It’s Kind Of Like A Marathon (A Feature Story)

The following article of mine appeared as a feature story in “Exit Zero Magazine” in the November 2011 issue. 

Cape_May,_New_Jersey_1777I’m a marathoner.  I guess I became a marathoner shortly after I became a runner on April 19, 2010.  I know the exact date because it was the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.  We were living there in 1995 and, on the day of the blast, my wife and I felt our apartment building rumble as our three week old daughter lay between us on our bed.  We felt a significant loss that day.  So, on April 19, 2010, I set out on a run that would honor those who could no longer run for themselves.  It was a quiet gesture, one that only I would know about, but I felt certain that those for whom I was running would somehow know I was doing it for them.

Until that day, I’d never run more than a three mile stretch in my life and every step I’d endured on any run prior came with the mantra, “I hate running…I hate running…”  On the evening of that anniversary day, however, I was somehow compelled to run five miles.  It was a distance that seemed long but possible.  So, with my thoughts fixed on those who had passed and the loved ones left behind, I set off.

About an hour later, I returned home triumphant. I had pounded out the five miles and, to my surprise, had done so with a purpose I’d never had before.  The feeling of joy that accompanied my conquest was at once satisfying and emboldening.  I felt like I had done something important; something that, in a very small way, had lifted my spirit to connect with something greater than myself.

My wife Malisa and I were able to enjoy a brief vacation in Cape May this past July.  A year ago, we found one of our favorite B&Bs, The Bacchus Inn and were pleased to be able to return this year.  On the second evening of our stay,  Malisa and I were sitting on the porch when a man named Jim Crist came over and introduced himself to us.

“I understand you’re a runner!”  he said, with his hand outstretched.

“Yes, I am!” I answered, with confidence and a bit of wariness at the same time.

“I saw your ‘26.2’ sticker on the back of your car and thought maybe you’d like some company on a run, say, tomorrow morning, 6:30?”

“Sounds great,” I said.  “I’ll meet you right here on the porch.”

The next morning, I met Jim out on the front porch, bright and early.  We limbered up a bit and set off, Gps watches firmly locked onto their satellites.  We turned down Howard St. toward the beach and crossed up to the Promenade and headed south.  As I took in the morning sea air and felt the wonderful morning ocean breeze, I looked over to the businesses across the street.  The night before, long after the sun went down, virtually every store and miniature golf establishment was still brimming with business.  That’s fine now, but how’s business in November?

Now, I’m not completely naive.  I know Cape May is a seasonal town, but I couldn’t help but wonder what local merchants who live and make their living in Cape May do after Labor Day.  After the summer months have gone, how do they stay afloat  the rest of the year?

Jim and I fell into a nice steady pace and when we arrived at the end of the Promenade, turned around and moved into the street.  I let Jim lead.  He’s been coming to Cape May for vacation with his wife since before they were married over 30 years ago. He led me through the downtown, passed the waking Washington Street Mall, out to Sunset Beach and back along the sand.

As we made our way back to the Inn after what amounted to a 10 mile tour of the island, I thanked my new friend for the experience and such good company and headed upstairs for a shower.

I could live here.  I could run a little business right here in Cape May! 

Whoa!  Let’s not get crazy here, ScottThat’s a marathon of a different color! 

People often compare things to a marathon.

“Getting through that Statistics course was like running a marathon!”

“Yeah, well, my business meeting was a marathon.”

In truth, though, while many things can take a long time, there really isn’t  anything quite like running a marathon.  At least that’s what I thought until I came to Cape May this summer.  A marathon is more than just the race day event itself.  For me, it’s about the journey: training, ups and downs of eating right and at the right times, getting enough sleep, and many other preparation activities that take up the twelve to fourteen weeks that precede race day.  The entire experience of running a marathon, from the training right on through the actual running of the race itself, is a commitment to a way of life. When all is said and done, a runner spends an inordinant amount of time preparing for something that lasts a relatively short time. But, in the end, it’s all worth it.

“A marathon is a great analogy to what we do,” says John Matusiak, owner/operator of The Bacchus Inn on Columbia Ave..  “Our race really takes off in May and is an all out push to Labor Day.  After Labor Day, things definitely slow up until they come to a final halt after New Years.”

John and his wife, Lisa, run their Inn for the same reason I run marathons: they love doing it!  As I talked with them, I could tell how much joy it gives them to run their business.

