On September 10, with both of my kids in school for the full day for the first time, I went to South Beach on Staten Island to run, really run, for the first time in years. I’d tried to take up running a few times before — in college, in my 20s, earlier in my 30s — but always gave up pretty quickly, due to a mix of knee pain, shortness of breath, and lack of enjoyment from the physical toll it took.
This time was different. I had lost a lot of weight over the previous year, which I hoped would take away some of the stress on my body. I had proper shoes that I’d gotten from a running store in Manhattan where I’d gone on a treadmill that analyzed my stride to find the right fit. Instead of looking at running as a way to try to get in shape, I was already in shape, and I had a plan.
Staten Island was part of the plan. The reason I went there, the reason I took my first selfie with the Verrazzano Bridge in the background, was because that was the hope, to eventually run over that bridge, maybe, if all went well, at the start of the 2020 New York City Marathon.
I figured I would start slow and stress free. Whatever I could accomplish that day was great. I would just run until I was exhausted and see how it went. The Staten Island boardwalk was a good, flat, breezy place to get started.
I ran for a half- hour, got a little over three miles, down past Midland Beach, went for a slice of pizza at Nunzio’s and headed home happy.
I watched the marathon on television every year as a kid, and none stands out more than 1994, when German Silva and Benjamin Paredes of Mexico ran the streets of New York together, right up until the homestretch, when Silva turned into the wrong entrance of Central Park, seeming to cost himself the race until he bounced back and kicked past his friend to the finish line.
I’m a lifelong New Yorker, but my first time running in the city’s signature park was a quarter-century after that, this past February at the New York Road Runners Gridiron 4 Mile, on the morning of the Super Bowl. When I entered, I was asked for an estimated pace, as it was my first registered NYRR race, and I put in 10 minutes a mile. And for the first time in my life, it turned out I had underestimated my speed.
Even in the last mile, I found myself full of energy. I’d see someone in a Philadelphia Eagles shirt, aim to pass them, and do it. Then I’d pick out someone in a Tom Brady jersey, aim to pass them, and then do it. I had started in a corral of runners with established 10-minute mile paces, but I was out there turning in faster and faster miles. I started at 8:50, then 8:13, then 8:07, and finally 7:25. When I looked at the tracking app on my phone, I couldn’t believe it.
Officially, I was a 1,583rd-place finisher in a competitive race. The most important part to me was being a finisher. But I saw it as just a start.
Since moving to Queens in 2004, I’ve lived two subway stops from the part of the marathon route that goes through the borough, between the Pulaski and Queensboro bridges. I’ve gone down that way and cheered for strangers, cheered for friends, cheered for my wife’s cousin as she ran by.
I went to the foot of the Pulaski Bridge in 2015 with my friend and then-Sporting News colleague Ryan Fagan to try to spot two of his cousins. Ryan kept moving along the course to cheer them on, while I walked six miles east to Citi Field to eventually reunite with him and cover Game 5 of the World Series. I thought a lot along the way about how it would be so cool to actually be in the marathon, that I definitely could walk it, but running that far was just out of the question for me.
It was a thought I had almost every year on Marathon Day, that through all these years of watching it on TV and in person, after all these years of watching sports on TV and in person, I could do it, except for the fact that I absolutely could not do it.
But then I went to Staten Island in September and the pipe dream transformed into a dream. Over the next few months, it became a goal. In February, I signed up to run with Fred’s Team, raising money for cancer research to gain entry to the marathon. I signed up for a slew of other NYRR races, too, and as each one ticked by that did not get run because of COVID-19, I’ve continued to hold the hope of the marathon, an event far enough removed from the pandemic’s beginning that it could represent not only a payoff to the story I started for myself last year, but a light at the end of the tunnel for my city.
My heart sank on Wednesday morning when the email hit my inbox saying that the 2020 New York City Marathon is canceled.
I know it’s the right decision, even more than four months out, not to hold a huge citywide event with thousands of runners and throngs of spectators. As someone who’s been writing about the arrogant irresponsibility of American pro sports league attempting summer returns, it would be hypocritical to suggest that having the marathon this year would be a good idea. It should’ve been, yes, but the United States has bungled its way through this mess like no other country on the planet.
Even though there’s gradual improvement in New York, there’s still a second wave to worry about, not to mention the large number of runners who come in from out of town to go 26.2 miles through five boroughs. I unequivocally stand behind NYRR’s decision to call it off.
It just sucks.
It sucks that this is the decision that had to be made for the reasons that it had to be made. It sucks that lots of good causes that raise money through the marathon are going to lose out. It sucks that one of the best days this city has every year isn’t going to happen. It sucks for all the runners, whether they’re marathon veterans or first-timers like I was going to be.
Last weekend, I ran 16 miles and crossed the Queensboro, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges on Saturday to complete the NYCRUNS Subway System Challenge — 245 miles between Memorial Day and Labor Day, something I’d initially hoped to do in 10 weeks or so before, a couple of weeks ago, I got inspired by Dr. Anthony Fauci and started running seven miles most mornings.
I followed up that 16-mile run by going under all those same bridges on Sunday during a 22-mile run. When I got home, I knew I had four more miles in the tank, but I was saving it for November.
I don’t know if I can wait for the 2021 New York City Marathon to be the first time I go the distance. I do know I’ll be there. It hurts today to know I won’t get to live my dream this year of being part of the event I’ve watched all my life, but it’s the right thing to do to help make sure that everyone stays healthy.
See you at the finish line next November.