Time after Time

During the past two decades I have watched my firstborn grandson grow from a six-pound squirt to a strapping and achingly handsome young man -- sporting a handful of my genes, of course -- who competes in triathlons. Two weeks ago he ran his first marathon. Last week Duquesne honored him with a double degree in biology and physical therapy cum laude.

How did all this happen so fleetingly and so emphatically? Where did the time go? What is time, anyway?

These images tell the story:

wo-month-old Erik at my 1991 post-marathon party …
Two-month-old Erik at my 1991 post-marathon party …

… And Erik after running his first marathon this month.
… And Erik after running his first marathon this month.

It brought to mind something written by Anais Nin, the French-born novelist whose 1931-to-1974 journals track her voyage of self-discovery: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Aha, I thought. So that’s what happened. I still was seeing Erik as the baby who inspired me to run my first marathon.

In 1991, here’s how I wrote about Erik's role in my marathon:

The build-up to the race was in the news almost daily. Whenever I heard or read about it, I felt my nervousness rise. I hadn't run farther than 15 miles and according to my training regimen, I still needed to do two long runs of 18 miles and one of 20 miles. But because of the lost weeks, I had time left to do only one 18-miler. I decided to try for it that weekend and if I made it, I would definitely attempt the marathon.

But Sunday morning came, and I was able to do only 17 miles. Afterwards, I was sore from the waist down. My hip joints hurt. All the muscles in my legs were burning. My feet felt so tender it hurt even to walk. One toenail was bruised black and blue. Even my butt muscles were in pain. To run another nine miles -- what it would take to complete the marathon that was now only two weeks away -- was inconceivable. I decided to drop out.

When I went to work the next day, I walked down the hall to tell my co-worker, Madeleine, about my decision. She had run two marathons herself, and on this morning she was a woman without pity.

"What's your grandson going to say someday," she asked, "that his grandfather thought about running a marathon?"

The dark side of hubris is humiliation. My daughter had just delivered our family's first grandchild. To drop out of the race at this point would mean my grandson would be left the legacy of a loser, the remembrance of a grandfather too timid even to try.

So on November 3, 1991, there I was at the starting line on Staten Island, harboring the secret that I was not ready to run the marathon. I needed one more month to train. I needed motivation to run the race.

But run it I did -- wearing a singlet on which was printed THE GALLOPING GRANDPA and crossing the finish line to be greeted with a medal around my neck, a rose in my hand and tears in my eyes.

So what, then, is the truth about time? 

Here’s Augustine of Hippo speaking to us from the Fourth Century:

If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it, I do not know.”

He goes on to say:

“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”

The only explanation is that we are beings born into eternity. And that is explanation enough.

In my next blog, “You Know You’re from Cape Cod if … “

 

 

If you’d like to know what it’s like for an out-of-shape slouch to run 26.2 miles, here’s the whole story as I wrote it in 1991:

 

CURSUS CURRERE
(Or, To Run the Race)
By
PETER W. YAREMKO

Sex or money.

People will tell you those are the motivators behind everything we do in this life.

Don't you believe it.

Pride is “The Great Motivator.”

Look at the historical evidence.

Lucifer used to be God's right-hand angel until he grew too big for his britches, opened his own place in Hades and went into competition with his old boss for the affection of human hearts.

Adam and Eve? It wasn't sex or money that weeded them from the Garden of Eden. There was a worm in that apple -- the promise that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree was going to give them knowledge of good and evil, enabling them to become like gods.

But for every yin, there's a yang. For every paradise lost, pride can fuel prodigious achievements.

For me, that word pride -- silkscreened on the back of a ten-dollar tee shirt that I happened to see that morning -- was all the motivation I needed to win the 1991 New York City Marathon.

It read: "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever."

You thought a Mexican guy won the '91 New York? Yes, Salvador Garcia was the first finisher. I crossed the same green line in Central Park exactly four hours later. It was dark by then, but I was just as much a winner as Senor Garcia, and just as much a winner as the multiple sclerosis victim who came in 17 hours after I did. Like ice cream, pride comes in lots of flavors.

If you'd looked for me 10 minutes before the starting cannon was fired that Marathon Sunday morning, you would have found me on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, sitting on a stretch of curb in the Red Staging Area, which was reserved for first-timers and slow runners.

No smile on my face, no eager anticipation. Because even after six months of training, I was asking: "Why am I doing this?"

I still hadn't identified the powerful positive motivation I needed if I expected to finish the race. It couldn't be a negative thought -- like “disappointing my family” or “embarrassing myself in front of friends” -- things like that.

The year before, I had been a spectator at the New York City Marathon. I stood on the sidelines for hours, after most other spectators ahd left, and watched as wave after wave of runners passed by -- first the elite, then the gifted amateurs, then the legendary mid-pack, the weekend warriors, the older runners, the walkers, finally the hobblers.

They touched something in me. Especially the Achilles Club people -- some on crutches or wheelchairs, some missing feet or legs. Watching their heroic efforts put a lump in my throat. If they could do it, I thought, why couldn't I?

That day 1 announced to my wife, Jo Anne, that I was going to train for the next New York City Marathon.

