Fish Guts & Glory

by

10/13/2005

Fulton St. & Water St. ny ny 10038

Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan

If all goes according to plan, in three weeks I will run the New York Marathon. For most people, training for a marathon is empowering. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of self-worth. For me, it has been one lesson after another in humility.

At five am one morning this past August, I set out on a long run. I was going to go 18 miles, beginning at my apartment in Chelsea, heading south around the base of Manhattan, up along the East Side to Midtown, and then back again.

It was still dark out when I left, and New York felt cavernous, in the way that cities only do at dawn. I ran over to the Westside Highway and then down along the Hudson River. I was alone in the park, except for a few homeless men sleeping in the wet grass, and a couple of teenagers smoking cigarettes at the base of the Christopher St. Pier. The lights of New Jersey glittered across the water, and in the distance I could just barely make out the Statue of Liberty silhouetted against the fog.

I ran, hugging the river, past the trapeze school, the miniature golf course, and the looming financial buildings in TriBeCa. Battery Park was deserted; there were no pretzel carts, no women selling CDs out of suitcases, no lines of tourists waiting to go to Ellis Island. The only sign of the usual crowds were the bits of trash scattering around the sidewalk like mice in the wind.

I passed the Staten Island Ferry and headed north up the East Side. The sun was beginning to rise, pink on the horizon, and I was no longer alone. Dozens of old Chinese men were lined up along the East River, practicing Tai Chi and looking out towards Brooklyn.

I had been running for an hour by then, and had covered a distance of a little over six miles. I felt relaxed and strong, like I could keep on going forever, around and around Manhattan. Each lap would be completely different as the city slept and woke and rattled and hummed.

As I approached Fulton Street the scent of fish filled the air. It wasn’t a bed smell. Later, when the sun was high it would start to stink, but now, at dawn, it just smelled like water and salt and ice.

The men cheered when I ran through the market, dodging their cases of haddock and bass.

“Hey baby, why don’t you run over here?”

One let out a piercing wolf-whistle, “You’ve got beautiful legs darlin’, beautiful legs!”

I smiled and tossed my ponytail. Enjoyed the fishmongers’catcalls.

“Awww. Where you goin’ honey?”

“I’m training for the marathon!” I yelled over my shoulder. My lungs swelled with oxygen and pride.

At that moment, my left foot hit the pavement and I heard a splash. It was a thick, gurgling sound. As my heel rose I felt a suction-like resistance, and then a wave of something cold and wet splattering against the back of my calf. I looked down. My leg was completely covered in fish guts. Chunks of bloody flesh stuck to my skin, and bits of scales clung to the laces of my sneaker.

There was nothing to do except keep going. Only 12 more miles. That’s the thing about running, and about New York. In order to succeed, you have to learn how to roll with the punches. You’ve got to be able to take the fish guts along with the glory.

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