This past 2nd of November, I walked two blocks from my apartment to 4th Ave in Brooklyn to watch the 38th running of the New York City Marathon. However, rather than being inspired, I immediately felt jealous. The cheering crowd shouting the runner’s names and shared nationalities as they ran by giving a quick nod in the direction of the fan, sending them further into a frenzy. So much excitement and admiration, and all just because they were running.
It wasn’t long before my jealousy got the best of me and I had to run back home to change into my workout clothes so that I too could be lavished with praise and attention--just for running.
Without bothering to stretch or warm up, I ran down St. Mark’s and hit 4th Ave. at a good clip. It was easy enough slipping through the crowd at the bottom of the street and there I was amid the herd, just another salmon swimming upstream to the cheers and applause of all of New York. Adrenaline pumping, I grabbed a Gatorade cup from a volunteer and smiling idiotically, doused my head with it, shaking out my hair like a model in a Pert Plus commercial.
I had snuck in at about the 7-mile marker and with 2 hours having already elapsed since the start of the race, it wasn’t exactly the cream of the crop I was competing against. For one thing they were 7 miles more weary than I was. For another, it had taken them over 2 hours to run those 7 miles. That’s like a 17-minute mile. I was weaving and bebopping in and out of them like a fish through coral. Most runners had their names written on their shirt or shorts so people could give them a personal cheer and push them on. I didn’t have anything with my moniker so I was wearing my Obama shirt much to the excitement of the Brooklynites lining the sidewalks.
“Yeah, Obama! Yes You Can!” they shouted.
“November 4th, two more days baby! Wooooo!” I would reply to more enthusiastic applause.
I was really looking forward to running over the Brooklyn Bridge - to be part of that aerial shot of colorful shirts streaming from one end to the other. It had been playing out in my mind like a Lifetime original movie. A close-up on my face--a look of grim determination, running in slow motion. Slowly, the camera pulls back in a glorious swooping crane shot revealing around me the river of people that I am to defeat against all odds.
Imagine my disappointment then, when we turned off Flatbush and started north away from the Bridges. “What the fuck!” I thought, “I want my bridge moment. When do we go to Manhattan?” Of course, I didn’t want to appear to be the rube who forgot his map, so I just followed the crowd through Fort Greene and into Williamsburg.
The crowds varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, but there was a sizable turnout on pretty much every corner. In Williamsburg where even the hipsters were not pretending to not care about the event, I noticed the spectators were bringing out paper towels, orange slices, and bananas for runners to take as they went by, as well as Twizzlers, chocolate and other various leftover Halloween candy. The bananas struck me as odd though. I understand they’re to keep potassium levels up, but it just seems like the last place you want to have hundreds of discarded banana peels is in the path of 30,000 runners.
After a while I began to notice that there is a certain arrogance among marathon runners. For the most part they pretend to ignore the crowds and just grab things out of people’s hands. There was no “thank you,” not even a nod of recognition as they snatched a water or banana from the eager-to-please spectators. Like greedy little goats at a petting zoo, they shoved their snouts into the palms of children until they were licked clean, then sought out the next hand of grain.
It also became apparent that they took public urination to be one of their inalienable rights and would drop trow at any unclaimed loading dock or chain link fence. They were literally pissing ON Porta-potties while standing in line to use them, I kid you not.
Around my 7th mile I started looking for a good place to sneak off the course, but I hadn’t realized how solid the crowds would be. I didn’t want to be observed and branded a phony or a coward or worse still a cheater taking a short cut- especially while representing Obama. I was starting to feel a bit fatigued but I also still hadn’t had my bridge moment and was wondering when we were going to cross the river. It was at this moment while adjusting myself as I ran that I noticed that somehow during the course of events one of my testicles had disappeared into my body. I realize that the sight of a man running through Queens with both hands groping around in his shorts and a look of panicked desperation on his face might be a common sight on any given day of the week, but for me it was quite unusual. I came to a chain-link fence that wasn’t currently being urinated upon and under the guise of doing some hamstring stretches I frantically searched for my ascended gonad.
Thank God he hadn’t wandered far, just a little off the reservation. I vaguely recalled hearing something about the body doing this to keep warm and conserve energy in times of physical duress. I tried to coax him back out, but he wasn’t having it, so I figured, fine! I’d let him have his way and I’d have mine. He could sit in his room and sulk! One ball or two, I was crossing that goddamn river! I bade the men who had begun to urinate next to me a good race and off I went again.
I didn’t have to wait very long for my bridge moment, unfortunately it was more inglorious than I had hoped for. We ran on the lower level of the 59th Street Bridge, frankly one of the city’s douchier bridges, choked with exhaust fumes from the cars and trucks driving just a few yards over our heads. If there were helicopters with cameras to capture events, they’d more likely be reporting on the gridlock caused by the Marathon on the upper level, rather than the pathetic chuds limping along through the dimly lit bowels of the lower. The wretched refuse of the teeming shore, bringing up the rear-- hours after the frontrunners had crossed the finish line. Running a marathon takes a dedication to personal excellence, tremendous determination, and a fierce power of the will to push you to the finish line. For me it took a series of escalating whims.»
