Why I Run, and Other Stories

Why I Run, and Other Stories

First, listen.

To start, I was never very good at running. I could run from homeplate to first sometimes second base pretty quickly when I played softball as a kid. I never ran quickly or effortlessly enough to play any sort of offensive position in lacrosse. I collapsed mid-court on a quick break during a PAL basketball game. I had to drop out of running track because of a stress fracture in my shin. My high school fitness test required running a mile and I think it took me a cool 20 minutes to walk the mile.

Running, at first, was a workout I could do for free. I didn’t need a gym membership. This was ideal for a 20-something paying Williamsburg rent.

Then, about three years ago, it became something more. Suddenly, I (along with Amanda teehee) was paying to run races. I became obsessed with the idea of medals. I wanted to live like Scrooge McDuck, diving into a huge pile of my running medals. (In hindsight, a huge pile of gold is a way, waaaay better goal.)

5k

5 miler

10k

Half-Marathon

I always knew I wanted to run a marathon at some point, I just never knew when. To jump back to the first paragraph, I was never very good at running. But in the midst of a conversation with a guy I liked, talking about a marathon he ran, I thought, I can do that, too. And I wanted to run in New York, so I quickly signed up with a charity that means something to me.

Anyway, you know this story if you looked at my fundraising page for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, so I won’t bore you with it here. The point is, I was so excited to run my first marathon. I like structure, I like to have a plan, I like lists and to-dos and being able to check items off as done. So I had a run plan and I ordered a whiteboard calendar to hang next to my bed and it was primed and ready for the first month of my running plan.

For the first two weeks of training, my feet were in excruciating pain. To the point where my runs cut short and I had to walk back to my car. Dr. Google is my first stop on the medical train, and so I was consulting with the internet and finding that maybe I had Plantar Fasciitis. And maybe my gait was messed up. And maybe I had shin splints. And maybe I needed new sneakers. And maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead.

I was struggling physically, feeling like my body wasn’t quite cooperating with me and my plans. A little voice in the back of my head was waving a Rascal Scooter flag at me saying, Remind you of anyone? My grandfather suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for almost the entire time I knew him, when he passed away 11 years ago. Before Parkinson’s, he bowled, he swam, he danced, he drove. For the first 10 or so years of my life, he was still doing some of these things. But then he couldn’t anymore. The tremors, the uncooperative nature of the way he walked, his need for a cane, a walker, a Rascal Scooter became too much.

And here I am, 30 years old, wondering why an 8 mile run feels like the end of the world.

But, let’s flash forward.

It’s November 1st. In the last 4 months, I: left my job, totaled my car, moved 1600 miles across the country from Denver back to Long Island, max out at only 14 miles, have an ongoing battle with curved hips and a tight IT band on my left side, have a muscle strain in my thigh (from stepping over a doggy gate on Halloween night, damn it Scout), have been personally attacked by Miley Cyrus and “The Climb” playing on the radio causing me to ugly cry.

See, the thing is, running became therapy for me over the years. People think I’m weird for running to podcasts and audiobooks, but to me it’s the most freeing thing in the world. And for the majority of August and September, I was debilitated by a dark and gloomy cloud. It had been years since I’d dealt with a depression so heavy. I’d sleep til 10 or 11am, which is incredibly late for me, and I’d be meant to go for a short run. I’d turn over, look at my sneakers, and burst into tears. It had become a bit of a quandary: running was therapy, running made me feel better, I was extremely depressed, I should go running to feel better, the last thing I wanted to do was go running, I continued to feel terrible.

Whenever I was able to lace up my sneakers and head out for a run, I always felt so much lighter. I’d call my dad to check in and he’d note that I sounded better. And I’d say, “Oh, I feel better.” And I wasn’t lying. I really did. But just like a 20 mile run can feel great and the next day a 5k can feel impossible, I never knew if I’d wake up ready for a run or stay coccooned in my blankets.

All this is to say I didn’t train as thoroughly as I had wanted to. And so, this is the progression of my marathon goals over time:

4.5 hours

5.5 hours

5.5-6 hours

BEAT AL ROKER (7.5ish hours)

Just finish

Everyone I had talked to about running the New York City marathon spoke the truth when they said this was a marathon unlike any other. New York City and all of its boroughs were amazing. AMAZING. I cried and cried and cried from the second I stepped into the expo to the moment I crossed the finish line (and for a few hours after, if I’m honest).

