When I was in elementary school, I remember every kid around me buzzing with excitement about the Harry Potter books. Gryffindor this, Malfoy that, Hagrid who? Why were people so obsessed? Although I was curious, I wasn’t curious enough to pick up the book and read it myself (I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t much of a reader growing up).
Sure, when the movies came out, I went to see all of them. And yes, I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, and went on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London while studying abroad in college. But I was never what you’d considered a ”die heart” Harry Potter fan because I didn’t read the books. And I was okay with that—although I did always wonder what I was missing out on.
Fast-forward to this past July when I found out I got into the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon. It was emotional, exhilarating, and frightening all at once to commit the time and money to train for a 26.2-mile run—but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’d already ran three half-marathons at that point, but I couldn’t help wonder how in the world I was going to double that over the next four months. I knew I needed something more than music to keep my training going (a.k.a. not get bored out of my mind) so I did what any other helpless soul would do—I asked my co-worker buds!
Once they got over the fact that I had never read Harry Potter before (you know, the “OH MY GOD did you even have a childhood?!”) someone suggested downloading the Harry Potter audio books narrated by Jim Dale. At first, I was a bit hesitant, wondering how a British man reading a book word-for-word would keep my legs moving. But since I hadn’t found time to sit down and read a good novel in what seemed like forever, I figured I might as well give it a shot.
The first day I listened to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or “Sorcerer’s—whatever version strikes your fancy) was during the longest run I’d ever completed during training—a 12-miler. I pressed play and a high-pitched melody started, followed by the calming voice of Jim Dale. The scene opened with Vernon Dursley, Harry’s uncle, encountering strange happenings during his morning routine. Immediately, I thought, “This didn’t happen in the movie…” And in just a few moments the unthinkable happened: I was hooked.
Two hours of my life had never flown by so fast—let alone, while running. I completely zoned out as I zoomed loops in Central Park, listening to the many voices of my English friend and a storyline that felt entirely different from the movie. Sure, most of the time I was imagining Daniel Radcliff as Harry Potter and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, because that’s how they were first introduced to me. But the new characters and the plot twists I never knew existed kept me on my toes, quite literally.
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And so, my Sundays consisted of tacking on two more miles every other run and, more importantly, getting to find out what’s happening next in the magical world of Harry Potter. 14 miles, 16 miles, 18 miles, and finally 20—my peak before tapering for the marathon. It’s important to note that this was my very first marathon, and I decided in advance that I wasn’t going to race it for the time, so I didn’t track my pace rigorously throughout my audio book runs.
Of course, there were days that I craved a bit more than just a distraction—I needed a melodic tempo to keep me going—which is where spontaneous music came into play. But for almost all of my long runs during training, Harry Potter and his friends helped me fly across the park and hit my mileage goal—just like catching up to the golden snitch and winning the Quidditch game. Moral of the story: It’s amazing what your body can do when you’re not over-thinking your every move.
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And before I knew it, it was time to run the marathon. I had the fourth book ready to go—my favorite movie and the book that my HP addict friends and co-workers said was the best. In all honestly, one of my favorite memories from the morning of the race was telling fellow runners I was planning on listening to Harry Potter the entire time. Their faces lit up—tears swelling in some of their eyes—as they eagerly told me about their childhood memories with the beloved series. After that, I felt more confident than ever that I had chosen the right training tool.
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During the actual marathon, though, it was a bit challenging to keep track of what was going on in the book, due to the energetic spectators along the entire route. I listened to the book on and off for the first 14 miles, then decided to run with no music for a couple of miles while I passed my friends and family, then switched to pump-up music until mile 20. But it was while I was running through the Bronx and glimpsing at the signs that read “F*ck the wall!” that it was brought to my attention what part of the race I’d reached.
For all of you who don’t know about “the wall,” it’s one of the things that marathoners dread the most. Between miles 20 and 26, your body starts to really shut down and scream “WTF!?”, since you’ve been running on mostly sugar for the past few hours. Once I acknowledged that this part of the race had come, I started to feel my vision get a bit blurry, and my mind tell my body that I’m tired—but then I snapped back into focus. I refused to give in.
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And that’s when Harry Potter came to the rescue. I tuned into my audio book, zoned out my surroundings, and tried to focus on the voice of Jim Dale describing the campsites at the Quidditch World Cup. And just like in training, the audio book did the trick. Before I knew it, I was making my way to Central Park just miles away from the finish line. And for that, I will be forever grateful to my co-workers, Jim Dale, and—of course—J.K. Rowling.
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One more thing I will never forget about this Harry-Potter-meets-marathon experience: When I was around mile 23, I passed by a woman who had a Hogwarts shirt on—she was going slow and looked like she had little energy left in her. As I ran by, I took out my ear bud, gave her a thumbs up, and said “I’m listening to Harry Potter right now!” She looked at me first with confusion, next with surprise, then finally with happiness—and it seemed like, in that moment, her energy spiked. And as I ran further away, I hoped that the thought of Harry Potter would help motivate her through the rest of the race—just like it had for me.