I had been jogging on and off since 1977. But never very far or very fast. For one thing, the genetics weren't there. As a kid, I was clumsy at most things. I was a nerd before the word was coined. But I was savvy enough to avoid being embarrassed by attempting athletics. My father was a diabetic who had his first heart attack at 48. He died three years later. I had never given him the joy of being a son he could cheer from the sidelines.

Another drawback was the rude way I had treated my body. All my family tends toward porky, and in the sooty New Jersey city of Perth Amboy where I grew up, cupcakes, candy and Cokes were a big part of the diet. Plus, I was a smoker until four years ago.

But what the hell. I plunged in.

The training was fun at first.

Two miles a day for the first week.

The next week, three miles a day.

Then four.

After a few weeks, I was able to run the whole way without stopping to walk at all.

The distances that I was logging grew dizzying.

Five miles.

When I told my sister-in-law that I had run six miles, her eyes bulged. My chest swelled. I was cocky now.

But running 10 miles hurt, I discovered. My leg muscles felt tired, my feet were sore. Still, I bragged to everyone in the office -- and swaddled myself in their admiration.

Then 13 miles, 15 miles. I accepted the fact that the legs got tired, the feet got sore.

But then something happened. Training stopped being fun. I had been at this for more than three months. The extra poundage was not melting away from my body as I thought it would. I was running six days a week, and I was constantly sore. It seemed my life was nothing but run, work, sleep … run, work, sleep ….

What was worse -- my family and friends stopped being impressed. They accepted the idea that I could do this. If I bragged that I had run 13 miles this morning, the most I could get out of them was something like, "That's nice." They could no longer relate. To them, I had become "Robo-Runner.""

The ancient Greeks had a word -- hubris. Pride out of balance. Pride to a fault. It’s the sin that destroyed tragic heroes through the ages from Oedipus Rex

to King Lear to Citizen Kane.

All of a sudden, for no reason, I lost it. For two solid weeks, I couldn't get myself to run.

I convinced myself that I must have peaked too soon, and that it was okay to rest.

I started running again. But within days, the tedium returned. I skipped another two weeks of training.

The build-up to the race was in the news almost daily. Whenever I heard or read about it, I felt my nervousness rise. I hadn't run farther than 15 miles and according to my training regimen, I still needed to do two long runs of 18 miles and one of 20 miles. But because of the lost weeks, I had time left to do only one 18-miler. I decided to try for it that weekend and if I made it, I would definitely attempt the marathon.

But Sunday morning came, and I was able to do only 17 miles. Afterwards, I was sore from the waist down. My hip joints hurt. All the muscles in my legs were burning. My feet felt so tender it hurt even to walk. One toenail was bruised black and blue. Even my butt muscles were in pain. To run another nine miles -- what it would take to complete the marathon that was now only two weeks away -- was inconceivable. I decided to drop out.

When I went to work the next day, I walked down the hall to tell my co-worker, Madeleine, about my decision. She had run two marathons herself, and on this morning she was a woman without pity.

"What's your grandson going to say someday," she asked, "that his grandfather thought about running a marathon?"

The dark side of hubris is humiliation. My daughter had just delivered our family's first grandchild. To drop out of the race at this point would mean my grandson would be left the legacy of a loser, the remembrance of a grandfather too timid even to try.

So on November 3, 1991, there I was at the starting line on Staten Island, harboring the secret that I was not ready to run the marathon. I needed one more month to train. I needed motivation to run the race.

From where the Red group was staged, I couldn’t see Mayor Dinkins fire the starting cannon, but the roar of it was immense. I got to my feet from where I was sitting on the curb and joined the pack.

The other Reds started to run as best they could in the tight crowd, but I decided to walk. I wanted to conserve energy as long as I could, so I stayed to the left gutter of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge while other runners passed by me at a pace just a little faster than walking.

Jo Anne had given me a singlet to wear on which she had printed: "THE GALLOPING GRANDPA." And I felt it. Self-conscious and awkward, blocking

the path for the real runners -- as if I weren't part of this race, part of this mass of men and women who were now a corporal entity, moving as one body. The pack. And I realized my decision to walk was not strategy at all. It was fear.

I was afraid to start running. I was afraid of the race. I was afraid of my body and what it would do to me when it reached 17 miles, how it would force me

to drop out, humiliating me before my wife, my friends, my grandson. Even though I was moving briskly enough to break a sweat, my hands and feet were cold with fear.

And there, in the gutter, afraid to start running, I found the motivation I had been looking for. It could have come only from God. Rather than a thundering voice from the brilliant autumn sky, He came in the guise of a pretty young woman in front of me. Emblazoned on the back of her shirt were the words:

"PAIN IS TEMPORARY. PRIDE IS FOREVER."

Of course! The damn shirt was right! How bad can running a marathon be? The pain will go away in a day or two, but if I drop out, "loser" will be chiseled on my tombstone. Just because it hurts doesn't mean I stop.

I start to run.

As soon as I do, the fear leaves. I look over my shoulder toward New Jersey, where my father is buried.

"Can you see me, Dad? I'm in the marathon. I'm an athlete. Now are you proud of me?"