I met a crew of amazing people who were also running with Team Fox who really took my nerves away. By the time we reached the starting line, I had no nerves at all. And this is after multiple nights of anxiety dreams including but not limited to: being cast as Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway production and not remembering ANY OF THE WORDS. I’d also spent a number of nights listening to sleep meditations, and prayed (I do not pray) to my grandfather, explaining, “Hey Gramps, listen, I know you’re not a fairy grandfather or anything, but…” and I proceeded to ask him to just give me strength when I needed it most.

So the cannon booms and we take off across the Verrazzano Bridge. And everyone said to take it slow. And I did. I DID, I swear I did. At mile 2, the tape with my name across my chest flies off. Oh, whatever. (But in retrospect, A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME?!) In Bay Ridge, I round a corner into a residential area and they’re blasting “Born to Run” by Springsteen. Do I cry? Of course I cry. I’m comfortable, nothing hurts, my breathing is on point, I’m basking in the awesomeness of this experience.

Mile 9 comes along and suddenly I put pressure on my right knee and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. So I slow down and it’s pounding and pinching and it feels like my knee is about to just evaporate from my leg. But I can keep running and I’m so close to seeing my brother and Megan in our old neighborhood so I truck on. I run. And then I realize I missed them. Simultaneously, I realize that I cannot run on my right knee anymore. I’m not even out of Brooklyn yet and I can’t run anymore. This is when I intermittently cry for the rest of the marathon. But it’s most important to note what I don’t do: I don’t quit.

From mile 9 to 26.2, aside from a couple of attempts at running again, I walk. I walk, when all my brain wants to do is run, when I see everyone passing me by, when the cameras are on me and I know I really just want some fucking pictures of me running this marathon. By the time I got to the upper east side, I cried into my best friends arms (sorry Erin and Kerri, and also Allie and Lauren), was surprised to see an old friend and her husband (thank you Janine and Brian), and visited a medic tent. At this point, I was blasting Hanson on my Spotify to keep my spirits up. It worked. But, Hanson always works.

Again, I’m reminded of why I’m running: for Parkinson’s Disease, a tireless disease that takes away a person’s autonomy. I know my grandfather was, specifically, trapped in his body and would have done anything to fix it. And I kept thinking of quitting. Once I reached the park, I kept looking out at the rolling green hills of Central Park, thinking about perhaps just walking into the grass, laying face down and dying of shame there. It’d be easier than THIS. This painful limpy walk. And just when I needed it, at mile 24, I saw another friendly face and a dog. Once again, I threw my arms around Caitlin and burst into tears. “I’m in so much pain,” I told her. And she effortlessly combatted me with words of kindness and encouragement. (There’s a youtube somewhere of our encounter, because it brought a stranger to tears and I guess I’m his hero now.)

If you’ve never run a marathon, let me tell you this: there is nothing longer than the 800 meter distance to the finish line. Especially when your knee feels like it might bend the wrong way and you might fall on your face.

Luckily, around mile 26 I had another face to comfort me. Raising her sign over her head, screaming her face off with a bunch of strangers in the dark evening streets of Columbus Circle: Allie. My date, my roommate, my mom for the weekend. I hugged her so tight, I cried one more time (jk I cried a bunch of other times after this, ok), and told her I’d see her after the finish line.

I trudged on. Hiding my crying eyes behind sunglasses.

The last friendly face I would see is my cousin Dorrian, a police officer on duty right before the bend to the finish line. “BRUNO!” she screamed, and I looked over and threw my arms up and screamed. It was less out of excitement and more the scream of a mad woman who just needed to cross the finish.

Time: 6 hours 34 minutes.

Average mile pace: 15min.

Crossing the finish line was extremely bittersweet. I wanted to run across, even if it was just for .001 miles. But I couldn’t even do that. I crossed the line with my peace signs thrown up, like I was feeling way cooler than I was. I received my medal, I held it tightly, I took a few pictures, and then I did the death march to my poncho.

I finished. I beat Al Roker. I had a phone flooded with messages from everyone I saw along the route, the family and friends following along on the app, fellow runners. I’d compare my emotional state to coming out of anesthesia when I had my wisdom teeth removed: hysterical laughing to hysterical crying in the matter of seconds. I was extremely fragile.

Hours earlier, after my knee went bad, I had vowed that I’d be running the marathon again next year. You can hold me to it.

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On Sadness

On Sadness

First, listen.

