This is the piece I wrote in the Daily News.
The modern marathon is rooted in the tale that in 490 B.C. after the Persians were defeated at the plains of Marathon, the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran the 25 miles to Athens to proclaim the victory. After delivering this vital message, he dropped dead.
To normal people this story is a parable, at best a warning. To runners – an invitation.
I was never a sports person. I never exercised. I never went inside a gym. I didn’t care for any of that. I was a smoker. Not just a ‘once in a while’, I-don’t-buy-packs-I-just-bum type of smoker. I smoked 30 plus cigarettes a day since the Bush/Quayle Administration. Before I finally quit I was gray, phlegmy and would get winded playing Scrabble. Sexy.
I decided last year after I quit, I was going to run the LA Marathon. Since I could only run for 45 seconds before gasping for breath, it was the next logical step. (For the record: it took me two weeks to work up to a full minute.) The only reason to keep on running was that was the only time I didn’t want to smoke.
The marathon is the only major sports event in Los Angeles where, for a small fee, anyone can compete. Actually, that may be how the LA Galaxy are going to be able to afford their non-Beckham players in the future. But for now, the LA Marathon is it for the laymen. According to their website 23,000 runners of all levels, ages and nationalities will scamper from Universal City to Downtown. The average finishing time is around 5 hours. That’s really impressive to Angelenos who can spend more time driving the same route on any Friday afternoon.
You must work up to a 26.2-mile race. It’s not like running for the presidential nomination – you have to be prepared for a marathon! I walked more than I ran, then ran more than I walked. I joined a running club. Read magazines, books and bulletin boards. Changed my diet. Changed my shoes. Ran at least 3 times a week.
Training started my indoctrination into having ‘sports’ stuff. Sports drinks. Sports bars. Sport bras. Sport lube. Sports socks. You name it. Then I got a sports injury and had to get a sports doctor. I went to podiatrist Dr. John Pagliano in Long Beach and graced him with my feet that would make Bilbo Baggins blush. Dr. Pagliano is also a runner. He has finished a whopping 111 marathons in his lifetime. I’m not bragging but my doctor has more miles on him than a Peterbilt.
But even with all this, I still don’t think I look like a runner. We’ve all seen the photographs of those elite athletes built like T-Rexes barreling down the road. Their rippling muscles and 8-pack stomachs glistening in the sun. That’s not me. Minimal exercise makes me sweat so much it looks like I have just showered. I also turn bright red – all over. When I run I look like I’ve fallen asleep in a tanning booth. I grimace, have terrible posture and have been known to grunt and wheeze.
My biggest fear isn’t failing to finish; my biggest fear is the paramedics will think I’m about to die and preemptively ask me for my insurance card.
But let’s face it – it’s not about looks – its about celebrating human endurance and the lengths some of us will go to be able to brag about what we did over the weekend.
It’s a long way from a sedentary tobacco chimney to a marathon runner. For me the great thing is the twisted determination that allowed me to smoke through Strep Throat and the ‘90’s is the same twisted determination that enables me to run through pain and having Hobbit feet. Only now people admire it. At least I hope they do. My family could be planning an intervention and I wouldn’t have a clue. I’ve been too preoccupied with Epsom Salts and ice packs to notice. The way I see it, as long as I don’t shave my head I don’t really have a problem. Right?