My 67yo father has been running for more than thirty years. He has run 8 NYC marathons and countless other NYRR races. His first marathon was in 1979 when I was 7 years old. Living on Staten Island, the start of the marathon was always an extra big deal in my house. My mom would wake us early, my younger brother, sister and even my grandparents, and drive my Dad to Fort Wadsworth near the Verazzano Bridge and then cross over to Brooklyn to stake our first of several cheering spots throughout the race; Brooklyn and then on to Manhattan, on the East side just off the 59th Street Bridge and again in Central Park for the last 5 miles.
My Dad said that what piqued his interest in running were Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter, two of the most elite and successful American runners of all-time. The NYC Marathon began in 1970 and originally consisted of four loops around Central Park with just a few hundred runners. In 1976, thanks to the pioneering vision of Fred Lebow, the race expanded to hit all five NYC boroughs and attracted approx 2000 runners, including Olympians Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers.
In this picture we had just dropped my Dad off at Fort Wadsworth. The date was Oct 21, 1979. Notice the limited crowd and the low number on his bib. The running boom was just getting started!
It was absolutely thrilling to see him come running up to us, cold and sweaty, and hug and squeeze us at every spot! Back then there was no such thing as gels and power drinks. My mom would have a huge container of honey that she’d scoop into my Dad’s mouth like medicine for a baby and I would hold fresh-cut oranges in a ziplock baggie. My fingers would freeze holding out extra oranges and then go numb from clapping so hard for all the runners. As if that was an act of endurance?!
I also remember seeing all kinds of characters pass by. There was the waiter who we saw at every marathon. He wore a black jacket with tails and bow-tie and held a tray in one hand with a champagne bottle and glass. There were those who ran backwards and the guy who ran while juggling. To my young eyes, watching the runners sometimes felt like being at the circus.
I remember after my Dad finished his first NYC Marathon he received a spectacular poster of the Verazzano Bridge with all the runners crossing it. The shot was taken from above so you saw the full span of the bridge from Staten Island and thousands of runners charging across it. I put this poster on the wall just to the side of my bed. At night I would lie on my side and stare at the poster wondering where my Dad could be amongst the crowd. My Dad told me how runners would start stripping off layers of clothes while crossing the bridge and just throw them on the pavement or off the side of the bridge. I found this little fact about littering your clothes on world’s largest bridge to be fascinating and would daydream at the poster imaging shirts flying off the sides of the bridge.
That same year I decided for Halloween I would dress-up as ‘Daddy’s Super-Jogger’. My mom ironed the letters onto a sweatshirt (she lost the ‘Y’ so it actually read Dadd’s Super Jogger), gave me my Dad’s sweatband and wristbands, a water bottle (she didn’t have a real water bottle so she gave me my little sister’s baby bottle!), sneakers and off I went proudly jogging in the P.S.69 Halloween Parade. Running doesn’t require much of any props so my costume kinda looked like I was going to gym class. That’s me in the middle holding up my sister.
In 1981, when my Dad was 37yo, he finished the NY Marathon in his best time ever – 3:29:30. He said that as soon as he hit Central Park he suddenly felt like ‘a firecracker was up his ass’ and he ran like the wind to the finish. He got across the finish line faster than my family could keep up to greet him. My Dad bought a picture of himself crossing the finish line which has lived in a frame on top of the piano all these years.
Everyday when I would practice piano I would gaze at the picture and think how casually normal my Dad looked, merely hopping, over the finish line. But I never understood the magnitude of what he accomplished, from achieving a fantastic time to simply finishing the run of 26.2 miles! Until now.
Back then I never felt a desire to run. I never even dreamed of running the NYC Marathon. I just enjoyed being an observer, the daughter of someone who was a marathoner and a very driven runner. My friends and neighbors all knew my Dad as a runner. So many times someone would tell me, “I saw your Dad running near my house at 5:30am when I went out to grab the paper. How does he do it?” I would shrug and just say, “He does. He gets up and goes running.”
It wasn’t until I myself reached my 30’s, when I began very light running on the treadmill and outside (3-4 miles tops) that I started watching the NY Marathon on TV and unravel a hidden desire to want to run this race myself. My childhood memories of being surrounded, unconsciously, by the NY Marathon and the determination of a marathoner, came flooding back to me. Yet I never mapped out a real goal. Occasionally I would go for a short run with my Dad but I never considered properly training for races or making running a consistent part of my lifestyle.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mother and wife now and recognize the value of organizing time, staying healthy, and generally feeling balanced between work and life that running has become my center around everything else.
So here I am now at the start of 2012, turning 40yo in October, officially accepted into the NYC ING Marathon! I just wish I could find that poster I once had on my bedroom wall. Only this time I’d put it on the wall in my girl’s bedroom.
Here are some more vintage pictures of my Dad running the NYC Marathon back when it wasn’t even 5 years old. Notice the light crowd of runners and the simple clothing.