The other week I was rummaging through old photo albums to prepare for my daughter’s birthday party and I found pictures from my New York City Marathon 10 years ago. The event itself would be marked by one of my more embarrassing mishaps. See, I always wore a very old pair of my husband’s swimming trunks for good luck. They had deep pockets, which I filled to the max on that bitter-cold morning. Combined with the ancient waistband’s eroded elastic, the drawers dropped just as I entered Brooklyn. Suddenly bare-assed (well, I did have on skimpy undies...) and tripping, I moved to a median and used a safety pin from my running bib to keep my bottoms secured. I remember shaking as a policeman came over to yell, “Hey, get offa there!” Over the course of the next four hours, the swim trunks kept coming loose, forcing me to stop and tighten them again and again. Why I didn’t just fasten them to my shirt, I’ll never know.
I had a newspaper column back then and this one published on the eve of the marathon I thought I’d share because it explains my origins as a runner. I wish I could track down an electronic version of the post-race column, because it gave a good preview to the 37,000 of you running that famous footrace this weekend. In any event, hold on to your shorts!
Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.
Way back when I was about to enter high school, I decided to try out for field hockey.
I did it to distinguish myself from the other 900 sophomores coming to the school that year.
And I did stand out, sooner than expected, because I was probably the worst of the 50 or so teenaged girls hoping to make the team.
I was too meek to be taken seriously as a defensive player and too inept to be considered for any other position.
I couldn't dribble, and I rarely scored. But there was one thing I could do better than anyone else: I could run.
I finished minutes ahead of the nearest person on daily cross-country warmups. I did extra wind sprints while waiting for everyone else to catch up. I almost always was first down the field.
Running was the only thing that brought me praise from the other, older players. And it was also the only time I got the attention of the coach.
I remember her calling me over one hot afternoon, me beaming as I left behind players still trying to catch their breath.
``I've been watching your running. You're pretty good,'' she said. ``I think you should consider trying out for track.''
Then she cut me from the team.
That ended my scholastic athletic career, but it also began my passion for a sport that on Sunday will take me to one of the world's most famous road races.
That's the day I will stand near the starting line with 29,000 other official runners for the 27th New York City Marathon.
I've dreamt of this race for years, planned it for months and talked of little else for weeks now.
By the time you read this, I'll have flown into LaGuardia, ridden around Queens and Jersey with one friend and settled in at the Manhattan apartment of another.
Later today, I'll work my way to Columbus Circle to pick up my runner's number and buy more souvenirs than I can afford.
I'll carbo-load at my friend's Italian restaurant, trading tips with others registered for the 26.2-mile run through all five city boroughs.
On race day, I'll get up extra early, catch a bus to Staten Island and meet up with a Coast Guard couple also running the marathon. They were the ones who encouraged me to try for the highly competitive race this year.
We'll warm up at our stage area ``corral'' and then walk to the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Just before the gun goes off, I'll wonder if I should have gone to the bathroom one more time.
I'll try not to rush through the early water stops, and I'll kindly smile at a cheering spectator. I'll carry on breathy conversations with runners around me and eavesdrop on others when I'm tired of talking.
Eventually I'll become really quiet, trying to convince my aching body to keep moving forward.
I'll tell myself, as I have in three previous marathons in less-exalted locations, that there are things that hurt far worse than this moment. Like trying to play field hockey when you were really born to run.