Marathon (Wo)Man: Running For A Cause, But Not Without Headphones

Over the past two years, I’ve run races to support colon cancer awareness and prevention, fitness programs for underserved children, and an awareness of Scottish culture… among other things. I’d like to say that I chose these races because these were issues that were near and dear to me, but I’d be lying.

They’re all noble, important causes, ones that I’m happy to have supported with my entry fee dollars — and ones I wish I could say I’d gone the extra mile (pun intended) and raised additional funds for. But really, I ran these races because they were at convenient times on the racing calendar, of a distance that fit in well with my training plan, and helped me gain automatic entry into the New York marathon. The cheap cotton t-shirts with their noble causes and proud sponsors emblazoned across them sit sadly unworn. I think I even used one to clean the oven recently.

But last Saturday was different (and not just because the race involved jaunty technical hats instead of scratchy tees). Fear not, this isn’t going to unhappy place about a sick person I know personally: It was the 30th annual Gay Pride Run, and it took place in New York’s Central Park just hours after the state passed the Gay Marriage Act.

I’d picked the race off the calendar several weeks before and tried to assemble a group of friends – both runners and non-runners – to do it all together. “It’ll be fun. Pride! Exercise! People will dress up,” I said in a hastily written Facebook message, imagining drag queens and glitter along the course. (A girl can dream…) But, as I walked to the starting corrals with my friends — one of them a non-runner who looked a tad hung-over from the previous night’s West Village celebrations — I didn’t see many costumes. The few that I did, I pointed out to my hung-over friend with great excitement: “Oh look at that guy in the body paint! Did you see the girls in the bridal veils?” I tried to assuage the guilt I felt over forcing him out of  bed early on a Saturday to walk/run in the heat surrounded by more running gear and less revelry than I imagined.

Just before crossing the start line, I strapped into my iPhone and headphones. “I thought headphones weren’t allowed,” the hung-over, headphone-less friend said.

“Oh, they’re discouraged but everyone runs with them anyway,” I replied. All around us, runners were entering into their little music cocoons. “Press play on your iPod,” the announcer said over the loudspeakers, as if on cue.

In theory, I’d like to be that runner who isn’t tethered to her iPhone playlist. The chick who listens to every cheer, absorbing the scenery. The one who has no need for Girl Talk or Kanye or, god forbid, Third Eye Blind, to distract her and compel her to keep pace. I want to say I saw the gay cheerleaders cheering as I crossed the finish line last weekend. (I heard they were there after the fact, and I did indeed get to watch their impressive acrobatics as I retrieved my stuff from baggage.) I want to recall more of the funny t-shirts and the touching signs and in greater detail. But, instead, what I can recall most are the mileage markers, the cool digital beasts that are always there, bearing no historical significance or emotion.

Now would be the time in this column where I relay an anecdote about deciding to take out the ear buds and started smelling the roses. Actually, I took the ear buds out long ago and replaced then with a sporty pair of Sennheisers, but I have no intention of smelling the roses, or hearing the mediocre but enthusiastic local band at mile five.

Last weekend, there was (thankfully) no such band, but surely there were all kinds of intriguing moments, sights, and sounds associated with the momentous day that I missed I failed to absorb in my music cocoon.

After I crossed the finish line, I caught my breath, gulped down several paper cups of water. I declined the stale post-race bagel (a rule I live by); I said yes to the post-race popsicle (a novel wonder). Like many popsicles consumed in the heat after exercise, it might have been the best bit of frozen juice on a stick that ever existed. Even better, it was in a rainbow, ROY-G-BIV layers revealing themselves lick after lick.

I was just slurping up the last of the violet layer, when I found my hung-over friend. I was thrilled to see that he’d finished, that he looked happy and didn’t seem to resent me for my costume promises. “How was it?” I asked.

“It was great,” he said. “I fell in with a pack of vegan lesbians that was on the same walk-run and water-stop schedule as I was.” He regaled me with tales of his pack’s bawdy jokes and the prissy parents they’d offended. I wistfully, regretfully twirled my headphones cords. “It was a really fun experience, I’d definitely do another of these,” he said. “But next time, I’ll definitely bring my headphones.”

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