It was a glorious evening, in spite of the fact that the sun had already set and it was bearly past 7 PM. And it was a wonderful sunset – full of bright reds and brilliant oranges, fading into deep purple. The cold air was sharp and biting as I headed out the door and up the street towards the East River.
When I reached the river I headed south. Towards the north a sliver of the moon hung just over the Triboro Bridge. The darkness of the river reflected the lights of the bridge, Roosevelt Island and Queens. Off in the distance to the south the Queensboro bridge spanned the East River. It’s lights aglow. My thoughts turned forward. And memories long forgotten returned. The flood of memories was surprising.
Fogs rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep
The cool air quickens my stride. Fortunately, tonight’s run won’t be a long one, so the faster pace will not hurt me. I relax, stretching out and letting my mind wander. Three short weeks and I’ll be at the start with Sweet Julie by my side. It will be a first for us. But, it will be very familiar to us.
The first time I went there, I was just a beginner. I arrived before the sun came up. I was on the bridge alone in the darkness. As the sun rose over my shoulder, the greatness of the bridge became apparent. The long stretch of road and the arch of the bridge were daunting. In a short couple of hours they came. Only a handful at first, and moving swiftly. A tightly bunched group, moving quickly over the high point of the bridge. Their feet seemed to bearly touch the ground.
The familiar blonde hair and boyish face was at the front. He alone looked like he was out playing. All the others looked serious and deep in the effort. He seemed to float along, as if this were no great effort. Later I would see him again, coming off the 59th Street Bridge. Only one other person was with him now. They both looked serious and the effort was clear in their faces. They looked as if they were trying to solve a great puzzle.
Shortly after they passed she appeared. She was an unfamiliar face, dressed in red and white. Everyone was asking, “Who is she?” She was so far ahead of the other women it was as if she was running a different race. But, there she was, alone and running strongly. When she reached the finish line we all discovered who she was and what she had accomplished. The boyish blonde was well known and didn’t disappoint those that knew him. But, the day was hers.
Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand
On Bleecker Street
I’ve wonderful photographs from that day. And one year later I was back at the start standing with a bunch of strangers, helicopters hovering overhead, TV cameras recording it all. Although the sun was bright, I was cold and scared. Very scared! This was only the second time I was in a position like this and I had set mighty goals for myself. I longed for the comfort of the prior year. But, I also longed for the pain that was surely to be mine shortly.
Pain, in the year that had just past, pain had become my friend and a frequent companion. Most people tried to avoid pain, I seem to seek it out. I searched for the pain. If a run didn’t have some pain I was worried, disappointed. As the pain came on, my vision and mind became much more focused, much narrower, much more intense. I still was aware of everything around me, but I was paying acute attention to what was going on inside. The narrower my focus became, the more things opened up.
They were both there again. Up front and both looked even better than the year before. I didn’t seem them any longer. Only on the newscasts and the video tapes. I never got to see that sight of them cresting the bridge, fresh and fast, light and strong. I had traded that for pain and accomplishment. Sometimes I long for that view from the front. Most times I’m perfectly happy with the view from the back.
As I pass under the 59th Street Bridge, my mind takes me up to the roadway on the bridge and the coming race. The mile long incline to the 15 mile mark. The short decent, the sharp turn, the darkness, the burst of sunlight and noise. The unbelievable feeling of running through a crowd of a million people. The banners, the people, the runners, the road that seems to go forever.
Those two from years ago no longer run up front. There are others though that run up front, and run faster. But, those two will always have a special place. There are many people that don’t even know who they are, but I remember. How could I forget. They inspired me and drove me on.
Each race is special. Each marathon is special in its own way. But, NYCM is my special marathon. It’s my hometown race. It’s big, no huge. It was the race I first broke three hours. I know the course intimately. I’ve run it more than any other marathon. But, this year it special because Sweet Julie will be running it with me. For the first time I’ll run a marathon with someone pacing me, keeping me going and helping me through the tough patches. And for the first time I’ll run a marathon with my wife!
A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, Holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street
I don’t know if I can express what this all means to me. As I continue down along side the East River, heading towards Greenwich Village I think hard about what’s happened to me in the past year. I’ve never enjoyed my running as much as I do now. I’m no where near as fast as I used to be, but I don’t care. I’m having fun. I love my running. Sweet Julie and I can share a run in Central Park and there’s nothing in the world like the feeling I have when we finish.
We go to races and she waits for me at the finish line. She cheers for me and gives me the biggest smile you can imagine!
As I pass the UN building I think of the surprise I’m planning for her during this years NYCM. A smile grows on my face. I know she’ll love it. Last year, I didn’t run NYCM but ran MCM instead. Sweet Julie ran NYCM and I was on First Avenue waiting for her. I’ve lots of friends that were running. I’m calling out their names, they’re calling out to me as they pass. I run along with them for a block or two, offering water and encouragement.
The people I’m standing with waiting for Sweet Julie made a deal with me. I could stand in front if I got the big guy just down the course from us to step back. A few kind words to him and he backed up. I had asked everyone around me to cheer for Sweet Julie when she came by. They wanted to know how they’d recognize her. I told them not to worry, they’d know who she was. Well, I’m going through my pack to get something out, when they start shouting SWEET JULIE. She had just gone by, stopped and came back when she saw me.
I jumped up and gave her a great big hug and kiss. We then started running up First Avenue. She gave me some wet clothes and I gave her some dry clothes, some drinks and some food. Just before I stopped I shouted out I LOVE YOU. The entire crowd along the side of First Avenue gave out a cheer! I got chills as I watched her speed off towards The Bronx.
I heard a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin'
It's a long road to Canaan
On Bleecker Street
I headed into Central Park. I found my good friend and fellow Dead Ralph and we waited for Sweet Julie to run by. Some how we missed her. She was moving too fast for us to spot her.
This year she promises to slow down and run with me. I’m hoping to run for about 6 to 8 hours. I want this marathon to last a very long time! I won’t want to cross the finish line. I know I’ll enjoy this years marathon more than any of the others. More than the PRs more than the tough ones that gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment, more than the easy ones that I was so well prepared for, more than the surprises, the ones where I ran way over my head and finished strong. This is one I’ll remember forever.
Np - Jonatha Brooke – Bleecker Street from:
Bleecker Street Greenwich Village in the 60's