Here’s the thing: sadness is crippling.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sadness you’ve got. It could be clinical depression, it could have come in with a colder season, it could be because of a nasty break-up. Whatever shape or size it comes in, it has the ability to cripple you, to force you onto a crutch, to curl you up into the shape of a fetus. Sadness has this insane ability to change everything about you; the way you hold yourself while riding the subway, whether or not you hug your jacket to your body, if you stare down at your feet, if you scowl or frown or pout or do nothing with your mouth. It brings down the number of true, genuine laughs in your day. Sometimes it can make the sound of your own amusement sound foreign, when it finally creeps out from the shadows.

Sadness has this way of hiding tears right there at the surface of your eyelids, skimming the top of your tear ducts, waiting to pour down the slope of your cheeks, to the chin, and (sometimes) onto the collar of a perfectly clean shirt. There’s that choking feeling in the back of the throat, that one that almost feels like a burn because the body is trying to fight off that crying yelp that one might be familiar with due to drunken nights in college, after that boy never texted or called and ignored you in the dining hall. You know the one. You know it exactly. And you fight it. You fight it because you’re sitting at your desk at work and someone says that one little thing, even if it’s comforting like ‘I want to call you and hear your voice, I miss you,’ but it’s that thing that’s going to make you cry. But you’re in public and none of these people have ever seen you cry. And they probably never should because your cry face is quite an ugly fucking thing. So you save it all. You stock it on the highest shelves in your mind, all that crying, all that sadness. You hide it behind your smile and the self-deprecating jokes and you file it away to remind yourself to figure out why you’re feeling sad in the first place. What that aching space in your chest is all about.

You go for more than 12 hours pushing the sadness to the back burner, even through the sad song on the subway that has you staring down at your folded hands, willing the tears to go away. But you’re almost home! Just a few minutes away! And you finally get in and it’s like you’ve got a full bladder, the way your foot is tapping, the way your hand fights to get the keys into the lock. Except, when you get inside and you drop your bag on the floor and you throw your jacket off to the side, you’re not releasing your pee. The tears start flowing, the breathing is labored. It’s more an hysterical hyperventilation than anything else.

You’ve held it in for so long that it’s almost hard to just let them all go, all those tears. They had become such permanent fixtures, gathering cobwebs on those high shelves somewhere in your mind. But they’re leaving, now. And the sobs are shaking you. And you hide under your covers and feel the eye make-up burning but you can’t stop. All while asking yourself why: Why am I sad? Why am I crying? Why do I want to stay under these covers for at least the next week? And maybe you don’t know the exact answer, maybe you are keenly aware that things aren’t terrible. Of course they’re not terrible! You have a job, you have a roof to live under, you have a bank account that (sort of!!!) has money in it. You could probably write a longer list of the things that are going well. Plenty to be happy about. The air in your lungs, an able body. Yes, you are equipped with all of your senses. But there’s a cloud. You don’t want to relate yourself to Eeyore so maybe it’s a fog.

You’ve been through this before feeling that nagging, terrible word: lonely. And with a little closer examination: Alone.  And you don’t want to go back there.

Suddenly, the intercom rings – a delivery guy – and you realize your roommate has been home the entire time you’ve had a panic attack by yourself in your room.

Why I’m Not In Brussels and It’s Okay

Why I’m Not In Brussels and It’s Okay

First, listen.

The plan was to go to Brussels in December, right after my 28th birthday. It was supposed to be momentous, it was supposed to be inspiring. A fresh new year on this earth and a bold new perspective just waiting to be taken on. I was going to the burial place of Saint Dymphna, who you’ve definitely, definitely never heard of unless you’re one of my best friends still making fun of me for consciously choosing Dymphna as my confirmation name. She had a shamrock in her picture and I was pretty into being Irish when I was 13. Years later, my dad would inform me that she is the patron saint of the mentally ill, giving me a new-found pride and interest in my strange, Irish name.

I began doing research and found her patron city, a place called Geel in the Belgian countryside, not only had a church in her honor, but also had an unorthodox (not to mention fascinating and effective) way of treating their mentally ill. Rather than shutting them away in some sterile hospital, they live as boarders among the people of the town, in their homes. In this way, they contribute to the househould, interact with adults and children alike, and are not treated as pariahs simply because they have a mental illness. This had blown me away, I’d never heard of anything like this. And I was inspired by the simple fact that my random little confirmation namesake had been the inspiration behind it. But maybe it wasn’t all that random, what about that whole fate thing? Needless to say, I had been inspired to learn more, to research, to visit her burial site, find some inspiration for a future novel (I know, I know), it has become my Mecca.

Soooo, that was my plan. Birthday, Belgium, book research, etc.

