“I Love NY, Too!”

(This is either two months late or a week early)

I remember being ridiculously mad at the conference organizers for not interrupting the keynote speaker to tell us the news.  On September 11th, 2001, I was attending a conference at the Lowes Hotel at 12th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.

Nearly two hours earlier, terrorists had attacked the Twin Towers using two commercial airplanes, and news was already unfolding about possible crashes at the Pentagon and Western PA as well.   Once we were told: silence.  After gathering up my belongings, I left, immediately trying to call loved ones.

We all remember the spectrum of emotions we felt from those moments on and the days and weeks after that.

That night in Philadelphia, it struck me how quiet the city was….eerily quiet.   Nobody was honking their horns, conversations ceased.  Some friends and I met up at a local restaurant, and sat outside speechless.  Still stunned, not wanting to believe it was real.

Five days later, thousands of runners, including me, would be doing what is now known as the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon (then known as the Philadelphia Distance Run or PDR for us Philadelphians).   Of course, there were mixed emotions: “Should I still participate in the race?”   Also, there was uncertainty whether or not there would even still be a race; however, when they announced it was still on, the decision was easy: I would be running.  My first half marathon would be run with a heavy heart.

This was the first large-scale Post-9/11 road race, and the patriotism was everywhere.  Reds, whites and blues popped up from the spectators, and some of the runners were even carrying flags, a sight that is typical for larger races now.

Before the start, names were read of the PDR entrants killed in the terror attacks.  This was followed by “God Bless America.”  There was not one runner with dry eyes.   For those of you who remember, the PDR used to start on Market Street, facing due east, right into the sun.   This was even more challenging with tears in the eyes.

An emotional race was run, and there were even more tears at the finish line.   This was the beginning of an autumn filled with fear,  anger and tears.  Coincidentally, it was a time in which I happened to be training for my first marathon: Philadelphia.

While training that fall, there was the fear of more terror attacks.   My runs on Kelly Drive were carried out, but with a cautious look up to the skyline here and there.  I remember hearing and seeing an airplane again for the first time during one of my runs.   I simply looked up, stopped for a bit, took a deep breath, gathered myself and moved on.   Clearly, the world was different now.

As race day neared, I eventually focused more on the actual marathon.   Normal runner’s fears returned: taper angst, logistics, pre-race jitters, etc.  Despite the anxiety, I tried to soak in how special the marathon would be.

Everyone remembers their first marathon; however, with my first being so soon after a Post-9/11 reality, I felt the need to do a little something to honor those we lost.  It was simple: Instead of my usual Phillies bandana, I would be wearing one with the American Flag. Second, I decided to wear an “I Love NY” shirt.  It wasn’t much of a tribute I guess, but it was something I thought to myself.

On race day, the same emotions that I felt during the PDR returned.   Tears and determination followed.

As far as the race itself, well I made the rookie mistake of going out too fast, so the last 10k was a torturous eternity.   At one point, I didn’t think I would finish; however, I started to hear cheers from the crowds, and people kept saying the same thing to me:  “I LOVE NEW YORK, TOO!”

“Why?” I thought.  “OOOH, the shirt!”

These cheers kept me going.   They put me back on point: I thought, “this is nothing compared to what many families have been going through.”  I eventually finished with all of the emotions (and then some) that go along with finishing one’s first marathon.  Obviously, it felt good to accomplish something like this, but it also felt good that life was continuing on.   We will never forget, but we also remember to live on.

So, next week is the ten year anniversary of my first marathon, and my wife and I will be celebrating it by running the Philadelphia Marathon again: Fitting.  It must have been a coincidence then that during a recent long training run, I could have sworn I heard someone say “I Love New York, too!”

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