Dear NYC Marathon,
Twenty years ago today you and I met. You were my first marathon so you’ll always be special to me. Since I crossed your finishline, I’ve gone on to run ten marathons and a few races that exceeded 26.2.
While my marathon debut was not without a few, um…hiccups (remember when I dashed into McDonalds to use the restroom around mile 15?), without you, I wouldn’t have developed the love for running I have today.
From 1994-1998, I lived steps away from your historic finishline in Central Park, which provided a formative period in my life for both sport and compassion. While my parents instilled immeasurable positive values in me, Central Park is where I learned about courage, bravery, and overcoming challenges by volunteering with the Achilles Track Club. I ran with runners who were blind, in wheelchairs or who just needed a little extra help, and I’ll forever cherish my time with these inspiring runners. Even though it has been 20 years, I still remember their names—Justin, Gladstone, and Leol. You probably remember we briefly met again one year later when I ran 13 miles with Leol during that crazy marathon downpour!
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to me for remembering many specifics of the day we shared together. What was going through my mind marathon eve or when I awoke race morning? I can only imagine it was a cacophony of emotions; both excitement and doubt, after all, you were my first.
Though I still have a few vivid memories lingering. On the day registration opened I enthusiastically filled out the race application and rushed it down to the main post office. I thought my chances of getting in would improve if I mailed my application from here instead of my small upper westside apartment. The competition to get in was not as fierce as it is today, but I didn’t want to take any chances. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or the runner I would become years later.
I also remember turning the corner after crossing over the Verrazano Bridge and running through a sea of discarded green Gatorade cups; today, this would result in heart palpitations and a letter to the race director suggesting ways to reduce unnecessary waste. And of course, having my dad fly out from Portland to greet me at the finishline was special.
I’m sorry to say you and I will never meet again. I gave up running on pavement in 2006 after a bad case of Achilles Tendonitis sidelined me for many months; but know my love for running has never faded. It may hurt to hear this, but I’ve found a much better match for me than you—trails. Trails have taken me to some pretty spectacular places and finishlines, which wouldn’t have happened without you. Even though I’ve moved on, we’ll always have Sunday, November 3, 1996 between us.
Without knowing it, you’ve taught many important lessons. First, the painfully obvious—you’ve reminded me life is cruelly short. How did 20 years fly by? Twenty years. It seems like it was just yesterday we were together. My promise to you is that I will make the next twenty years count and not take anything for granted. Life is so damn fragile. You also taught me about the importance of perseverance and following my passion. As I reflect on our history together, I really think Small Change has its roots in the time we spent together.
Thank you for making me happier, healthier, and more confident—and for making our miles together count.
My ask of you today is to be kind to the runners making their way through the five boroughs. Please give them the strength and courage to cross the finishline just as you did for me twenty years ago.
What memories do you have of your first marathon? Please share here.