What Makes Sammy Run

The first day of spring, and perfect weather greeted the thousands of us who met in Central Park, and the many more who later gathered at the other end of Manhattan. The runners stretched and paced a bit; some laughed and talked in small groups, while others were silent, focused on the task ahead: running a half-marathon. The New York half-marathon. My first half-marathon.

And I lived to tell the tale.

A previous run in the park

Of course, it helps that I wasn’t the one actually running it.

No, I went to New York to cheer on my beloved wife, the one who had taken up the idea of entering the race not too long ago, who got up on frigid winter mornings to train, who raised a sizable sum for a worthy cause – Team Hole in the Wall – and ran under its banner. (Well, running under a banner could be a little problematic; she wore their shirt instead).

I was her Sherpa for the day, carrying what she might need and what she ultimately didn‘t. We had come down to the City the night before, lucky to stay with good friends who are always gracious hosts. This time, we made a deal – they let us crash, and we gave them a night out while we babysat their cute, good-natured 13-month old. I assured them that Samantha was a whiz with kids, always willing to play the surrogate auntie. Of course, she blew my cover a bit when the subject of diaper changing came up and she admitted she had never done it in her life. Well, I certainly never had. So, this was to be a weekend of several firsts; or else we would simply withhold all food and drink from our charge in her parents’ absence.

But in the end, no Guantanamo-type tactics were required. Baby K drank freely, laughed easily, played energetically, and we got through the one diaper changing. Well, Samantha did. But in my preparation for my role on Sunday, I stood on the sidelines and encouraged with gusto.

Race day began early, since Samantha had to be halfway across town by 7 am. After leaving her in the runners’ corral, I searched the park for the tent THITW was supposed to have for the team members’ friends and family. I covered more of Central Park in that half hour or so than I previously had in my lifetime, chatted with a friendly member of the NYPD, watched all varieties of dogs romp with all variety of owners. But no tent. Oh well. The race began, and I took a spot along the park route where I hoped I would be able to see Samantha and cheer her on.

Watching the ten thousand or so runners before her was mesmerizing. The bodies passed by my fixed stare, arms and legs in motion, faces in varying degrees of comfort, strain, and abject pain. A few runners wore goofy hats, one woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and one guy donned a cheezy yellow fright wig. The path was filled, for the most part, with what had to be the largest group of skinny people in any one spot on that NYC spring morning. The runners were mostly white (though with representatives of every race), heavily female, and in an average age range of 21 to 50. I saw one Sikh proudly running with his turban, a few blind runners with guides by their side, and one guy attempting to dribble a basketball. Plus two running jugglers. But in that constant stream of gliding, huffing, staggering, walking, churning humanity, I did not see my wife.


I cut across the park, knowing the pack would pass by again, and this time I saw her. She was taking a bit of a break, reenergizing with honey, and was a little chagrinned I had caught her going less than full tilt. But no matter. She looked in good shape, and the pace would pick up again. Meanwhile, I had to hi-tail it out of the park and catch the subway downtown to the finish line. I got there with plenty of time to spare, then saw some of the same faces I had seen in the park. Yellow-hair guy! Statue of Liberty! Kinda-creepy looking aging hippie dude! Incredibly tall chick from Villanova! And there, finally was Samantha, past the line and then taking the slow walk to the area where the runners received the plastic wraps meant to keep them warm, along with some food and water to replenish their bodies.

I won’t try to explain what Samantha felt. I’m only qualified to report what my senses observed that day. But I know what I felt – incredible pride that she had set such an ambitious goal and followed it through. I wondered if I have ever done likewise. Certainly never on a physical level, and perhaps no other as well.

The proud team after the race

The race done, we ate, laughed, and talked with some of her THITW mates, people she had never met before. They shared the commitment to that good cause, and the dedication to complete the race. It was a nice moment of camaraderie. The only downer, according to my own Joan Benoit: This race lacked the festive feel of the Manchester Road Race, her first outing on the long-distance circuit (and chronicled here over at the History Nerd). But half-marathons are more serious business than holiday races, eh? Besides, no sense thinking back to the past. There‘s a half-marathon in Chicago to plan for. Should be a fun weekend, especially if all I have to do is play Sherpa again. I can do that. I‘ll leave the heavy lifting to the one in the family who is obviously equipped for it. I love ya, honey. Great job.


~ by mburgan on March 22, 2010.

3 Responses to “What Makes Sammy Run”

  1. Michael, you are a great writer and your words always make me smile. Vibrant! And your pride for your sweetie glows on the page. Kudos to Samantha!

  2. Thanks–again–for the kind words. If only you worked at one of my clients and were in charge of doling out assignments! And I will pass on the kudos.

  3. Good work Samantha! You have inspired me to run into the kitchen for some popcorn!

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