The Final Countdown: Marathon Special

Ladies and Gentlemen, the countdown has begun! The TCS New York City Marathon, a.k.a. the reason I have forsaken all friends and fun for a large part of the summer and now fall, is officially one month from today. I ran a 20-mile run last week, which means that I’ll probably finish the race. It’s also no longer summer, which means that I’m not putting in a criminal amount of hours at work and thus have time to expound upon the activity through which I’ve spent the last few months suffering.

One of the coolest aspects of running is that it’s pretty much the only sport in which recreational athletes get to compete in the exact same events as the professionals. This is pretty fucking sick. That’s the equivalent of going to your company softball league practice and finding out that the team you’re going up against has Jeter at shortstop, or like going into a writing workshop and having Junot Diaz sitting on your left hand side. Sure, they’ll be way better than you, but you still had to wake up at the same time and do the same work and are breathing in the same air. I remember when I was running my first half marathon last fall, and I heard the tell-tale whistle of the biker who leads the race, screeching belligerently at us slowpokes to get the fuck to the right side because the elites were about to lap us. There’s something truly inspirational about seeing pure strength and power blaze by you at a record-breaking speed, about feeding off the energy of a human who is the best at something.

Of course, unless you’re a wholly self-transcendent individual, this very special feeling is usually  quashed quite quickly by feelings of jealousy, resentment, and a desire for General Tso’s Chicken Right Then and There. Elite runners, with their taut quadriceps, customized singlets, and lack of cumbersome water bottles (seriously – when do they drink water?), tend to provoke such feelings. Consider the fact that on an given race day, the average runner voluntarily wakes up at a gross hour and does something physically and emotionally distressing that she is, statistically speaking, pretty bad at. This is, on a good day, humbling, but on a bad day,  frustrating as all hell. In short, it’s easy to hate the elites.

Yet can you hate elite runners any more than you can hate an opera singer, or someone who’s brilliant at logic puzzles? They’re people who are both genetically blessed and fiscally rewarded to do what they’re doing. While it’s technically true that “anyone can be a runner” – in other words, anyone can complete the physical action of placing one foot in front of the other continuously, for an extended period of time – it’s also true that person with lanky limbs and 3% body fat with a superhuman ability to clear lactic acid from their system is coded to be a better runner than, say, me. Additionally, I don’t think any of the elite runners in any race in the world have ever had to run an 18 mile race after working back to back doubles and a banquet wedding.

Indeed, running is a sport where speed demons and Sunday drivers unite on the road, pounding pavement at a variety of velocities and radiating the love for this simple act. That said, this should by no means suggest that the running world is devoid of odious individuals. No, no, no, my friends. Though the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, the road to good physical fitness is fettered with some of the most jackass joggers you’ve ever met. Allow me to loosen my laces and introduce you to a few.

Proud Spitters, Pissers, and the Like

Running is a physically demanding outdoor activity, so it’s to be expected that there are going to be some gross things involved. There’s no denying that there are various factors that cause excess saliva during a run. And there’s no real problem with expectorating during a run, or a race, as long as you’re respectful and civilized. This does NOT mean acting out the part of a lawn sprinkler, exploding your Power Gel-tainted spit and moist mucus in all the cardinal directions and on all the humans in a ten foot radius. On a similar yet slightly fouler note, it’s essentially to put on blast those people who are overcome with natural needs during a race. I’ll keep an open mind and accept that it’s a thing that happens – when you gotta go, you gotta go, and sometimes you’re trying to PR and you don’t want to pull the portapotty door open – but don’t ever talk about it, and if it’s something that could visually throw someone off their game – actually, fuck being open minded. Would you be out shopping downtown with friends and pee yourself in front of Zara while smoking a cigarette? If LeBron James started dribbling down the court and dribbling down his leg at the same time, the internet would crash due to a frenzy of memes being made. Would you shit yourself while playing chess at the dining room table? Would you??

