Let’s Run a Marathon: Wisdom from the Streets of NYC”

“The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” -Lao Tzu

The year is 1996, Delilah is spinning some smooth adult alternative on the radio. It is way past my bedtime on a soft summer night leaving Staten Island in my mom’s maroon LeBaron. If you know, you know. Then it happens a token is exchanged a engineering masterpiece of many named, the Verrazano Bridge rises in the night. In those days, my imagination profoundly referred to this structure as the “Christmas Tree” bridge. A pathway to reality that was a young parochial school child’s existence in South Brooklyn.

Fast forward – a clear, tame November day. A touch of fall dampness serves as a reminder that the seasons are keeping us honest by indicating the end of summer. I was able to train and attend the marathon not as a wide eyed city kid, but as an athlete with intention to meet fate in Central Park. The emotions leading up to this day were a tempestuous tsunami, which led to the body focusing on the job it had to do. Living through Covid, working in mental health and remembering 9/11 as a child all flooded like runners to a pre race Porto San stop. All thinking that the wide eyed kid was gone, but I was wrong.

The cannon starts and a melee of people approach the illustrious “Christmas tree” bridge. Myself at a loss for words due to the 21st century problem of my blue tooth earphones being unable to “sync” prior to the start. Never in my life would I have thought I would experience this day in its fullest. Time was no longer linear on that bridge. Space was relative and I am pretty sure the visual experience of seeing for miles on either side of the bridge was something a person could only achieve if they spent a small fortune on psychadelics. The energy was addicting. Strangers became running friends. The electricity that I knew was the backbone of New York City and the 5 boroughs began to ignite then and there.

The slight duress of starting a 26.2 mile trek uphill was neutralized by the echo of the greatest neighborhood in the world, Brooklyn. The slingshot approach on to fourth avenue was laughter, tears and the echo of Tony Bennett’s “The Lady is a Tramp” in my budless ears spiked not only my heart rate but my spirit as well. My pace started to lock in. Completely sympatico with strangers. Stride for stride brought reminders of racing thoroughbreds while watching the Kentucky Derby as a kid from a Brooklyn Stoop. Signs with non cancel, no holds barred pop culture references started to bolster the momentum for mental spirit for the next 15 miles. Millenials and generation “Z”ers hung from outdoor bar patios fueled on Rose and reckless youth. Glad to know they had had a few for me and it was still only high noon. I continue my trek, counting steps, watching gait. Channeling the strides of a gazelle yet knowing the reality is that I stand my ground like a flexible yeti. I approach the area where I see my family. My cousin’s three children holding signs and staring at me like a local super hero. The childhood innocence personifying the truth and warming my soul. The theme continued throughout the rest of the marathon. High fives from kids of all ages, wonderment and presence. Something I feel that adulthood dims in us on numerous levels. I reflect gratefully on this as I write this because these experiences were sacred.

4th Avenue Shenanigans…

Onward one foot after another, strangers became old friends. Connection was seen in a city that has been riddled with controversy and aggression. The city in its natural form has always been a place of hope and beacon of opportunity for generations, which has been tainted by pain and hurt in recent years. Love truly does heal and it always wins when we allow ourselves to connect and laugh with our fellow man. A concept that the marathon personified. My running buddies found me at a time in Brooklyn of course. To this moment, I continue to feel moved by how there are so many in our lives who want to see us win if only we just show up and allow it. Seeing my college bestie and her husband reminded me of how far this journey has truly been and how love and support in its true form is limitless.

The Mighty Quinn found in Brooklyn.

Two boroughs down and my mind begins drifting to my time in High School. I despised running. Never thought I belonged on a track or on a course. The perpetual mental dialogue of not being good enough in all aspects of life. The echos of emotional despair start bursting through the flood gates. “Flo you’re too tall, too fat, too loud…” Goodness the voices gets louder. This must be the wall it’s coming. You’re not a runner what the hell are you doing, you can’t do this…” “Oh, wait, but I am. With a minor mental reframe, the lies are exposed because with every step forward I am no longer oppressed by the expectations of those who do not even dare throwing themselves in to the fight. The Rocky IV soundtrack echos in my memory, drowning out every shot of mental venom arising. “There’s no easy way out…” “Am I hitting the boogie down or Manhattan?” The sound of reggaeton followed by Dua Lipa veils the distance. WE MADE IT TO THE BOOGIE DOWN….. Lord have mercy… The block party continues….. then the pain starts to announce itself. Time for some completmentary gatorade, an energy gel and a few bachata steps. Regroup and off we go.

