Culture on the Run

Unfinished Business – The Philadelphia Marathon

They say that you really get to know someone in a crisis. That much seemed true for this love affair I’ve been having with NYC. After almost two years, it’s maturing into something more than just a passionate affair. But aside from the blizzard, which happened too early into the relationship to do any serious damage (and was my first time seeing snow) and the usual NY life where the odd stranger shouts obscenities at me or, in one case, actually hit me, it’s been a relationship full of love and adoration.

When Sandy struck, I saw another side to the city and the people I’d come to know here. Most of it was of a helpful, pulling together kind of nature. But there was an ugly side I’m not too keen to go into here. Suffice to say, the decision from Mayor Bloomberg to go ahead with the New York City Marathon, saw many runners become the target for attacks, and despite being torn about running while the city was going through such turmoil, I struggled through nasty texts and messages and online threats. At one stage, I felt ashamed about having been apart of an initiative to raise money for All for Africa, and being committed to seeing that through all the way. While the decision was ultimately reversed, it’s something that should have happened from the beginning, and would have saved a lot of ugliness and misplaced blame.

Nevertheless, I still felt like I had unfinished business. While I had made a promise to myself that took months of commitment to fulfill, I had promised those who contributed to my charity that I would run 26.2 miles in exchange for their money. So while I dashed off to Chicago to cover the election (which is what I would have done on the night of the Marathon anyway) I had marathon thoughts still in my mind. My lovely friend Jessie emailed me a list of alternative marathons that were coming up in the next few weeks, and offered to host me for the Richmond one near where she lived, while my just-as-lovely friend Annaleigh paid for my registration fee. And so I became excited about “America’s Friendliest Marathon”, and started making plans to head to Virginia straight after Chicago.

But it was not to be.

A near-trip to LA put that a stop to that plan and I had to re-route my travel arrangements.

Through it all, I kept running. After all, that’s what running has become – my anchor in uncertain times. Whatever’s going on, I know I can hit the ground and get those miles out.

Back in New York, my running pal Kristin then told me she had an extra bib for the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon and a place for me to stay the night before. The prospect of being able to finally finish something I’d started got me all psyched up (albeit cautiously) and I started making the plans. When I got an email saying I was due to interview Gerard Butler in LA the same weekend, and so had to tell Kristin to see if someone else wanted the entry, I began to think a marathon really wasn’t on the cards for me. Until I found out I could still go to LA and be in Philly in time for the race! But by this time, the bib was now gone.

Enter another character into this story – one from my childhood school days at Tom Newby. Mark had been in the year above me, and we’d re-connected when I moved to New York, where he’s been living for the past 8 years. Mark came through with a bib – from another ex-Tom Newby school friend! – and a ride back into NYC after the race.

And then, on the Friday morning before Marathon Sunday, LA – and the Gerard Butler interview – fell through.

Now, by Friday night, it all became real. I would be taking to the streets of Philly to go claim those 26.2 miles.

Together with good friends and some amazing new ones – Ashley, Beth, Michael – things finally came together for me to run my first marathon. The kindness shown to me by people, the love and support from strangers to long-lasting friends pushed me to that start line.

And so, on Sunday, November 18th 2012, I completed my first ever Marathon. I crossed that finish line with a biggest smile on my face, as Empire State of Mind played over the loud speakers (how’s that for timing!). Dancing a little, I wiped the salt-encrusted sweat from my face, as one of the volunteers placed the medal around my neck.

During the run, I only used my “Ultimate Marathon Playlist” from Mile 20. Up until the moment Wild Nothing’s Paradise kicked in, I’d been thinking of all the wonderful people who’d helped me through these challenging few weeks. But I also found myself thinking about a lot of random things too. Like how many people named Mark I ran past (none of them my friend Mark who was also running!)

I thought I would have some grand new insights into life and how better to live it. I didn’t get as emotional as I thought I would. The moment when I saw Kristin and Ashley, which coincided with my best running theme song Every Chance We Get We Run coming on my iPhone, drew a few tears to my eyes, but for the most part, I was focussed on pacing myself and taking in the scenery and people cheering my name (in spite of my ironing the “D” backwards on my shirt). When I saw the sign saying “Marathon Inbound”, and the 26 mile marker up in front of me, I took off my headphones, The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition still playing on them, and soaked in the atmosphere. “That’s it, Nadia”, shouted one stranger, “take it all in!”

I found out later that I’d completed the marathon in under 4 hours, at 3:59:21. That made my smile even bigger. But more than that, I was happy about one thing: I finally finished what I started. At the end, that’s what it’s all about – the very cliche of running and life. That it is tough, and when you’re doubting whether you can actually do it, just being able to put one foot in front of the other is what gets you through it. As always though, it helps to have a killer soundtrack!

And so my affection for New York now extends to Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly (and Sisterly!) love. Thanks Philly, I’ll certainly be back. I’ve got a Cheese-steak to try – and that’ll give me another reason to go for a run.

Oh – and here’s that playlist I mentioned. It kept me motivated on all those long runs!


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