Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saving Race

I started running for one reason and one reason only. To save face.

When Ric was at his worst and could not even feed himself, much less prepare even a simple sandwich, I signed him up for God’s Love We Deliver. For those that don’t know, God’s Love, as their mission statement states, prepares and delivers “nutritious, high-quality meals to people who, because of their illness, are unable to provide or prepare meals for themselves.” They do this at no cost to their clients and they have never…I repeat, never turned an eligible person away. In addition to their meals being amazing, they deliver special “feasts” for holidays, a cake for birthdays, “blizzard kits” for storms when they can’t make a delivery and so much more. They literally saved Ric’s -- and by extension my – life during a time when I didn’t know if either of us would survive.

My gratitude for the work of God’s Love cannot be adequately put into words. The ineffable love I have for this organization is such never to be forgotten. And it was because of that love that I signed up for the 2009 annual Race to Deliver, a four mile fundraising race in Central Park for God’s Love.

Shortly after signing up I began raising a significant amount of money. So much so that I was the lead fundraiser for a race that would end up having 4,768 runners cross the finish line. I realized early on in my fundraising that I was going to have to actually run this thing. After all, my thinking went, what if I was still the lead fundraiser by race day, or even 2nd or 3rd, and I couldn’t complete the four miles? That would be slightly embarrassing!

So I started to train. Having quit smoking three months prior I was certain that, after a couple of weeks of training, I would breezily cross the finish line to the applause of the adoring masses. I was wrong.

My first day of training netted less than a quarter mile before I nearly fainted and died. The second day, just over a quarter mile. The third, back to less than a quarter mile. I was, um, out of shape. Come race day, I would cross the finish line in 39:49 at a 9:57 minute/mile. I stopped three times, walked a half mile and wasn’t even in the top five of fundraisers. It was nothing like I’d imagined.

But what it was was so much more. That race sparked something in me that would carry me through some of the darkest hours and days of my life. Running saved me from myself. It carried me above and beyond any and every thing I thought possible.

During those first months of training my friend Charles L. bought me a new pair of running shoes because the pair I had were not only five years old but a size too small. He bought them for me because I couldn’t afford to get them myself. My friend Helen C. invited me to her Saturday morning running group where I was able to socialize with other like-minded people. People from my daily life offered advice and tips.

Those first few months I suffered knee injuries, ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis and so much more. I was homebound weeks at a time incapable of even a walk to the mailbox. But that spark! Oh, that spark! It couldn’t be extinguished!

Now close to two years later, I run almost every day.

I live in the hilliest and highest part of Manhattan. Washington Heights is hills and slopes and stairs and everything else and then more hills and more hills and just when you’re about done, more hills.

The first mile of most of my runs is the most brutal. My first mile of running is almost entirely uphill. The truth is by the time I hit half a mile I want to give up. My body, to this day after hundreds of first miles, tells me to turn around, go home and go back to sleep. It wants nothing to do with 5:45am uphill running. But my mind, my mind usually has different plans.

Go for it, it says. This mile is almost done and then you have a downhill reprieve, it whispers. Don’t give up now, it pleads. And nine times out of ten, my mind wins.

There is nothing like the feeling, when the world seems about ready to break you in two and all your problems are crashing in all around you, when you are running and, at a different point every time, those pressures vanish. They seem to literally melt away. There is nothing but the road before you, the miles behind and the hope within you. Each person on God’s great planet should be blessed to experience that feeling just once in their lifetime. I get to experience it nearly every single day.

There are many miles between the day I signed up for the Race to Deliver and today. There has been much heartache and triumph and everything in between . Ric is thriving in Ric’s own way, God’s Love still comes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I still don’t know how we’re going to make it.

But I do know this. I know that tomorrow morning I will run. I know my body will tell me to turn around and I know my mind will push me forward. I know that at some point during that run all will be right with the world. I know that, probably between miles three and four, I will reach my hands towards the heavens and whisper a prayer of thanks. And ultimately I know that even if I am never able to run again, running will continue to save me from myself.

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