“You haven’t come this far to stop.”

Over 50,000 runners took part in the New York Marathon in November 2018. And I was one of them. I had decided to participate the year before, selling myself the event as a sightseeing opportunity: “You’ll see parts of New York you haven’t yet seen!”  That was good enough motivation for me, because to me New York is the greatest city in our modern world and – well, I just have to see it.

The most intense months of training were September and October and I flew to New York in November determined to finish the race.  

Everyone says that running a marathon is physical and mental. It became apparent as I was running how important it was to manage and control the little voice in my head to keep it on my side and help me get the race done.

I began the event on an emotional high, jumping out of my friend’s car and walking to the check-in point. I ran into other marathoners who were walking there and I resonated with their buzz and excitement.

The starting gun went off and I started running down the bridge looking across the water at the city skyline. I saw the Empire State Building in the very, very far distance and thought: “Hm, I need to run all the way up there – and then some.”

The Brooklyn leg of the race was all novel and exciting. Still emotionally high, I ran at my usual pace and took in what was around me. People were lining up the streets and cheering the runners. I thought: “Wow, how nice of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning and support runners they don’t even know!”

I spent a good part of the race reading up the signs that they were holding up – some of the funniest reading that “Toenails are for losers!” and “If Britney made it through 2007, you can make it through 26.2 miles!”

And so I ran happily all the way up to Km 20 in the hipster part of Brooklyn. Past that point, I started to feel tired and my initial excitement turned into doubt. The voice in my head began muttering:  “What have you got yourself into?”, “Maybe you should go home”, “I think I would like to stop for brunch.”

I hit the notorious runner’s wall crossing the bridge from Queens into Manhattan. I had so much lactic acid in my legs that my calf muscles felt like exploding and I wondered whether or not I would be able to use my legs or keep any toenails post-event. I was pissed off for signing up and I wanted to throw a full-blown tantrum – in the middle of a bridge! – but I said to myself: “Keep going you idiot, you haven’t come this far to stop.”

I suffered all the way to the Bronx (roughly Km 32). Gatorade gels, frequent pit stops, several songs on my iPod and the signs that the crowd were holding up kept me through phase. The one that cracked me up the most was held by this guy who had a pint in one hand and the sign in the other – it read: “I’ve turned up because they said there would be beer.”

Finally, I got to the final 7 Km. I most likely ran the way Elaine in Seinfeld used to dance by this point, if you remember her moves. This lady on the sidewalk handed me a fist-full of salt, which I gulped and which saved my life. “God is a marathon runner”, I thought.  

The final 5 Km were the most emotional. No matter how much I ran, I still could not see the finish line and there was always another left or right to take. Finally, I saw the end stretch and dragged myself past the finish line.

I learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing being that if you prioritise your final goal and coach yourself through highs and lows, you can get there!

*Delivered as Speech 6 at Toastmasters London Business School, 13th March 2019.

New York: Working Up An Appetite.

A stroll on Perry Street; a visit to the Whitney; a visit to the New Museum; a visit maybe to the MoMA, because why not; coffee at Sweetleaf; dinner at Salt & Charcoal, because I have to have that sushi again; dinner at the Hakkasan, because I have to bust out my best outfits when I am in New York. An ice-skating session in Bryant Park, because I have put this on hold since last winter. A meeting at Toastmasters and another one at The Father’s Heart, because I need to see my friends.

Suffices for one week.

Alice Austen’s House.

To get to Alice Austen’s House, you need to take the ferry from Downtown Manhattan into Staten Island. I did just that one Saturday afternoon at the start of January keen to make sure I ticked the location off the list of the 111 places I should not have missed in New York.

Staying true to my passion for walking, I decided to walk to her house from the Staten Island Ferry Station, although some passers-by advised me to take the bus. I did wish I had taken the bus, as I noticed that the road I was walking down veered in the direction of a back street full of warehouses that did not necessary show a trace of a human foot.

