Some people are made to run, I thought to myself again on Sunday morning as I watched 1,600 or so of those type of folks file past my Syracuse city home during the second Syracuse Half Marathon.
I am a walker.
I knew that way, way, way back in my life.
The determined racers of all speeds made my think back to my running past, and the moment I decided it was not for me.
I was in elementary school, a kid who always was trying to round up others in the neighborhood to play sandlot whatever in the park that our house in the Long Island suburb of Levittown, N.Y., backed up to.
Baseball and football in the grass. Basketball on the paved court.
You name it, I loved to play it, running up and down in short spurts.
Then a neighbor, Mr. Greene, thought that I might come along to run in a CYO track meet with his kids, my friends Kevin and Timmy and Susan.
There must have been some talk between he and my parents, I’d guess, because off I went on a Saturday morning to the track outside the local Catholic high school.
Mr. Greene told me that I’d be running in the half-mile. He asked me if I’d ever run that far before.
I asked how many laps that would be around the track, an oval that looked like it’d stretch to New York City if you straightened it out.
Twice, he said.
I lined up with a couple dozen other elementary school kids. Either somebody yelled, “on your mark, get set, go,” or somebody shot off a starter’s pistol.
In any case, off went the pack.
Some of the kids were running like I did from home plate to first base. Some of the kids were running like I did from the basketball court to our house when my mom called me for dinner.
I was running slow. I knew that because everybody else was immediately in front of me.
I hated it. I couldn’t breath. My legs felt like lead. My breakfast of cereal threatened a cameo reappearance. I was a full half-lap behind when I saw the commotion of the winner crossing the finish line on the other side of the track.
I trudged on.
Mr. Greene came up to me from the inside of the track. He walked beside me as I ran on. (He was a tall, athletic guy, a gym teacher by trade who had played minor-league baseball in the Boston Red Sox organization and officiated college basketball at night and on weekends.) He told me I could stop if I wanted to. I loped on until I crossed the finish line last.
I saw Mr. Greene smile when I did.
Now in a perfect world, this Rocky-like tale would have motivated me to become a four-minute-miler, or at least inspire me to run laps around the blocks of Levittown until I got faster.
It did not.
I decided that I would limit my running to the spaces inside the games I so dearly loved.
Otherwise, I’d be the one walking.
I loved to walk. My grandpa on mom’s side walked every day in Brooklyn. I used to hear the neighborhood kids call him “The Walking Man” when I’d join my Pop Pop around those streets of Brooklyn every time I visited. It was in my blood.
When I lived in Maryland, one of my rented-house roommates knew I liked to walk around the path that circled Greenbelt Lake. He showed me how to power walk. We’d heel-toe around that path together at speeds that rivaled folks out for a casual jog.
Yet if I raised my feet a couple inches higher to jog, I’d pant and lose my breath and have to stop with a stitch in my side almost immediately.
When I covered music for the big daily in Syracuse, every summer I’d be assigned concert duty at the New York State Fair. For two decades, I’d park my car in the dusty lot, walk to an afternoon show at the free admission court, walk to the media building, write my review, walk to the paid-admission grandstand night show, watch the concert, walk back to the media building, and write my second review. Then I could walk back to my car and drive home. For 12 days straight.
The deadlines made me walk fast. And the New York State Fairgrounds outside of Syracuse is very large.
My dear wife Karen would accompany me sometimes, and she’s be wary of what she called my “state fair walk.” I learned to slow down and she learned to speed up.
When I turned 50, we joined Gold’s Gym. I loved the indoor track. I’d put on my state fair walk and book around that thing for an hour straight. Other walkers would admire my speed and endurance to me out loud.
Nowadays I walk the neighborhood with Ellie B, aka Dogamous Pyle, or I walk the mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA, aiming for every day and at least a half-hour.
I still love walking.
But when I watched those people run with a purpose, with 13.1 miles on their mind Sunday, I wondered, just a tiny, little bit:
Why not me?
What do you prefer, running or walking? Do you have a memory of a race you ran?