Marathon runners sure are skinny.
That was my first observation when I joined the New York City Road Runners. I'm not talking about Mary Kate Olson skinny, but it was my impression that most of them could've used a trip to one of those "meat and three" restaurants back home. As my Uncle Jerry from Coldwater, Miss. is prone to say, "Them boys need some meat on their bones."
A few months ago there was a running expo at New York City's convention center. Some of those dear folks looked like they were near starvation. I just wanted to stand in the middle of the hallway with a bucket of the Colonel's secret recipe, saying, "Sir, please, you need a fried chicken leg."
But in the world of running, thin is in. And when I showed up -- well let's just say that I stood out like a cheeseburger at a PETA meeting. There you have it folks, Todd Starnes is the Chris Farley of the racing world. And on the day of the marathon, I'll be the pasty white guy crawling towards the finish line just a few feet ahead of the street sweepers.
My training for the marathon has been pretty intense. It started about six months ago. My cousin Billy, from New Jersey, has been fairly instrumental in whipping me into shape. He runs cross-country for his high school -- and that boy can flat-out run. He managed to accumulate most of the athletic DNA in the entire family gene pool.
A few weeks ago, he called boasting about his body fat. "It's just 5 percent," he said. "What's yours?" I hung up the phone.
In all seriousness, Billy has been a true inspiration for me as I've been preparing for this race. During the summer, he got an amazing job as a lifeguard in Atlantic City. Every day last summer, he put his own life on the line to help others. He had at least four saves on the beach - not too bad for a 17-year-old.
Here in New York City, my good friend Blake Henry has been handling my training. We run together in Central Park -- sort of a modern-day version of the Odd Couple. He's a svelte, highly trained running machine. He looks like he stepped out of one of those men's fashion magazines.
I, on the other hand, don't. I suffer from an over-active sweat gland, wear oversized jogging pants and breathe heavily. It's not a pretty picture, folks.
Without Blake's coaching, I would not be running the marathon. He's instructed me on basic running form and things like stretching (which I didn't think you're supposed to do before you run).
You need to be motivated, Blake and Bill are always saying. So during the early stages of my training, I wore a hat with a contraption on top that dangled a Twinkie just a few feet from my mouth.
I'm proud to say that I now run a 9:30 mile. A year ago I was running a 14 minute mile. God bless the Twinkie.
Another part of my training included weekly races in Central Park. These were hosted by the New York Road Runners and featured thousands of participants -- some athletic and others not so athletic.
During one race, I was feeling particularly chipper. I was moving along at a pretty fast clip and even passed a few folks. Needless to say my ego was growing by leaps and bounds. But it quickly deflated minutes later when a 90-year-old speed walker blistered past me wearing a headband and purple leg warmers. He gave me a once-over before he chuckled and waddled along the race course.
I secretly wished he got a foot fungus.
And then there was the time that I was beaten by those two chain smoking Italian guys and a one-legged runner. That was nice.
I suppose that's what is so great about running. Ultimately, you are competing against yourself. Whether you are 90-years-old or 19, it's all about finishing the race.
There are going to be 37, 000 runners racing for a medal on Sunday and each one has a special story to tell. Some are fast. Others are slow. Some are young, others not so young.
And as the Olympic runner Frank Shorter reminded me, it's not how fast you run the race, it's how you finish. I'm hoping to finish standing upright -- or at least breathing. Yeah, that's a pretty reasonable goal, isn't it?