Given that I dislike New York and loathe marathons, I enjoyed the New York City Marathon immensely.
It started well – I managed to avoid getting peed on from the upper deck of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I’ve always maintained that during the early stages of a marathon, it’s advisable not to be soaked in urine. Particularly someone else’s.
Random micturation apart, the Bridge is a great way to start a race. Linking Staten Island with Brooklyn, it used to be the world’s longest single-span suspension bridge. Its architect had to take into account the curvature of the Earth’s surface.
Away to the left, the financial district of Manhattan glittered in the precise autumn sunlight. It seemed dauntingly distant, and I felt like the Cowardly Lion catching his first glimpse of the Emerald City.
However, like the Wizard of Oz, the myth of Manhattan is much grander than the reality. Up close, it has always seemed to me like a house of cards, built with a greasy, dog-eared, old pack and teetering on the very verge of collapse.
In the 1930s, it was the exuberant expression of a great dream, ‘The City Beautiful’. Now the mirrored summit of the Chrysler Building gleams like a broken promise above a grey and weary wilderness.
Manhattan’s streets have endured for too long the weight of too much concrete, too many people. We weren’t made to live like this, and the city built upon a mistaken assumption is now sagging – a massive, impossible monument to failure.
However, right now, Manhattan is 19 miles up the road – a road that curls like a gigantic number nine, up through Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx. The route affords some amazing vistas. In Brooklyn we charge up a broad carriageway, straight as a die, towards a soaring, brownstone cathedral.
The sight of all those people, 15-deep, six miles long, has a biblical quality. Not for the first time during this extraordinary ritual – except for a tiny few, this is not a race but a pagan rite – I felt I was borne along by a river of humanity, energised by it and protected.
Just as well. For months after my less-than-Herculean performance in San Diego, I’d trained like a sober, responsible grown-up. I’d waved away the wine waiter, politely declined the fourth helping of the Spotted Dick in the Vodka and Valium Custard.
And then, just three weeks before New York, I got bored. I dived headfirst into the chalice of Mammon, abandoning exercise, sleep and vitamins in one fabulous, self-immolating firework display of stupidity.
In 20 days I had aged as many years. I was like the mad scientist in The Fly. One minute I could walk on the ceiling and snap the wrists of arm-wrestling rednecks – the next, my teeth were dropping out, coarse black hairs were growing on my back and I was dissolving in my own saliva.
Also, I was experiencing the odd twinge in the right hip, which I was convinced was the onset of osteoarthritis.
As usual, my long-suffering Sandra did the packing, sorted the accommodation, confirmed the tickets, found my passport in the potting shed, booked the cab, fed the dog and poured me onto the plane.
I tried to follow the in-flight movie, which was called Godzilla. While it was way beyond me intellectually, I grasped that it was about someone coming an awful cropper in New York.
As portents go, it didn’t seem to bode at all well...