They always talk about a "runner's high" -- that feeling when endorphins are coursing through your body during or right after a long run. That is how I always feel about running. It is one high after another, the ability to set outrageous goals and then blow yourself away by doing things you never thought you could do, the discoveries along the way that teach you ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. I decided that to wrap up my year, I am going to list my Runner's Highs of 2008. Here goes:
1. Training run on the Great Wall of China.
August 17 at the BaDaLing stretch of the Great Wall. I was unable to maintain a high heart rate because of the size, slope and occasional absence of the 2-foot-tall ancient steps. It was a mix of running stairs at a high school gym with running and heaven-gazing. But there I was in my running gear in a place I never imagined I would be, during the Olympics. Good thing I got there when it opened after sunrise, because by noon all of Beijing was there and you couldn't move.
2. Finishing my first ultramarathon.
The Knickerbocker 60K (37 miles) is an annual event held two weeks after the New York City Marathon, for people who want to "keep it going" after that huge event. It was nine loops around Central Park, and this one was in the rain. I ran from 8:01 a.m. until 5:52 p.m., so my time was 9:51. I finished 80th. My girlfriend Lisa ran the last lap with me in the dark and helped motivate me on the last loop. The entire second loop was in a hard driving rain, so I spent the rest of the day grinding on waterlogged, tender feet. That was the hardest part, the soles of my feet. It was grueling but it was a test of the will and a new boundary reached in my life.
3. Statues on Parade Marathon.
I invented my own marathon on the Fourth of July. We created 42 replicas of the Statue of Liberty just for the All-Star Week in NYC, each one in a different MLB/team design. They were placed all over NYC, and I made it my mission to run to see them all. I did it, and make it 43 because I saw the real Statue of Liberty as well. I ran from morning to after 10 at night, approximately 26.2 miles by my math, and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation management team stepped in to assist me in getting to Liberty and Ellis Islands as quickly as possible.
4. St. Louis Marathon.
This one was important because my boys were waiting for me at the finish line. That's all that mattered. I also knocked about 45 minutes off my first marathon finish time, and I ran the first 16 miles without stopping (thanks to 5:00 pace leader Molly), finally beaten up by the hilly final 10 miles and Delmar Blvd. It was a 5:21 finish and I was thrilled with it...mainly because my dudes were there at the end. They hand you a Budweiser during the final mile of this race, which goes past the Anheuser Busch home. Loved that.
5. Being healthy and finding the perfect shoe.
After enduring the usual first-year overuse injuries (ie shin splints, plantar fasciitis, back-wrenching dumbness), year two was appreciated for its good health. There were so many times when I finished a run and gave personal thanks for how good everything feels. I believe that has much to do with finding the right shoe. Back in St. Louis last February, a woman at the Fleet Feet store told me I have a high arch, which no one else apparently had discovered before. She put me into a pair of green Brooks Glycerins, and I never had an issue after that. When it was time to retire them, I went over to Super Runner Shop on 89th and Lex and saw my running friend/mentor Carmen, and she came out with the same shoe in yellow and said, "This is what you want." Now all I have to do is change colors!
6. New York City Marathon.
This event had been my first marathon, and in 2007 I had liked everything except the part where you limp the final 14 miles trying to land on a different part of your foot to spread out the pain, on the way to a 6:08 debut. This time, I enjoyed it for the most part, improving my time all the way to 5:13. The crowds were so unbelievable, and I am 2-for-2 in getting to pet an English Bulldog during a NYC Marathon.
7. Training run through Beijing and Opening Ceremony.
There were so many harrowing tales of the black air in Beijing. Should I try to run? Would I kill my lungs? It was fine. I went on seven training runs there in August, and the first one was so memorable. I stopped over halfway at a park where 5-on-5 pickup basketball games were happening, and I thought, "Here's the guy from Indiana, where basketball is religion, to teach you all the fundamentals of the game." I was amazed by their general excellence, as if I were back home. Then a man came over toward me and motioned as if they would like me to join them. So I did. I was now communicating with China as a free person, with no governments, and they likewise with me and the West. It felt beautiful. We played and played, and then I went around and shook every man's hand. Then I resumed my run. My Beijing Birthday also was pretty special; I ran on an official Olympic venue and then worked the gold medal game.
