It’s Not A Sprint: Part One

I mentioned in my post about attending graduation that the older we get, the fewer Big Life Events we have to look forward to. As we run out of milestones, or at least drift farther away from them, we need to establish new goals to punctuate our directionless floating in the morass known as life.

Enter adult extracurricular activities.

Adult extracurricular activities (AEAs) are beautifully inspiring and achingly depressing. With regards to the former, it’s important to constantly challenge the brain and body, to try new things, to involve oneself in one’s surroundings, and to take a break from the routine. Joining a pick-up soccer team is great for fitness and friendship; going back to the saxophone lessons you stopped taking in tenth grade is creative, and allows you to reconnect with your youthful spirit.

That said, very few things are as harsh an affirmation of one’s failed personal and professional successes than the picking up of a hobby, the taking up of a new thing. Enrollment in pottery classes rises in conjunction with the rate of unemployment in white collar sectors. Adult softball teams are, like, a thing for those who were exiled to the weight room to “stretch” in high school. I recently refused an invitation to a girl’s night out that involved going to a wine bar and tasting different varietals while creating still life paintings with twenty of your friends. Nothing  – and I mean NOTHING – screams “I’m failing at writing a novel” more than waking up in the morning and seeing the receipt for your Vino and Veneer class.  Nothing.

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However, as someone with no milestones on the horizon until she kicks the bucket, and as someone who is most definitely failing at writing a novel, there came a point at which I felt the innate upper class need to gain an adult extracurricular activity. Enter Kind-of-Long-Distance Running, my Least Favorite Activity I Love To Hate. I feel like, of all the AEAs, running is the least offensive. First of all, if you don’t get sucked into the Cult of Gear, it’s dirt cheap. Second of all, you can do it anywhere. Thirdly, you don’t have to talk to anyone. And, most importantly, when you run, you run away from death. It’s healthy.

This past Sunday marked the 20-week countdown to the NYC Marathon, the second holy grail of AEAs (the first is, obviously, Being A Surrogate). When someone who’s finished a marathon enters a room, even if they’re a moderately pudgy person who slopped over the finish line at six and a half hours, people stage whisper, awestruck, to each other: “Did you know she ran the marathon?” Running marathons is impressive, at least to people who don’t run. Inevitably, once you start training for a marathon and are feeling really superior to your couch potato friends, every person you meet will have already ran sixty-three sub-3:30 marathons in eighteen countries, and will be in training for an ultramarathon that will inevitably terminate in eternal fame or divorce. But I digress.

The arbitrary nature of the marathon we run is hilarious. The actual distance from Marathon to Athens is “only” 24.85 miles (the other 2.2 were tacked on by the British so the royal family didn’t have to move to see the end of the race). Imagine if Pheidippides had been sent to deliver a note from Marathon to, say, another neighborhood in Marathon that was a mile an a half away. We could save ourselves a lot of time and energy. We would have better knees. We would never have to eat Gel Blox.

But 26 miles is indeed the distance, and 20 weeks of training a generally accepted amount of time for the non-athletic average-speed runner to prepare the mind and body, long enough to be ready without becoming a deranged type A obsessive, and also without going into shock at the 18th mile.

The NYC Marathon is a difficult course. First of all, you have to line up with your starting wave at 8 o clock in the morning in a New York November in Staten Island, which is hard enough climate and situation to get to on a regular weekday commute, let alone on a day when 50,000 people, a majority of whom are foreign and can’t even pronounce “ferry”, are trying to get there. You wait a few hours in the bitter morning air to start; during this time, I imagine the only thing you do is question why you didn’t pick up bowling as an AEA. Once you start running, it gets worse. Crossing the various bridges is a steep affair, the Bronx isn’t known for having the best paved roads. You’re passing restaurant after bar after restaurant after bar, hearing the siren song of a burger and a beer beckoning you off the course. As a final indignation, the course ends on an uphill in the hilly lower half of Central Park. The more I think about the marathon, the less appealing it becomes. I’m thinking that instead of eating a Power Gel at the 18th mile, I’m going to pop a Xanax so I’m not tempted to jump off the 59th Street Bridge as I’m heading into Manhattan.

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