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November 10, 2017

Running with Men

My New York Marathon started from a tiny, gated-off section of parking lot lined by Porta Potties. This was the orange corral, wave one, starting officially at 9:50 AM. I was in with the masses. And they were mostly masses of men. I qualified for the marathon with a time from a half marathon I ran in Brooklyn a couple of years ago and that time had landed me in with the pretty good, better-than-average recreational male runners.

In the corral, it was close quarters. People squatted against the chain link fence separating us from another corral. People sat on the ground. People stood and shook out their legs. I saw a few other women, but no more than ten. It was truly difficult to comprehend and process the amount of people around me; it was hard to see more than the five or six people in my immediate surroundings.

I asked one man who was rubbing off-brand Icy Hot all over his legs if there was any way I could have a sip of the unopened water bottle in his bag. I hadn’t been able to find any water after draining my own bottle. He told me I could have the whole thing.

When race officials opened our corral to let us out to the start line, it was instant chaos. Like someone had put a bunch of cats in a bag, shaken it, then let the cats out. Men in line for the Porta Potties ran to the doors and banged on the plastic for the current occupants to hurry up. Runners shed their warmups and dropped long sleeves right where they stood. Rumpled piles of damp sweats dotted the ground in an inscrutable pattern.

The crowd moved to the bridge, where the start line was. On the bridge, men peed along the edges of the barriers until urine ran in patchy streams down the pavement. I felt a weight in my own bladder and wished I’d had time for one more Porta Potty trip before getting shuffled to this new waiting spot. I hoped I wouldn’t have to, but figured that peeing myself during the race maybe wasn’t the end of the world. I moved to the middle of the blob of people to avoid the errant hands being slipped under waistbands of shorts, watching where I stepped as I went. I didn’t see any women peeing.

People spoke quietly to each other with an assortment of accents. Our collective nerves jittered in synchronization each time another announcement was made by the heard-but-not-seen race officials.

And once the cannon finally sounded and my race started, I was again, mostly surrounded by men. Any time I saw a woman up ahead, I made her my beacon.

“There’s a girl. Get to her.”

It felt good to see them. We didn’t verbally acknowledge each other when one of us passed. We were focused, conserving our energy and trying to stay zoned in. But when I did pick my head up and look around, mostly it was a sea of guys. Dudes in split shorts, basketball shorts, half-tights, hats, sunglasses.

After being separated at the start, my boyfriend and I found each other and ran a little over four miles together, side-by-side. Talking, but just in spurts–and only one-word answers from me. It made me so happy. We ran by a group of friends screaming and waving and holding signs of rappers’ faces (well, actually just one rapper’s face). It was surreal.

Not long after we passed that group, Paul dropped back. I crested a little hill and saw maybe three or four women in the stretch of hundreds of people running ahead of me. Without thinking, I used the downhill’s momentum to tick a few more people off and pulled up to the left of two bearded guys running at a pretty good clip.

Beard #1 to my right noticed my presence and from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw him do a double take noticing my gender.

“Good job,” he said, with equal parts surprise and skepticism.

“Thanks,” I mumbled, trying not to use any extra breath.

Then he turned to his friend and said, loudly, “Really hope I don’t get chicked more than five times this race.”

I didn’t look at him, but my body reacted. I had never heard that phrase before, but I immediately knew what it meant. I felt my shoulders inch toward my ears. Who did he think he was? Despite knowing that I shouldn’t let myself get worked up (my race plan specifically dictated that I was supposed to operate as an emotionless robot for at least the first 14 miles), annoyance and legitimate anger filled me and–still not ever turning my head to see his face or stare him in the eye–I said “fuck you” and passed him, easily.

I will remember that dude for a while. He’ll be: that guy who had an issue with getting passed, specifically by a woman and felt it was important and necessary for that woman to know he didn’t want to be passed by too many others.

But, there were other men I’ll remember. The ones who made signs for me, who cheered my name. The ones who were strangers on the course, but still pointed my presence out to the crowds and raised their hands to make sure the crowds applauded for me. (Seriously, that guy was like my own personal hype man and I’ll never even know his name.)

There was the anonymous (tall) angel of a man who helped block the wind for me on First Ave. The men who gave words of encouragement on the course, who cheered me on genuinely when I passed. The men who congratulated me afterward, who bought me flowers and drinks to celebrate. The men who were not threatened by me running something close to my loftiest goal.

The man who rode the shuttle with me.

The man who walked with me after I crossed the finish line and offered to hold my bag.

The man who ran through the rain with a bag of dry, warm clothes, to find me when my friends couldn’t make it right to the finish line.

The man who gave me training and confidence starting back in August.

The man who drove me to workouts and then home and cooked me food again and again.

The man who has always told me, “nobody can do what you can”, and sent me an e-mail the night before the race that said, “everyone that worked there was blown away by how strong you were…I remember that. I don’t know if you remember all that.”

This is just to say that, yes. That guy who didn’t want to get “chicked” and made sure I knew it, well he sucked. But there were a ton of other guys involved that did not suck. Not at all. Men are people, and some people are shitty. But some, (and I truly hope most) men are confident in themselves and better equipped to deal with the idea of supporting someone who is doing just as well as them, or better, and happens to be female.

And one more thing–the women. Well, it was my experience that not a single woman did anything to make me feel less than royalty before, during, or after the race.

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