Every step becomes intentional. The feet start crying, but onward, you came this far kid and if you learned anything this weekend, family legacy is stronger than a flaming muscle. Being the first person in the immediate family to run a marathon is a “why” not to be taken lightly. 59th Street Bridge…. I was warned of this. OK- head up, game on…. pop two tylenol.. here we go. The first mile of the bridge was a purgatory shared by me and my non elite running peers. Silence. Symphony of sneakers maintain a rhythm. I try to do running math to stay occupied but then something grabs my eye. An para-athlete, determined in conquering the bridge in his wheel chair and pot holes making the process extra complicated. I stay close to see if I can help but do not impose. As I pass this man, expecting to see strife in his face, a tenacious smile from ear to ear becomes contagious. The site mixed with foot pain causes a lump in my throat, tears stream down. God what a gift to be alive in this moment. Tylenol kicks in and the downhill of the bridge rallies myself and fellow compatriots of masochism to take off for the negative split.

At this point, I really do not know what avenue I am at just moving. I remember my aunt and her wife telling me they’d be by the bridge. See they put me up and fed me pasta the night before, which does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I focus in on the crowd. One of my missions this day is to acknowledge those who supported me as best I could. Whether it be by a nod or a hug, gratitude was my fuel today. Then I hear them, I see my sign and in a split moment I lock eyes and throw a wave to them both. Thank god, my stride and pace came down post bridge, because people were still watching (once a millennial, always a millenial #livingmybestlifebish). Hugging every person I know on that route is probably why I had to settle for the time I had, but oh well that’s why I go by “Flomo” not “Flojo” my apologies for the confusion of greatness.

Oh Manhattan, you over priced, pretentious, brunch eating hooligan. We meet again. More gatorade, more water, negative thoughts rear their head but are extinguished by the fun loving New Yorker’s holding signs referring to urinating in public and referencing Donald Trump running anything. Breathing stitches are replaced by belly laughs. Could it be delusional? Probably but Sunday is my day off from mental health so onward we go. More extended family or good friends pop up here and there. Pain is deafened by gratitude once again.

Many thanks to the DiDonato Clan for being out there and capturing this.

25 miles in – Central Park is in sight. I have already had a taste of it at that initial loop. Columbus circle is around the bend. Then BOOM……calf muscle tolls its bell…. a cramp sets in. I actually feared losing my balance a falling. I pull to the side to regroup. It takes a minute to refocus. Over the past 5 previous miles I have been fighting the inner demons that have held me back for 31 years. Emotionally, I feel like Rocky in the last fight against Ivan Drago. I shake out what I can and keep moving. Then I hear my name. Surprisingly, my folks found a place on a crowded stretch of the final two miles and were able to see me. Just the perfect distraction to transcend the calf cramp.

Time to send it home. An overwhelming numbness overtook me in that final stretch. Tears of joy, really. How the hell did I do this? I mean I know I am not fast and will not be qualifying for the Olympics any time soon. The experience of that day will be a gift I treasure for years to come. It is true what they say that, it’s really just about being a kid who refuses to give up. The more we are kicked down, the more tenacious we rise in the Arena. It was not until after I received that medal after crossing the finish, that I realized the act of radical self love that marathon was. You have to love yourself to keep going, to know what you deserve. Many times it is not pretty and it hurts on all levels. However, at the pinnacle of the pain there is alignment. Mind, body and spirit unite and there is stillness. Stillness that reminds us of what truly matters in life and how it begins with allowing use to show up as our authentic self. With these uncertain times, all I can say is this is just the beginning, an awakening. Finish lines are only truly pit stops.


3 thoughts on “Let’s Run a Marathon: Wisdom from the Streets of NYC”

  1. so so so love this! so happy I could help you on your journey….. couldn’t be prouder of you and all you accomplished.. so much more to come!


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