I wanted to run the New York City Marathon. These days, the entry process is a mix of a lottery and several categories of guaranteed entry based on different criteria. But in 1998, the process was first-come, first-served in this order:
1. New York City residents (five boroughs)
2. New York state (outside the boroughs)
3. The rest of the Tri-State Area (New Jersey, Connecticut)
4. The remaining states
5. Outside the U.S.
This process was for the everyday runner. Elite, internationally recognized marathoners – who run five-minute miles, some in bare feet – engage in a different process. In 1998, I was living in Hartford, Connecticut – group three.
The marathon is usually early November. The starting gate for the entry timeline in 1998 was April. Applications had to arrive by mail only, postmarked no earlier than the specific date given by the marathon organizers. So, if the required postmark were April 12 or later and an application arrived with an April 11 postmark, it would be disqualified. Think you might get a leg up if you use express mail? Think again. Marathon entry guidelines clearly stated such applications would be disqualified, too.
A couple of days after the appointed date I drove to a Hartford post office and dropped my application in the mailbox. I assumed my envelope would travel the 110 miles quickly to Manhattan. How long could it take?
Oops, Try Again
As soon as I learned that I hadn’t made the cut for the New York City Marathon, I decided, instead, to run the Marine Corps Marathon in northern Virginia. (Pictured above at the start of the race).
Next, I began my application process for the 1999 New York City Marathon. Though I did not get into the ’98 marathon, I intended to run it in ’99. I had lived in New England too long, relaxed and casual as I was applying for the race in 1998: it was time to get my “New York” back on.
I checked the marathon Web site to learn when the guidelines would be posted. I monitored the site periodically for a year. As soon as the organizers posted information for the ’99 race, I prepared my package:
I placed all my documents in a #10 business envelope, sealed and stamped it.
Then I put that in an 8 x 10 manila envelope addressed to my father who was living in Manhattan.
I enclosed these instructions:
On April 12 please hand-carry this envelope to the MAIN POST OFFICE in Times Square. Please arrive right when the doors open. I believe it might be as early as 7 a.m. If you can get there earlier, even better. DO NOT put this envelope in a slot, box or any type of receptacle. HAND IT TO A HUMAN. Ask the employee to postmark it in your presence. Watch where he puts it so that it doesn’t land in a black hole. Phone me afterward. Thanks so much, Daddy. I love you.
I phoned my father several weeks before to review the plan. I phoned to let him know when I had mailed the envelope from Connecticut, and the night before his assignment.
My father called the next morning to tell me the mission was complete. He said, “I think you’ll get in.” I said, “I’d better.”
And I did.