As I was walking down the street, I was hoping and praying that it would lead to the destination I was hoping for. And that I would not end up on the front cover of a newspaper the following day. Quite literally, this was one of the two occasions when I felt like slapping myself for not being more careful with my whereabouts especially when I am miles away from home. The other occasion was during a trip to Naples, when I ventured to see the certezza that sits at the top of the city and walked for half an hour up back streets that looked like they had featured in Cosa Nostra.  

Alice Austen was one of the first photographers to document New York life and society at the end of the 19th century – early 20th. She left behind an impressive collection of over 9,000 photos. Some of them are on display in her house, which has been converted into a museum.

I was ecstatic to find the place eventually and reach it safely. Looking around, my favourite photos were those of the Staten Island Hospital, photographed in the early 1900s. I also liked a photo illustrative of a medical check that an immigrant to the US went through at that time at Ellis Island.

Another thing I enjoyed about Alice’s house was the furniture. The parlour was specifically interesting, as it displayed various pieces of furniture faithfully recreating the mood of the past. The dark room, where she spent a lot of hours working on her photos, is a real window through time.

The New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library is one of those emblematic New York buildings, right there on the map of the great buildings that make the city memorable, alongside the Empire State, the Chrysler, Grand Central Station and the Waldorf Astoria.

Built in the 19th century with support from the Lenox, the Astor and other wealthy families of the time, the New York Public Library feels like a gift to the city. It is a welcoming building, with a welcoming entrance and an even more welcoming and grander lobby.

Walking up the stairs from the ground to the first floor, taking in the marble stairs and the chandeliers, it feels like you are walking through a place that needs to be respected and admired.

The Grand Reading Room, its painted ceiling and thousands of books make you feel like you’re in some part of heaven. The part where they keep all the intel on everyone. I expected a very wise man to come to me dressed in a luminous robe, take me on a journey, talk to me about life and share with me the secrets of the sage.

From Cradle To Grave.

There are many things in a city that tell a story. Old buildings tell a story, old streets tell a story, museums and art galleries tell another story, the official and the polished one.

The back alleys, the derelict buildings, the gardens whose fences have been broken and never fixed, the cars that have been abandoned on the side of the street, the graffiti – they tell another story. It is the behind-the-scenes story of people that do not make it to the front cover, families that are broken, artists that go against the mainstream and try to leave their mark in their own way, and inconvenient truths that challenge accepted wisdom.

Whoever you are, wherever you are and you are from, wherever you happen to travel, you will always stop in front of a graffiti to interpret its meaning. Its obvious meaning, its symbolic meaning, its hidden meaning. I know I do. 🙂

It happened to me as I was cruising South Williamsburg to find a wall inked with this interesting and eye-grabbing graffiti on tobacco. It was a metaphor on how tobacco can smoke your life away from cradle to grave. The tables had turned and people were no longer in control of their lives; tobacco was in control of theirs. You’re born, you smoke; you grow up, you smoke, you get old, you smoke. You die and you smoke your way out of the world like, so many others almost as if you were on a production line. Cigarettes have put a nail in your coffin and there are a lot of coffins. As the French would say, il y en a beaucoup.

irina-gheorghe_from-cradle-to-grave.jpg

Bryant Park.

I love Bryant Park.

A jewel of a place.

With me since the first time I visited New York, took the 7 into Manhattan, got out at 42 Street, lifted my eyes and saw the skyscrapers opposite the train station; then turned left and saw the sea of trees and the park.

With me when I went back to New York last year, got up one morning, got a cup of coffee and walked to Bryant Park, sat on a bench and enjoyed it ahead of 10am when everyone was going into work.

With me last winter, when I was walking up and down Manhattan, stopping at the Bryant Park winter fair, admiring the skating rink, trying out the Facebook VR booth, and window-shopping at the different winter shops.

With me when Marnie and I went out for a walk one Friday afternoon, stood at the bar in Bryant Park and lunched in the New York cold. Actually, Marnie had a drink. LOL.

It will be there the next time I am in New York. Fresh and quiet, quietly quieting down the noise around it.