I had finally attained my completely arbitrary goal of reaching Manhattan and in so doing, I claimed my 9th mile. Though slightly weary after 2 boroughs, I figured I might as well make it an even 10 miles. Because there’s nothing exciting about 9. Besides, if I had stopped running then, I would have had the entire afternoon to kill and with nothing more pressing, probably would have just gone home and masturbated. There would be plenty of time for that later. Whim number 1.
I met my 10th mile on 1st Avenue somewhere around 80th street. I had just slathered my raw and burning nipples with Vaseline given to me on a wide wooden tongue depressor and was feeling a second wind coming. The sidewalks were packed with spectators, so I decided to keep going to the Bronx where the crowd would be thinner and take the subway from there. Whim number 2.
The crowd in the Bronx was very animated, with bands and dancers on every corner. There was a slight undercurrent of cynicism in the crowd there however. They were all quite friendly and happy to have us, but knew we wouldn’t soon be back. One sign summed it up, “Welcome to the Bronx! See you next year…” Ahh, the Bronx. The forgotten borough. The pity mile.
I saw a 6 Train Subway station, but realized I had nearly run 13 miles--a full half marathon, and thought I may as just do that much before bowing out. Whim number 3.
My 13th mile was just over Madison Bridge back in Manhattan. I had run a half marathon! Feeling very proud of myself, I began looking for a safe place to vomit. I could feel the salty saliva rapidly lubricating my mouth and knew that it was only a matter of time. Not having planned to run a marathon when I got up that morning, bleary-eyed and slightly hung-over, I had consumed a large breakfast burrito and piping hot cup of black coffee. How I had not shit my pants already was beyond the realm of my understanding.
I slowed to a walk by Marcus Garvey Park and went to the sidewalk behind the crowd to stretch my leg on the fence. I was preparing to regurgitate my breakfast and several gallons of Gatorade when I heard it. I don’t know where it came from, or even if it was directed at me, but someone within my earshot uttered a disparaging remark and I took it personally. “Looks like someone didn’t train!”
Oh really! Oh really!!? Of course it was true, but that didn’t make it sting any less. No! In fact, I hadn’t trained, nor had I stretched or eaten pasta or oats or whatever the hell you’re supposed to eat before running a fucking marathon. Frankly, I thought that made it all the more impressive that I had made it as far as I had. And if she’s got enough breath in her lungs to make smart ass remarks, then she sure as hell isn’t running any marathons! Well I’d show ‘em! I’d show all of ‘em! Whim number 4.
I swallowed my vomit-precursing saliva along with my suppressed rage and forced down whatever had been working its way up. On my feet and fueled by absolutely misplaced indignation and a desperate desire to save my pride from further mild bruising, I dragged myself to my feet and fell back in line with the other runners down 5th Avenue.
The next several miles are a bit of blur but I remember a sudden moment of clarity when my actions of the day became crystallized before my eyes and I was able to kind of leave myself and look at them as though through the eyes of another, more rational person. As I quietly observed myself bounding and heaving up and down the streets of New York, I had to wonder, What the fuck--is wrong with me?
With zero training and a bad back due to childhood scoliosis, I was practically guaranteeing myself serious injury at a time when I have no health insurance, no job, and no money. So why was I running? Pride? Boredom? To have a story to tell? Maybe it was a bit of all these things, the whole reason being something greater than the sum of its parts. Frustrated and bored, unemployed and with little direction in my life, I think I needed to accomplish something, to challenge myself and succeed.
Keeping this in mind, and convincing myself that if walking on my knee hurts it, then running must be good for it, I continued on at kind of a heaving canter all the way to the end. Or at least nearly. I didn’t cross the finish line, but left the track about 300 yards from the end, staggered through a hole in the fence, and wandered into Central Park. It’s one thing to allow people to cheer for you for running, but another entirely to allow them to cheer for you for winning, or even finishing the race.
I hadn’t run for recognition, or to get a participatory medal or space blanket I didn’t deserve--and I wasn’t looking to deceive anyone. If I had crossed the finish line, it only would have detracted from the value of what I had actually accomplished.
I began to meander aimlessly, like a shock victim away from a crash, not knowing where to tell my legs to take me. It was about 3 PM. I had been running for over three hours and had gone about 19 miles. I couldn't stop moving though, I was stuck on autopilot. I knew that my time with the other runners had come to an end when they crossed the finish line and became something I was not. So having no one left to run with, nowhere left to run too, I crossed under a bridge and finally found that Brooklyn-bound train.
Connor Gaudet is an unemployed, 27-year-old writer/musician, living in Brooklyn and surviving on government assistance. He keeps track of his triumphs and humiliations at thedailyhell. This is his second story to be featured on Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.