The Race Regular

Always a man, generally older, like AARP old. Let’s say it’s the Autism Speaks Race, a spring 4-miler in Central Park. Not an intense race. He’s got the monogrammed tech shirt from three years prior and is walking around the starting corrals talking to people, asking them if it’s their first time, asking about their running habits. Once his bait is taken, his annual analysis will have your ears rining well into the first quarter mile: “It’s a little less humid this year, but there was the rain in 2009 that made it kind of wet, you know? Whaddya think of the shirt? I think the shirt’s logo this year is a little better, but I though the one from two years ago was softer. And we’ll see if that Gatorade at the halfway point actually makes it onto the course – three years ago they said there was going to be Gatorade, but they just used the Gatorade cups and filled them with regular water. God, I hope they have cinnamon raisin bagels left when I get to the end. I’m not trying to PR or anything. What’s your expected finish time?”

The Running Couple

There they are, sitting off to the side, zenning out to Jack Johnson on a shared pair of earbuds as they help each other with hamstring stretches that seem less like physical therapy and more like foreplay. Their pre-race kiss on the lips makes you want to choke on your Clif bar, and you debate reporting them to the NYRR for giving each other an excessive number of motivational ass taps during Mile Three. Isn’t running supposed to be for people who hate people? And don’t they realize how many divorced individuals are running any given race?

The Gear Whore

In his memoir, Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnases writes: “…running, to me, remained the purest form of athletic expression. It was the simplest, least encumbered sport there was, and the definitive measurement of endurance.” Obviously, my pal Dean has never started a race standing next to an UES Gear Whore. This wretched runner is the race-day equivalent to the girl who reads her high boyfriend’s single letter text of “K” means that he’s cheated on her. They take something so stupidly simple as to be unbelievable and make it as cumbersome and costly as possible. From the aerodynamic iPod holder to the race band holding gels in six different flavors, the compression sleeves and socks, the Garmin on the right hand, Nike feul band on the right. The ankles are shackled with those metal equilibrium bands you can buy for $14.99 in Duane Reade. And don’t even get me started on the Oakleys! You better get a Kryptonite bike lock to strap those puppies to your face because if one person knocks them off your face and they go “CRUNCH,” you’re out half a month’s rent. I’m confused – are you a competitor or a Christmas tree? Honestly, why don’t you get a magic bullet vibrator and tape it to the inside of your compression shorts so you can enjoy running EVEN MORE? Or a car? You seem like you might like a car.

Insta-runners

You know who I’m talking about: The make-up wearing girls with these Pinterest-inspired french braids with flowers woven in, their shrieking gay partners in running crime, the whole group dressed in some sort of theme situation – hot pink bro tanks tied at the midriff! striped socks! – who run their mouths and their photo apps way faster than their miles. At the starting line they’re putting on #hungover / X Pro II faces and moaning about how they shouldn’t have stayed out last night, they’re blocking your view of the singer of the “Star Spangled Banner” because they’re taking a #murica #selfie / Valencia. They’re running uphill, talking about the impending Bloody Marys and saying how no one in the office is going to believe that they actually RAN this weekend – #gymclassdropout / Willow – and then somehow crossing the finish line two minutes before you – #killedit / LoFi – at which point they light cigarettes and head back to Greenpoint #YOLO #nofilter #therealNYC.

Cyclists

Attention bikers: We know you’re faster than us! The whole “mechanical device with wheels” suggests a tendency towards speed that two legs attached to a sweaty trunk do not. If there was a race between two people and one was on a bike and the other was on foot, the person on the bike would win a billion percent of the time. As a result, it is wholly unnecessary to crouch down like a fucking lynx preparing for takeoff and zoom as close as possible to my floppy self. I realize that the downhills in Central Park are probably the most exciting part of your day, but I’m quite satisfied with my life and don’t need any recreationally induced near death experiences. Also, you’re not actually going as fast as you think – I can tell you just shat yourself.

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