It started with a run for a po’boy.
It was my bachelor party, we were in New Orleans to eat (and drink, but mostly to eat), I was 10 pounds heavier than the wedding weight I was shooting for, hanging with my guys, and wanted to have fun. But I saw it as a possible lynchpin moment for action that can be hard to come by.
“What if we run to Mahony’s,” I suggested to my captive audience.
It was three miles. But at 5’10” and 215 pounds, I was technically obese. Breaths came in heaves and not just for me. We lost a runner but two of us finished.
Let’s be clear, I was a fat man running... to a sandwich.
And the po’boy was great. Served between a toasted, sesame-flecked Leidenheimer loaf, it was a red-wine, vegetable, and herb-braised Angus beef po’boy that The Times-Picayune’s restaurant critic Brett Anderson described as more like beef bourguignon.
Commander’s Palace, Pizza Domenica, Galatoire’s—we hit them. Had oysters, drank more than we should (but maybe not enough). It was a great time.
I made the wedding weight. But a few years later I was heavier than ever, 225 pounds. “You should run the New York City Marathon,” my cousin-in-law Danny Hardeman, a Texan, said while serving me his famed smoked prime rib with horseradish sauce over Christmas.
Danny’s run the New York City Marathon three times. Boston at least once. “Yeah, right,” I said, the thought tugging at some long-buried, in-passing, what-if already in my mind.
A year or so later, that buddy of mine who I’d persuaded to run to the po’boy? After the po’boy run, he got it in his head to run a marathon! And I hadn’t done it? That run was my idea! What the hell!
Sitting down before New Year’s I wrote one of those Jay Gatsby resolves list. One of the things on it was... the New York City Marathon. “Just once,” I thought, “I’d like to be in good enough shape to know what it’s like to accomplish something that crazy. Just once, I’d like to know what it’s like to know I’d pushed myself to the edge of physical exertion and had accomplished the goal.”
In the years since, I lost, gained, and lost most of that weight I wrote two books. We had a son—all things on the list of resolves. I even went on to run my first half-marathon.
There were no po’boys in New York City worth mentioning, but my training plan, once I lost some 35 pounds by walking so as not to give myself a heart attack (the reward for hitting the weight was… soft serve at Big Gay Ice Cream) was to run past the New York City restaurants I wanted to eat at.
Mostly, I ran at night. Training runs centered around newly opened and freshly reviewed places—dim sum parlors, fancy-pants French restaurants, sushi counters, and pizzerias. They say one of the best ways to learn a city is to bike it. That goes double for running. As a food writer, it was a good way to do recon. I passed places I’d never noticed before and have since visited.
Sometimes it was tough to lace up. Sometimes it was very tough. Even the first mile. But most often, if the laces were tied, after that first mile came and went, the rest followed. There was even some euphoria along the way. An avowed night owl, I slept better than I had in years.
But after two years of not winning the lottery for a spot in the New York City Marathon, I’d given up. I was 41, with two surgically-repaired knees and one surgically repaired ankle. Time wasn’t running out, but if luck wasn’t going to participate… well.
I registered, figured it would be another year of the same and forgot about it.
Then I got in.
The dawning of the reality of what this was going to mean sunk in fast.
Let’s be clear. I haven’t been a runner. Yeah, yeah, I ran cross-country in high school, but slowly, and the most we ever ran was six miles, and I was there more to crush on Carol Gonzalez-Prat, a girl a year ahead of me (if I could keep up).
Through the first six months of training, I was clopping around New York City sidewalks wearing hiking boots (a habit from years of wearing high-top shoes to protect a bad ankle). Our son was born, there was no time to sleep or train, then I broke a toe, and that was it. I deferred.
But you can only defer for a year before you lose your spot. So this is the year.
As such, I’ve been training this year (mostly after everyone in my house is asleep) and explicitly over the past nine weeks. Over the past two months, I’ve run more than 115 miles. I’ve gone from barely being able to lift my feet a few years ago over a 13-mile finish line for my first half, to surpassing 16 miles. Then 18 miles. I’ve learned hydration, fueling, and pacing strategies. I wear real running shoes.
Let’s be clear. I’m not fast. And it still seems bizarre to know what it feels like to run 18 miles and to think about running another eight miles. But the race is in a few weeks, and I think I’m almost as ready as I can be. And I’m excited.
I’m running because it’s something I’ve wanted to do. To try to accomplish something that maybe one day my son will know I did and see an example of goal-accomplishment (or insanity). To fight off mortality, sure.
But it’s struck me that if I’m going to finish what some might consider a selfish act (and at this point, I do intend to finish), the time and energy devoted to it is not insignificant after all, that maybe there’s a way to offset that karma. Like, to run for a reason… for someone else (selfishly, having a little added reason to get through those last 8 miles probably won’t hurt!).
Which is a long way to explain that if you’ve read this far, I’m hoping you’ll consider sponsoring me. I’m trying to raise $100 for every mile in the marathon to give to Aniridia Foundation International, a cause that's close to my heart. Aniridia syndrome, if you don't know (and most people don’t, it’s pretty rare), is a genetic condition of underdeveloped eye structures. Meeting my goal would mean supporting this 501(c)3 nonprofit with $2,620.
A marathon, by the way, means burning about 2,600 calories, which, by my estimate, is about nine slices of pizza, which is doubtless what I’ll be thinking about if and when I run past Patsy’s in East Harlem (one of my favorite slices in Manhattan), which, if you're here because you know me as The Pizza Cowboy, of course, I can tell you is on the route. If you've been reading along about pizza this year on @nycbestpizza, please consider helping me reach my goal!
Thanks for reading.