Then, on November 13th, I was having dinner at a pub somewhere along the Hudson when the news cut across every television set to report that a terror attack had occurred in a concert venue in Paris. And as we watched in sadness and horror and pain for most of the weekend, the word “Belgium” kept popping up and “Brussels” too. I kept watching in a sort of numbed state, feeling conflicted for many, many reasons, but mostly hoping no one else had noticed how often the city I was planning to visit kept being mentioned in connection with a terrorist cell.

For weeks after, my family and friends repeatedly asked me, So, what are you going to do? And I kept responding that I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. And then, one night, perhaps after an especially long day, my mother asked me once more what I was going to do about my trip and I started feeling panicked. My throat started to tighten up. I was walking down Metropolitan Avenue when heat started to spread across my cheeks at the idea that I might not go on this trip. I started yelling, not necessarily at my mom but moreso at the situation and at these monsters who attacked a crowd of music fans, that it wasn’t fair that they had this sick power, that this was exactly what they wanted, putting fear into the hearts of innocent people, scaring travelers away from beautiful cities like Paris and Brussels. And I shouldn’t let them win, I couldn’t! And I burst into tears on the street, overwhelmed with anguish over the predicament I was put in. Could I comfortably travel alone to this country? Would I be scared the whole time? Was that a wimpy thing to consider?

I’ll let you in on an ill-kept secret: I’m anxious. I worry. I think too far ahead, sometimes I scare myself out of things.

I cancelled my trip and rebooked it, not without a heinous change fee, and planned to head to Brussels (and Bruges! And Geel! Such plans!) in May. Everything happens for a reason, they say. And I kept running with this idea. I got very intensely drunk on my birthday in the absence of Belgian waffles and beer and woke up the following morning thinking, Luckily that trip got cancelled because this hangover would not have flown well. I also would have missed New Year’s in Brooklyn, and instead I had a party with some of my best and closest friends, danced the night away at my favorite bar, and I shared a first kiss with someone new. Silver linings, right?  Right.

I take you now to March 22nd, where I woke up to the news that Brussels airport had been the target of a terror attack. Following the news, a number of text messages came through, checking in: Did you see the news? Yes, I saw the news. What are you going to do? I don’t know.

I know this sounds like Groundhog Day, and it didn’t feel far off. I had the same cycle of confused feelings. I should just go! I’m going!… Maybe I shouldn’t go! Along with these feelings, the airport had been shut down for nearly a month for forensic investigations. I mean, it was the site of a terror attack. My brain was going bonkers and I just didn’t quite know what to do with it all. When I called the airline to see what my options were for once again postponing my trip, the customer service rep made a comment like, Maybe you shouldn’t travel anywhere if this keeps happening. Making the suggestion I might be the jinx causing all of these catastrophic events which sounds terrible, probably, but I had considered the same thing.

So it took several weeks of talking to the airline, spending hours in the kitchen at work looking so distraught my coworkers asked if I was okay. And I was okay, in the general sense, but I was beginning to feel defeated, too. I considered alternatives; changing my flight to some other far-flung country and hoping this jinx I might have (or be?) wouldn’t hurt whichever destination I chose.

But here is where I will remind you of that secret: I’m anxious. I worry about terrorism (insofar as on a regular LIRR train ride I’ll stare at an “abandoned” bag in my car and spend the entire ride considering how I can save myself and this train full of people from this very clear and obvious bomb, only to realize it is very much a non-bomb gym bag and the dude it belongs to just got off the train with it) and I worry about the money in my bank account, I worry about things beyond my control more often than I should, for prolonged periods of time. Everyone who told me I should go anyway was right. More right than I care to admit, because we are only young once and if I were to die on this soul-inspiring trek to Belgium then so be it, right? What’s the sense in living in fear? There isn’t any sense in it at all. And yet…

I had been scheduled to depart for Brussels on the evening of May 11th, and my Google calendar made no attempt to hide me from this sad reality, mostly because I had failed to delete my travel plans once they had been changed. Instead of an evening flight out of JFK, on May 11th, I was halfway through my two weeks notice, on the precipice of a new adventure. I was halfway through saying my goodbyes to all of the people I’ve worked with for the last two years so that I could move on to the next great step in my life.

So it’s not Belgium, it’s exit interviews. It’s not Dymphna, it’s funemployment. It’s momentous and inspiring in its own way, as new jobs tend to be, and there’s a good chance it might have never happened if I were in Belgium right now. Silver linings, right? Right.

(I’ll get there. It’s my Mecca.)