So, I did it. The race got run.
I was apprehensive about this year’s New York marathon right up until the moment I crossed the starting line on the south side of the Verrazzano Bridge – finally preparations had not gone especially well. Things were not improved when I thought I felt a twinge of cramp during mile one – but that must have been a false alarm, because in fact things went pretty well.
I was much better trained this time around, but no matter how good one’s preparation, there is always an element of good fortune required when you run a marathon. Sometimes even the most elite runners pull up half way through a race. So, always, the first goal is just to finish.
My run was helped by seeing friends and family along the way. My wife planned her day with military precision so she saw me at three different points over the course of the race (true dedication) and it was great to see the wonderful Mary Morris at mile 7 in Brooklyn whose sign made me very happy.
This year I also put my name on the front of my shirt, which was a tremendous help, as complete strangers yelled out my name in encouragement as I plodded by. It turns out that ALEX is an excellent name for these purposes – it’s short, easy to read from a distance, and there’s pretty much no possibility of mispronunciation. Literally thousands of lovely people urged me on by name. It really was quite extraordinary.
As a result of all that, I managed to knock 28 minutes off my previous best time (a low bar, admittedly.) I had a secondary goal, to finish in under four hours, and I missed that target by 5 minutes. But, to my surprise, I found that I wasn’t especially bothered. All that means, I told myself, is that I still have something to aim for next time.
Now, I really do try and resist the temptation of drawing too many analogies between running a marathon and writing novels, but this one struck me in particular. Yes, marathons are races, but for 99.9% of us who run them, we’re only ever racing against ourselves. We set targets, times to beat – but even when we achieve those goals, there is still always room for improvement. And so it is with writing books. Every book, like every race, is different, but one thing remains the same. We begin each new adventure in the hope that this one will be better than the last.
If I can just work out a way to get a few thousand people to chant my name every time I sit down at the keyboard, I’ll be all set.