Colbert, for the win.
Colbert, for the win.
Friends, there’s only a marathon’s worth of miles left to run. Your generosity and support have been overwhelming and I’m amazed when I think of the all good that we’ve accomplished together. But every good thing comes to an end and I think tomorrow is going to be it for the Paddy Runs for Haiti campaign.
I can’t think of a cooler way to end this story. You all have taken me from a country road in Indiana to the most prestigious running event in the world. We’ve saved lives and helped people. And I’m in the greatest shape of my life. (Though if cost me a toenail) Rather than finish up quietly in Central Park, I want to celebrate what we’ve done. There doesn’t seem like a better place to do that than tomorrow’s Boston marathon when thousands will be cheering for us as we run from Hopkinton to Copley Square. The Natickers will holler, the Wellesley girls will scream, the Sox fans will shout and Kenmore square is going to erupt! We’re going out on a high!
I’m going to close the donation link on the Paddy Runs page. In the meantime, if you’re still moved to help kids in Haiti by all means go for it at Restavekfreedom.org, but don’t expect me to run it off for you. Ol’ Paddy’s taking a break.
So now I’m just counting down the hours until tomorrow morning. My number is ready, my shirt is laid out, my nipple band-aids primed for application.
Thank you all again for your support. This has been one of the most significant chapters in my life. Thank you for following along. I will run with you all in my heart. (Corny, I know, so go ahead and roll your eyes, but it’s true)
See you at the finish line!
The last mile before the marathon goes to Denise, who has done more to support Paddy Runs for Haiti than even she will ever know. The list of things to thank her for is gigantic, from putting up with my running schedule to buying me band-aids and burritos to enlisting support from her friends and family to listening to me complain about my aching body to leaving inspiring notes around the apartment. My thanks fall short but Love inspires.
I ran back along the south bank of the Charles. Rowing teams were practicing out on the water.
There’s such a great atmosphere in Boston this weekend. The city crackles with energy from the marathon. It’s not like other sporting events where athletes are sequestered in swanky hotels or training camps. Here, they’re everywhere. I passed one of the elite women and her coach training on the esplanade. A group of African runners practiced intervals nearby. Yeah, the “regular” runners wandering around the city look a little dorky in their bright blue jackets and yellow hats, but they’re all so excited to be a part of the Marathon. The locals know why we’re here and end every conversation with, “Good luck on Monday!” It’s all so positive and affirming.
While running down Massachusetts Avenue, I got a direct flyover by a pair of Canadian Geese. I took that as a good omen.
I’ll see you at the finish line!
Ever since I graduated high-school I hoped that someday I’d be able to repay Jean for the perspective, knowledge, and confidence he instilled in me when I was his student. It sucks that the opportunity arose from such horrific circumstances, but it makes me proud to know that the lot of us stepped up to help. Jean is the embodiment of determination and endurance and I’ve tried to run with that same spirit every time I put on my shoes.
I ran these miles this morning along the Charles river. The weather was pure Boston; gray, wet and chilly. The John Hancock tower was swathed in fog. I started at Kenmore Square and ran across the Harvard Bridge toward the cement dome of MIT. The sidewalk on the bridge is marked off in “Smoots”, a unit of measurement invented by MIT student Oliver Smoot in 1958. One unit equals five feet, seven inches, Smoot’s height at the time. The Boston Police use the smoot marks to help determine the location of accidents on the bridge.
Despite the early hour and the unpleasant weather, I passed a lot of other runners out for their final run before Monday’s marathon. I got a bit philosophical and reckoned that the marathon is a metaphor for what life should be like: A difficult event but one that rewards those who are prepared for it. An event where the guy next to you has nothing but words of support and the people cheering from the sides are shouting like you were part of their family. An experience that rewards participation, where everyone is engaged in the same arduous struggle, but no one thinks twice about stopping to help a person who really needs it.
Maybe that’s why I like doing these things so much. I find my utopia out on the roads.
It would be hard for two people to be more supportive of Paddy Runs for Haiti than Sandy and Joe have been. Waking up early, standing around at races, buying me breakfasts, gatorade, hotel rooms, and race entries. They traveled to Washington D.C, New York, and Boston and stood around for hours just to see me run by for ten seconds.
There’s no wellspring of gratitude deep enough, no lexicon of thanks that could adequately express the debt I owe them, so I won’t even try, but whenever I’m out on the road, I feel them pulling for me. They’ve gotten me further down the road than they know. I’ve tried to lead a life that would make them proud and I’m a much better man for that.