“I get to spend people’s ‘happy time’ with them. It’s great!” said John.  “People come here to get away from it all, to be on vacation.  Lisa and I get to know them and do what we can to make them comfortable.  It’s really a wonderful thing.”

And, they make it all look effortless.

When I first got serious about running, I re-watched the movie, Forrest Gump. If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember the section of the story where he sets out on a run and just keeps on going.  Soon, he gets some company and, before too long, Forrest has unwittingly become a leader and a symbol of the American running boom of the 1970s. At one point, as Forrest is recounting his running days to a friendly stranger on a park bench, we see Forrest running alongside beautiful scenes of nature, and he does so with ease and grace in his stride and carriage.  Forrest made me want to find that effortless joy in running, just as John and Lisa inspired me to help make people feel comfortable and at home.

Dolores, at Cheeks Apparel on Ocean St., gave me that same feeling of ease and comfort when I walked into that interesting little boutique. Jim and I had passed it on our run, and it looked like the epitomy of a quaint, small town shop.  When I walked through the front door, Dolores greeted me with a warm smile.  I told her my name and what I was writing about, and she was more than eager to talk with me.

“Tell me what Cape May is like after Labor Day,” I asked. “What happens to this town once the ‘money months’ have gone by?”

“It’s a completely different town,” she said.  “Those of us who stay through the winter look forward to the special occasions like the Jazz Festival and Christmastime but it’s certainly not what you get in the Summer.”

“How’s business in the off season for you?  What do you do to stay open?” I asked.

“Well, we have a pretty strong online business.  We’re a destination store.  People go online or call and order from our warehouse, so we stay pretty busy,” she said with confidence.  “People will sometimes make special trips to purchase older stock.  We’re definitely busiest in the store in the summer, though.”

Cape_May_Light_NJ

Heather Wright, who works at Soma New Art Gallery, grew up in Cape May.

“A marathon is about right,” she said, as we talked the day after Labor day.  “It sure does feel like one!  I work virtually everyday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Everyone does.  But once Labor Day passes, well, you can see, everything changes.”

She was right.  The race was clearly over, or at least it was down to the last few walkers.  A town that, only a few days prior, had been, to put it mildly, a difficult one in which to find a decent parking spot, was now replete with spots convenient to just about anywhere one wished to go.  The Summer race run, most everyone had moved on to their Fall pursuits.

“There’s definitely a bit of seasonal depression that goes on,” Heather told me.  “When I say there’s nothing to do here sometimes, I mean, there’s nothing to do.  It’s literally like a ghost town.”

“How do people combat that?” I asked, concerned. “What do they do?”

“Well, a lot of people take the off time to travel. Some go lay on the beach somewhere tropical because they couldn’t find the time to do it here during the summer, or some people just go somewhere to get away.  When they come back, they’re ready for a new season.  Getting away renews them.  It refreshes them.”

I can relate to that.  Resting is so important.  A runner has to give himself time to recover before he plans for his next big race.  If it’s too long a time, though, he might get too used to the complacency, and that’s no good.

John and Lisa can relate to the need for rest as well.  The couple take their family away during the winter months.  With The Bacchus Inn’s shutters closed, the Matusiak family head out for their own respite.

“We’ll go away after our last guest leaves after the New Year,” said Lisa, with a warm smile. “We like to travel around and see what’s working at other B&Bs.  If I find a neat new breakfast entree, I’ll tinker with it and try it on our guests.  We like to give them something new once in a while.”

“We try to use our downtime wisely,” John continued.  “I go through the house and work on little projects.  Last year, we made some renovations and we needed the time to get it all done.  When you guys got here in July, we were glad to see you all.  We were ready for people to get here, you know?”

One of the main reasons I love to run long distances I find hard to explain to someone who doesn’t like to run.  Running quiets me, giving me a sense of peace and harmony with the world, as if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing at that moment.  Thankfully, running has helped me transition that kind of consciousness to what I do for a living.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.”  I don’t know who said it, but it makes sense to me.  And when I come to Cape May and meet the business owners in this small town who break their necks with the greatest of ease in order to serve their clientele, I smile; mostly because I know they love what they do, but also because I know the joy of a marathon accomplished.  So, congratulations, Cape May.  You did it again.  See you at the starting line next year!

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