-mail will lay out the itinerary for my parents’ trip to the city. It will include a rundown of all the restaurants we’ll visit during their stay as well as the tidbit that I’ll be late to the first meal because I’m seeing Joel McHale at Carnegie Hall. Notably missing from this schedule: the New York City Marathon.
On Saturday night, as runners throughout the city chow down on pasta, I too will have carbs on the dinner table. Mine, however, will come in the form of a potato side dish to help facilitate a less energy-boosting practice called steak-loading. Later, when the waiter asks if we want coffee or dessert, I won’t get antsy about getting home to get a good night’s sleep. Saks does not require as early a wake-up call as Staten Island.
Those who knew me in middle school may find these priorities perfectly in line with their image of the girl who couldn’t run The Mile but did have a shopping-themed bat mitzvah, complete with tables labeled by store and followed by a trip to the Mall of America with the grandparents. I’m still quite the enthusiastic shopper, but in a surprising turn of events, I’ve (sort of) become a runner as well.
I include the above parenthetical because it’s still hard for me to consider myself anything remotely resembling an athlete. When I moved to New York, my uncle — a runner himself — told me that he thought I’d enjoy said activity because I like being alone. So I started on the treadmill during football season with a don’t-stop-till-halftime goal and gradually moved outside, swapping in bridges as time-to-turn-around points. I’ve now completed six half-marathons.
What this doesn’t mean is that I want to run a full one.
It is not, contrary to what many will argue, the next step. It is thousands and thousands of blister-inducing steps that make your pedicurist cringe at the pre-polish shade of your middle toenail. And yet while no one would congratulate a marathoner and ask in the next breath about the Big 52.4, people constantly insist that I must feel the need to double my distance. “Of course you’ll do it,” they all say. “Of course you will.” They say it with such confidence that “it” might as well be “order sushi at some point in the next week.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love running. I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I text my dad to report “8 miles!” I love the reminder that it’s pretty cool to be able to see the Statue of Liberty on a random Saturday afternoon. I really love egg and cheese on a bagel. And maybe one day I’ll decide that running for the approximate amount of time it takes to watch Che is something I want to try. But those who think it’s on my bucket list are mistaken.
Unless you’re Barney Stinson, you don’t just go out one day and run a marathon without training. And unless you’re P. Diddy, you train for more than two months. I’m not one to be out till 4 a.m. (anymore) or lounge in bed on the weekends, but the following still seems unappealing: go to sleep early on Friday in order to get up early on Saturday in order to run 18 miles for practice, only to go to sleep early on Saturday because you’re exhausted from the aforementioned rising and running. It’s just too much of a good-for-you thing, and I fear it’ll start to feel like a chore. I like running, and I’d prefer not to hate it.
One of the toughest races I ever did was a half-marathon in Central Park. It was hot and humid, and though I was thrilled to finish with the friend I’d been training with, I can’t say it’s an experience I’d want to repeat — especially for twice as long. At least I got a new long-sleeved T-shirt as a result, so that’s always good. At this point, if I sign up for a half-marathon and wake up to thunderstorms with a side of stickiness, I will be bummed at the loss of registration fee but also okay with rolling over and going back to sleep. Been there, done that, will have a chance to do it again in a few months. If I were to wake up to a downpour on the day of a marathon? That would be nonnegotiable.
The trick, I’ve learned, is to constantly play down expectations. Before any race, I am sure to mention that I hope I’ll be able to finish it. I’ll note that I didn’t really train like I should have or my shin splints have been acting up. It’s the same reason I often don’t pitch editors until a piece is near completion: If I can’t make it work, well, no one was expecting it anyway. But it’s hard to temper expectations for a marathon. You have friends coming out to cheer for you or, if they sponsored you, at least make sure they get their money’s worth.
It would be easy to point to a busy work schedule and the fact that all my friends have recently decided to get married in cities other than New York and claim that I don’t have enough time to train anyway. But, really, it’s not so much a matter of hours in the day as how I choose to use them. Ryan Seacrest could find the time if he really wanted to. The thing is, even if I did find the time, I’m not sure I would spend it doing the same — that is, only — activity I always do. I would attempt to tone my abs, perhaps, or build arm muscle so I don’t have to continue smiling and asking the nice gentlemen on airplanes to put my carry-on in the overhead compartment. Honestly? I would catch up on “The Good Wife.”
Last weekend, I took the bus to D.C. to watch the guy I’m dating run the Marine Corps Marathon. As we picked up his number at the expo, he speculated that this essay would end with a twist, that the angle would shift to something like, “I never thought I’d want to do a marathon until I was inspired by the procession of runners soaring through the capital of this great nation.” And I must say it was impressive to see them go by and realize that all of these people were physically fit enough to run such a distance. Then I got tired just walking across the bridge to Arlington, stripped off several layers and thought, Man, it would suck to be running right now.
When I saw him near the end, it looked to me like he was going strong, but as soon as we met up, I could see he was in pain. His knee was bothering him, and we worked our way through the crowd to sit on the grass so he could stretch. “You don’t need to do this,” he told me. “Your article can stay the same.” Granted, that was before he cooled off, got attached to his medal and decided that crossing the finish line essentially made him a Marine, but still.
I have the utmost respect for those who will run through all five boroughs this weekend. I know what it’s like to get that congratulatory call from grandma saying she’s proud of you for your marathon — and you, actual marathon runner, won’t even have to correct her. I wish everyone the very best of luck and weather, and I will be rooting for you, whether in person or in spirit.
It just depends what time brunch is.
Lori Fradkin lives in New York and is an editor at AOL. She is baffled by people who run without iPods.