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Jim Garrison died on October 21, 1992, at the age of 71.

October 21, 2017.

I’m running a half-marathon tomorrow. This is my fifth half-marathon, the AthHalf here in Athens. It’s the third time I’ve run the AthHalf; I’ve also run the Chick-fil-A half-marathon, also here in Athens, and the Soldier Half-Marathon at Fort Benning. The last one is my favorite because it is a flat course — Athens is unspeakably hilly; it’s like a little dash of West Virginia right here in northeast Georgia — and because when you start to slow down, an actual drill sergeant will yell at you to speed up. (Not surprisingly, this will cause you to speed up.)

It’s flabbergasting to me that I’ve run that many half-marathons. I started running a little about a decade ago, but I wasn’t organized or all that driven about it; it was mostly just the type of thing you do as an impotent first strike when you’ve just turned 30 and your hangovers last a little longer and you need a little more sleep and there’s a stray extra pound or two every time you get on the scale. Put it this way: I was still smoking when I first started running, and you’re a smoker, suffice it to say, you’re not much of a runner. (I used to have a cigarette as soon as I returned from a run, assuring it maximized lung damage in as compact a time period as possible.)

It wasn’t until I quit smoking, when my wife got pregnant with young William, that I finally started getting serious about running. I could breathe better, I could run faster, I could last longer. I had known runners before, dated runners, but I’d never quite glommed onto it as a dedicated activity. Frankly, I found it too dull. My favorite exercise remains playing basketball, because you are too busy playing basketball to even remember that you are exercising. Running was too much time alone with my own thoughts. I keep so busy precisely so I don’t have to do that.

But around this time, I started listening to podcasts obsessively, and that made all the difference. I could listen to a full Slate Political Podcast and barely even notice I’d been running the whole time. Next thing you knew, I’d just run five miles and I was smarter. Once I connected my podcast listening to my running, I was hooked. I found regular routes I enjoyed; my favorite was running across the Manhattan Bridge, which is less populated than the Brooklyn Bridge, has a side dedicated to pedestrians (no bikes allowed, because cyclists ruin all pedestrian bridges) and has the best view of NYC anyway. I began looking forward to work trips so I could explore new cityscapes by running around and through them. (Best running cities: San Francisco, Cincinnati, New York, San Diego, Chicago. Worst: Phoenix, Seattle, Philadelphia.) I started to build up my endurance and my speed, though I’ve always been more concerned with the former than the latter. After a couple of years of this, my wife, who got me into running in the first place, brought up the idea: Why don’t you try a half-marathon?

And now I’m on my fifth one. I do listen to music, usually driving, upbeat, intense music, rather than podcasts for half-marathons, if just because I want to run them a little faster. This is generally a mistake, though. Here’s my typical brainpath on each of the four I’ve run so far:

  • Miles 1-5. I’m doing great. I am so in shape! I am awesome. Look at all these nice people who have come out to cheer us on. I am just a super fantastic human being for doing this. I rule. And so fast! I am so fast!
  • Miles 6-8. OK, so maybe I didn’t need to run so hard at the beginning. Let’s try to pace ourselves a bit. Also, what’s that little twinge in my ankle? Was that there at mile five? Should I be concerned?
  • Miles 9-10. I am so slow. Why am I so fat and out of shape? I am too old for this. Oh, look at all these smiling people out there, thinking they’re so “supportive” by cheering us all on. Sure, it’s soooo easy for you to just crawl out of bed and wave. You should be SO PROUD OF YOURSELF. Wait ... did that guy just pass me? YOU MONSTER. I will pull out your skull through your neck and grind it into dust.
  • Miles 11-12. Why did I do this? Why did I think this was a good idea? What exactly am I trying to prove? Everybody hates you already, Will. This is a pointless exercise. You are a failure. Oh, you probably want to stop and walk, don’t you? DON’T YOU?!! Well, a useless sack of crap like yourself of course wants to stop and walk. Go ahead and do it. All these people will see how stupid and weak you are. And they will laugh. And you deserve every bit of their scorn.
  • Mile 13: This is the longest mile of my life. Are miles always this long? They must have mapped this one out wrong. None of the other miles were this long. This isn’t that hard. How can they screw up the last mile?
  • Mile 13.1-finish. I’m doing great. I am so in shape! I am awesome. Look at all these nice people who have come out to cheer us on. I am just a super fantastic human being for doing this. I rule. And so fast! I am so fast!

So you can probably see why I’ve never done a full marathon. It is quite enough to go through that cycle ONCE, let alone twice.

I wonder if this will be my last half-marathon. I’m 42 years old now, and the benefits I got from not starting to run until I was in my 30s (intact knees, still-connected spine) are starting to wear off. I’m a lot achier after runs, and I have to take more days off than I used to. Weather can completely wreck my run in a way it used to not be able to. I’m more nervous about this one than I was the last four. I’m just getting older. If it ends at five, that’s not a terrible number to finish on. Just be happy I’m not asking you to donate any money for each mile of my run. I put enough pressure on myself already.

Also, I have a flight to Los Angeles the morning after the race. I’m not going to be able to walk all week. Will it be worth it? Ask me at the beginning of the race, and at the end. But definitely not in the middle.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Yankee Stadium Is Roaring Again, Sports On Earth. The fun part of this column was rediscovering all these old New York magazine pieces I wrote back in 2009-12. I love that magazine so much. 50th anniversary edition out this week.

2. How Joe Maddon Avoided Turning Into Grady Little, Sports On Earth. FOR NOW.

3. The NBA Is at its Absolute Peak Right Now, Sports On Earth. Go Knicks! [cries]

4. Review: “The Snowman,” Paste Magazine.

5. Look What They’ve Done to Turner Field, Sports On Earth.

6. Coming Back From 3-1 Down Isn’t THAT HARD, Sports On Earth. Did not like remembering the 1996 NLCS, not one bit.

7. Confidence Pool, Week Seven, Sports On Earth. Missed my top two games last week.

8. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. Dive Dive Dive.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, discussing “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Marshall,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” and “Heathers.”

The Will Leitch Experience, NBA preview with Michael Pina and a fun sports/politics chat with Dave
Zirin.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, Missouri recap, second half preview.

All right, if I die tomorrow, try to remember me as the hero I want to be rather than the pauper I am. Have a great weekend, all.


Best,
Will