8. Winning my second consecutive Scotland Run 10K postrace raffle.
I have no idea why. But for two years in a row, they have called my winning number among countless fans after the Scotland Run 10K at Central Park in early April. In 2007, it had been a prize of a very valuable Scottish garment for a woman, so I had given that to a running friend. In 2008, I won four admission gift cards to Playland in Rye, N.Y. Hey, maybe the next time will be a car.
9. Emerald Nuts Midnight Run on New Year's Eve.
I rang in 2008 by running this four-mile race at Central Park, with fireworks exploding overhead in a spectacular scene. At the two-mile mark on 102nd Street, there is a blue "CHAMPAGNE" sign after the "WATER" sign. I got both. The downside was that I ran it alone, but 2008 would bring someone special into my life.
10. Racing four of the five NYRR Half Marathon Grand Prix events in NYC.
As a build-up to the November New York City Marathon, the New York Road Runners club (which runs everything in NYC running) conducts five Halfs throughout the year, each in a different borough that the marathon will touch. I ran Manhattan (January), Bronx (February), Brooklyn (April) and Queens (September). I was unable to run Staten Island in October due to MLB postseason travel.
11. Running Florida beaches.
The day after the MLB Draft at Disney World in June, I continued a tradition by staying behind and running a Florida beach. The previous year it was Cocoa; this time I drove over near Sarasota and ran seven miles on the beautiful Siesta Key, followed by pool time and pina coladas at a Disney Marriott. During the World Series, I preceded two Phillies-Rays games by running on St. Pete Beach behind our resort hotel, then enjoying a hammock.
12. Central Park Bench Plaque run.
I packed my Canon A540 into my Nathan's fuel belt one day in May and set out to take as many photos as I could of those wonderful dedication plaques on the thousands of park benches at Central Park. I posted them all on my blogs and many people drew inspiration from them as I had hoped. My favorite one was a dedication for "Andy and Lisa" on 8/9/1999, and it read: "Races are run with legs, marathons are run with the heart." That one was right next to the finish line of the NYC Marathon by Tavern on the Green.
13. Eight Belles and Me.
On Sunday, May 4, I ran a PR of 2:15 at the Brooklyn Half, and then hurried home because that day would be the Kentucky Derby and I couldn't wait to see my girl Eight Belles! I had been telling people about this filly before most people ever heard of her. It wasn't only because I was looking forward to raking in winnings. I was Eight Belles all the way. Imagine the heartache, for me and for millions of viewers, when she pulled up lame after finishing second and had to be euthenized. That was so tragic. But I loved her.
14. Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.
During the National League Division Series in Chicago between the Cubs and Dodgers, I got in a NYC Marathon training run along Lake Michigan. It was a blast. It was out-and-back to Navy Pier, and I especially remember running all the way to the end of the pier and then doing crunches and pushups at the very end, then gazing out into the endless water.
15. United Nations Run.
There were various times that I ran completely around the island of Manhattan, getting familiar with the running path that is dedicated for us almost continuously the whole way (it disappears on the East Side north of about 40th Street). During a summer run, this took me past the U.N. building for the first time in my life. I was able to admire the beautiful structure and run past the fabled flagpoles, and just feel the presence of (what should be) diplomacy. Little things like that add meaning to your training runs; I am always seeing something new with running.
There are so many other things that deserve to be mentioned, all the things that make up the awesome life of being a marathon runner. Like meeting running friends in person, such as my fellow Big Cats while I was in LA for the Dodger-Cubs series (great runs on the beach there, too!). Like the day I ran my own Half Marathon around one of the Olympic baseball fields, under the watchful eye of two Chinese security who brought me water and became friends. Like those typical summer days when you sweated profusely and felt great coming home from Central Park. Like that day I got up to about 250 crunches on my little familiar core-working spot on the grass next to the Met museum. Like discovering Sport-Wash for my clothes, even though it stinks. Like hundreds of GUs and Powergels. Like Poland Spring after Poland Spring. Like blogging and commenting on other blogs, getting to know new running friends.
Why I Love Running -- in case you missed it.
I love being a runner, and I am glad you are here to read what I'm posting about it. Here's to another great year in 2009 with even bigger goals!