On my 30th birthday I decided to run the New York marathon because I was leaving a decade in which I planned to accomplish more than I had.
The unwritten novel and exes I didn’t marry felt cliché but still like failures. The big 3-0 sounded like the microphone dying mid-note: a thud, followed by a disappointingly human sound that can’t fill the space. Here I was, still in the middle, somewhere between the person I knew I didn’t want to be and the person I did want to be but was still defining, and all I saw ahead was more middle. There was one item on my 23-year-old self’s whimsical list of “Goals By 30” that I could still squeeze in, though. Never mind that my runs had only ever exceeded two miles a handful of times, and that I’d had knee problems on occasion over the years.
I was going to run the damn thing.
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was my training ground. As the miles added up to hours, I abandoned music for podcasts, and my running days began to take shape around the stories of others’ lives. When David Rakoff read, weeks before his death at 43, an excerpt from his final, unpublished manuscript, I retreated under the shade of an elm to cry quietly. When a black home health aide described noticing a white hooded gown hanging on the door of her dying client, I realized I’ve slowed down to gasp. (She stayed by his side until the end.) When a reporter, interviewing an evangelist politician, asked the state legislator if Jesus would have voted for the bill the legislator had introduced and he answered, after a long pause, “Probably not,” I yelled “Holy shit!” at a kid on a bike.