Bare-chested in Back Bay, I charged across Arlington Street and through the gates of the Boston Public Garden. The rain and hail continued to dump down, but what of that? I gave George Washington my best and crossed over the fancy bridge in the middle of the park. There’s a small island on the north side of the lake that was originally attached to the land. In the 1800’s, however, the peninsula became a popular spot for open-air hook-ups so the city engineers dug out the narrow strip of land connecting it to shore.
I crossed Charles street and entered Boston Common, the oldest public park in the United States, arguably the world. When the city of Boston bought the land in 1634, it was used as common pasture for cattle. The 50-acre plot was quickly overgrazed and the cattle population limited to seventy; a restriction that remained in effect until 1830 when cows were officially banned. English soldiers camped here in the 1770’s during the build up to Lexington and Concord when the Common was the city’s favorite spot for hanging religious dissenters. A large oak tree served as a gallows.
I ran past the Soldiers and Sailors monument and turned north, bounding up the stairs by the golden-domed state house. I tagged up at the 54th Memorial commemorating the valor of first black regiment in the United States Army, then turned around and headed back towards my hotel.
Besides angry protests against everything from colonial food-shortages to the vietnam war, the Common has seen positive events as well, including a speech by Martin Luther King and a Judy Garland concert that drew over 100,000 people. The East side of the park is also the mustering point for runners taking the free buses to the marathon start in Hopkinton. I’ll be there bright and early monday morning.
Heading back through the Public Garden, I tapped the head of Mama Duck making way for her ducklings, curved back around to George Washington, and headed back down Commonwealth Avenue.
I ran Jay’s last mile upon arrival in Boston. Jay went to school up here and knows the streets I’m running.
The weather in Boston was pretty foul today. A cold, nasty rain dumped down relentlessly from gray New England skies. Nevertheless, I suited up and headed out for my penultimate run before the marathon; I figured I’d give mother nature one more chance to abuse me. She took full advantage of the opportunity, too, hurling stinging particles of sleet down on me! Pieces of ice were bouncing off my head! I didn’t care all that much. I was so excited to be back in Boston; so excited to be running the marathon again!
From my hotel in Kenmore Square, I headed East on Commonwealth Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Back Bay. Back Bay was built over a swamp, but nevertheless, it’s now one of the most desirable areas in the city. I ran down the grassy, tree-lined mall in the middle of the avenue feeling electrified, exuberant. I ran my hand over the black stone of the Firemen’s memorial and gave Abigail Adams a pat on the shoulder. The rain and hail came down even harder as I approached the Boston Public Garden, but I didn’t care. I was pumped! In fact, I tore my shirt off and danced around on the street corner. I’m ready! I’m ready! People looked at me like I was crazy, but I’m about to run twenty-six miles for no good reason; you’re damn right I’m crazy!
Mile fifteen of Tuesday’s sixteen-miler took me through Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn. The park was one of Brooke’s favorites while she lived here, and its creation in 1847 was championed by none other than newspaper editor and local resident Walt Whitman.
The park, situated on a hillside overlooking downtown Brooklyn, was fortified by General Nathaniel Greene during the build up to the Battle of Long Island but was abandoned without firing a shot. The actual Fort Greene, built in 1812, was named in the General’s honor but like it’s predecessor never saw action. The land became public space once the fort was decommissioned and in 1867, the City of Brooklyn hired Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux (the Central Park guys) to overhaul the park and really do the place up nice. They did some terracing and planting, but the main feature of their plan was a 149-foot memorial column dedicated to the men and women who’d perished aboard English Prison ships during the Revolutionary War. There’s a crypt underneath containing some remains that washed up on the shores of Wallabout Bay in the years following the war. At the top is an ever-burning lantern.
This was the last-mile-but-one of my last long run. It was a little slow and creaky, but I didn’t care. In three days, I’d be in Boston!
Huey is one of my running heroes. If not for him, I never would have tried running a marathon or even thought that running twenty six miles was possible for normal people like us.
So why do we run 26.2 miles, anyway?
Because running 26.3 would just be crazy, right?
The modern marathon came about in 1895 when the event was included in the inaugural Olympic games. It was intended to honor the messenger Pheidippides, who brought news of the greek victory over the Persians from the battlefield at Marathon back to the city of Athens.
Olympic officials weren’t that concerned with exact distances, they just wanted the race to be long and grueling. Retracing Pheidippides route, the first olympic marathon was 24.8 miles and won by local hero Spyridion Louis in 2 hours, 58 minutes. The marathon distance fluctuated for several years until the Olympic Committee declared that the 1908 Olympic Marathon in London would become the standard distance, a nice round twenty-five miles or forty kilometers. Once they got to England however, the royal family requested that the race begin at Windsor Castle so the Princess of Wales could watch the start from her window. Officials obliged, but they were forced to make the race a mile longer. The finish was to take place inside the White City Stadium where runners would enter the stadium, make a partial lap around the track and finish in front of the royal box. The total distance: 26 miles, 385 yards.
