Monday, November 4, 2013


                I’m no rock star, but I now know what it feels like to crowd-surf. I have run the New York City Marathon.
                In our mid-20s, my wife and I attended the marathon for the first time, and we were amazed that such a spirit of community could be found in a city of eight million people. I vowed to run that race someday, and experience it on the other side of the barricades. It took me about 15 years, but yesterday I finally got there.
                Running 26.2 miles is a bit preposterous, and runners hit their own “wall” at different points in this race. But the spectators who line those 26 miles make it impossible for you to give up on the race. You write your name on your shirt, and they call it out – “Come on, Warren – you’re doing great!” You need some human touch, and they’ve got their hands out for some high-fives. You need hydration, and the volunteers are there every mile, handing you your Poland Spring or Gatorade. You need a reason to think you’re a hero, and there are firefighters standing along the route clapping for you.
You need some inspiring music, and there they are, 130 musical acts across the whole route. There’s plenty of rock, R&B and rap to get you moving, but check out the gospel music in Fort Greene and Harlem! And how about the students and alumni at Bishop Loughlin High in Brooklyn, playing “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky, as they have for years? No need for headphones on this run.
You need signs to motivate you? Look no further. Here’s one that reads “You Run Better Than the Government.” Here’s another that says “You Are All Amazing!” And still another that reads “Run Faster – I Just Farted.” Eventually, you find a sign that looks more familiar – it’s got your name on it, and your children are holding it. You give your family members a hug, and tell them you’ll see them soon. The hugs seem to numb those aches, and get you moving up First Avenue.
Now you’re in the Bronx, and you’re starting to feel the burn. But here are three people on the sidewalk beside you chanting, at the top of their voices: “You can! And you will! You can! And you will!” The hop returns to your step.
As you enter Central Park after a grueling incline up Fifth Avenue, the spectators take it to another level. They call you out by name on a regular basis now, well aware of the pain you’re feeling. There is no way you can keep this up without their voices rising in volume, to overcome the doubts you might have. Do it, they say – you’re almost there. You turn onto Central Park South, just a mile more to go, so focused that you miss both your family and Tony Bennett standing behind the barricades.
It’s just too close. Dig deep, you tell yourself. And as the wall of sound echoes along the street, you are propelled there, surfing that crowd for just a few more meters. You cross the finish line, walk a few paces, and there they are – the volunteers handing you your medal. You’ve got it around your neck now, and the emotion is so strong you can’t breathe for a moment.
You walk slowly through the park, a heat sheet wrapped around your shoulders. It’s quiet now, just a bunch of exhausted runners trudging through the gloaming. But you don’t need the cheering now – it’s gotten you to where you stand.
Outside the park, on Central Park West, you near the family reunion area, where more hugs await. But before you get there, another volunteer drapes an orange marathon poncho around your shoulders. With this final, silent gesture, the most incredible day of civic engagement, community fellowship and pure love you have ever experienced is over.
And every time you think about it, your eyes well up with tears. Greatest city in the world. Greatest feeling ever.