And because it's Sunday morning and I haven't been to church, I pray. For him, for me.

Crowds of spectators are waiting on the solid pavement of Brooklyn at the end of the bridge. I hear their roar before I can see them.

A runner comes up from behind and says: "I saw your shirt and I'm a grandfather, too, and I figure if I pace myself with you I'll finish."

"No," I think, "keeping pace with me isn't going to help you finish. You're

a grandfather and you're going to get tired and sore and you'll stop. I will never stop because pride is forever. "

I feel strong and wonderful.

I have the secret, and he doesn't.

I know pride.

It's forever.

I start to enjoy the people on the sidewalks. Kids three and four years old stretch out a hand to high-five me as I pass.

Through Brooklyn and into Queens, people shout "Lookin' good!" and "You can do it!" They call to me by my number: "Go, X3706!" That's me -- running in the New York City Marathon!

A lady yells to me from her apartment window: "I love you, grandpa." I turn and blow her a kiss.

But as I cross the East River onto First Avenue in Manhattan, Mile 15, I seem to have caught a pebble in my shoe.

By Mile 18, the pebble has grown into a baseball. And now there is one under each foot.

I stop playing with the spectators and stare straight ahead as I run, concentrating on the blisters, trying to find a comfort zone. This isn't fun anymore. This is work.

I notice that no one is passing me. "Be proud of that," I tell myself. "You're so far behind that you're the best one back here."

From the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge, where we enter Manhattan, First Avenue is uphill to the crest at 85th Street. I'm very tired and I want to stop, to walk. The gang from the office is supposed to be waiting for me at 85th Street. I won't let them see me walking.

There they are, screaming my name. I smile. I'm running. They hand me orange slices and take my picture and tell me I'm looking good. If one more person tells me I'm looking good, I will punch them.

I raise my eyes from the asphalt and see the 17-Mile marker. This is it -- as far as I ever ran in training. From here on, “there be dragons.” This is where I might die. I think of the tee shirt. Where is that girl? I wish she were still in front of me.

As I pass the 18-Mile marker and I think: "I've just run farther than I ever have before." How proud am I?

Entering the Bronx, I am so far behind the leaders that City workmen have started to remove the carpeting that had been installed on the Willis Avenue Bridge.

Near Mile 20, the race volunteers are shutting down the water stop.

Thick clouds have moved in to bring an early dusk, and it is getting windy and cold.

My spirits lift as I cross the Harlem River back into Manhattan. I feel as if I'm heading home, finally running toward the finish line in Central Park instead of away from it.

But here in Harlem, the pain is very bad. My feet feel as if they are bathed in blood, and I try not to think of what they must look like.

The outside of my left knee hurts badly. I'm afraid of doing permanent damage. But -- pain is temporary. All I have to do is finish one marathon, once in my life, today -- and I will feel proud forever.

I think about my daughter, Wendy, the new mother of the new grandson, and her 18 hours of labor before finally submitting to a C-Section. Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. Just ask Wendy with that baby boy in her arms. For the first time in this race, I know I will not drop out. 

In Central Park the spectators are shouting not encouragement, but congratulations. Am I that close to finishing?

My pace in the hilly park is so slow and I am so tired and in so much pain that I can't even force myself past two race-walkers. How can they walk so fast? It's okay, I tell myself -- I'm going to finish. Still watching, Dad?

Runners who had finished far ahead of me are now walking in the opposite direction, on their way home to hot baths. Every one of them is wearing the finisher's medal around their necks.

I want my wife to see me wear that medal.

I want to show that medal to my grandson when he grows old enough to understand that his grandfather ran the New York City Marathon.

Who else among his friends will have such a grandfather'?

I'm surprised that it is so anticlimactic to cross Mile 26. I feel so professional. All in a day's work.

The finish line is 285 yards ahead. I can hear the amplified voice of Fred Lebow urging us runners on. Fred Lebow, founder and father of the New York City Marathon -- talking to me!

The spotlights blind, so I can't see the finish in the darkness up ahead.

The 285 yards is so far.

Off to the sides, I see that the grandstands are mostly empty. I feel very alone.

Then I hear Vincent's voice off to my left. My best friend, charging out of the shadows like a bull and screaming at the top of his lungs: "Go Peter, go Peter, go Peter!" as if he were going to push me over that finish line himself.

My left calf starts to cramp and spasm. "Incredible,'" I think. "I'm going to fall down."

Then I see my daughter, Wendy. She is smiling from ear to ear behind the police barricade. I will crawl across that finish line.

I keep running, and a little bit farther along I see Jo Anne, wearing Wendy's smile, clapping and cheering.

I look down, so I can watch my feet cross the finish line.

A race volunteer puts a rose in my hand and drapes the finisher's medal around my neck, and I have tears in my eyes.

I have run the New York City Marathon.

A week later, I'm in San Jose, California, where my company is holding a big customer meeting. When they introduce me -- the headquarters guy from New York City -- they mention that I completed the New York City Marathon last Sunday.

I rise at my seat, and 320 people applaud me.

And standing there, my feet still sore, I think: "If pride is not forever, a week will do just fine."


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 11:10:00 -0400