The race ended in controversy. Little Dorando Pietri of Italy was the first into the stadium. Glassy-eyed and staggering, he looked like a shipwreck victim. In his hand, he held a small, white handkerchief, like he was trying to surrender. Pietri went the wrong way on the track, but officials turned him around in time to watch him collapse. Race officials weren’t sure what to do. The dogged Italian got back up, but fell several more times before he was helped to the finish line by policemen and race officials. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described his ordeal as “horrible, and yet fascinating, this struggle between a set purpose and an utterly exhausted frame.” He fell across the tape like he was afraid it would choke him. One race official stated that his greatest fear was that the little man would expire before the royal box and embarrass the Queen.
The American Johnny Hayes, who finished second, lodged a protest, citing the fact that Pietri received help from the officials. The protest was upheld and Hayes declared the winner. Pietri, once he had recovered, received a special silver cup from Queen Alexandra and had a song written for him by Irving Berlin.
I ran the Pergrem’s mile along the West drive in Prospect Park. I was twelve miles into the run, but felt pretty good running past Robert Moses’s bandshell. I’d once seen the Saw Doctors play a free concert there and remember wishing Huey and Julie could have been there, too, belting out the N-17 in the rain.
The later half of Tuesday’s sixteen miler found me back inside Prospect Park, enjoying a lap around the park drive.
On the park’s East side, the drive follows the route of the old Flatbush road which, in colonial times, was one of the main routes into Brooklyn. The point where the road banks up the slope of Mt. Prospect, was the site of a major engagement during the Battle of Long Island. It’s known today as Battle Pass.
Guarding the pass on the morning of August 22nd, 1776 were 800 men led by General John Sullivan. They’d spent the night building improvised barricades and earthworks and at 9am, were attacked by units of Hessians and Highlanders. Sullivan’s men repelled the initial assaults, but suddenly found themselves attacked from the rear by an English flanking force. The Americans panicked and fled, yielding the pass to the English. General Stirling was captured, but reportedly went down swinging, clutching a pistol in each hand.
It’s remarkable that these events took place in what is today a bucolic park. The pass is strewn with monuments from several grateful generations and supposedly the contours of the earthworks are still visible if you know what you’re looking for.
With a nod to the men who fought here, I powered up the road toward Grand Army Plaza.
As Winter gives way to Spring, Nicole’s school year winds inexorably towards its close.
Nicole’s mile began at the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn. The Parade Grounds, a 40-acre rectangle of sports fields, was originally set aside military drills. Once just a dusty field, the Ground has undergone many changes throughout the years, being converted first to baseball diamonds, then diversifying into football and soccer fields, basketball courts, a tennis center and a green for lawn bowling. Local boy Sandy Koufax used to hurl fastballs here as a kid, as did Joe Torre. In recent years the grass has been replaced with state of the art Field Turf, which, though it can get a little hot in the summer and may give off carcinogenic fumes, is cheaper than grass and easier to maintain.
At this point, I was five miles into a sixteen mile run and thought it would be pleasant to tour the old stomping grounds. Nicole and I used to play soccer here before she became a Mom and I became a fundraiser for Haitian slave children. I turned West on Caton Avenue, running past Shenanigans, the post-soccer hangout, and then past Nicole’s apartment. (See why she sponsored this mile?)
Caton brought me alongside Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, founded in 1838. In those days, the cemetery, besides being a place of interment, was also a tourist destination, attracting upwards of half a million visitors yearly and putting it on par with Niagara Falls in terms of popularity. In the days before Central and Prospect Parks, this was where people came for their Sunday picnics and a visit to Green-Wood was considered de rigueur for a visitor to New York City.
The first shots of the Battle of Long Island were fired at the Cemetery’s southwest corner when two Pennsylvania men shot at a party of English soldiers stealing watermelon from a garden near the Red Lion Inn, which no longer stands. Later that day, both sides would suffer heavy casualties in an attempt to claim a 220-foot hill that now sits inside the cemetery. Battle Hill, as it’s now called, is King’s County’s highest point and features a monument to the fallen. There’s also a statue of Minerva, the personification of wisdom, who reaches up to salute the Statue of Liberty out in New York Harbor. The symbolic connection between the statues is so highly regarded that trees are purposefully pruned and building proposals altered so as not to block it.
The cemetery is home to a colony of Monk Parakeets, who, despite being tropical birds, have managed to survive and flourish in Brooklyn and Queens. I passed a squawking flock of them on the north side of the cemetery. A passing Starling answered the parakeet’s chatter by with the exact same noise.