Lebow sees the national telecast of next week's marathon as a breakthrough for the sport. "It'll vibrate everywhere," he says, "and probably renew the running boom, O.K.? Maybe it'll start a whole new running boom like nothing the world has ever seen. Just think of it!"
Treasurer Roth and the hard core of folks surrounding Lebow are equally pumped up: Indeed, the entire mansion often seems to be populated with gaunt, hollow-eyed people gliding about silently in running shoes—and going off on "little runs around the park" instead of to lunch. Roth sees Lebow as a visionary spreading the word. "Fred's not altruistic," he says. "He's not getting money from this job, he's getting power. And through power, he has more influence on running than if he took a salary." And the small, dedicated band of insiders clearly feels the same. The club hasn't conducted a general membership meeting in two years, and where the membership once produced token candidates to run against Lebow, in the last couple of years there haven't been any elections. An election had been announced for April, but because of pending changes in the bylaws, it was postponed. Roth says that for those who don't understand that it's all for the good of the game, "some of this creates a vague feeling of unease." "Well," says Lebow, "it could be a cause for some concern if maybe I lived in a big penthouse apartment and drove a Mercedes."
Fair enough: Those ready to accept the big picture must make this key adjustment in their thinking: The New York Road Runners Club isn't really a club in the traditional sense; it's a tiny fiefdom just off Fifth Avenue, a monarchy run by a benevolent tyrant.
And now Lebow, in the still of a late evening, sitting in the mansion, reflects on the twists his life has taken because of his need to run; sometimes, it seems to have left some barren areas. At one point, about eight years ago, he was seriously dating just one woman—in fact, living with her. He takes her picture out of a desk drawer and stares at it. She looks softly feminine, not at all athletic. "She wanted a commitment from me," he says, "but somehow I kept putting it off. And then she gave me a sort of deadline: I would have to decide on our future by the end of the year. We would get married or go our separate ways. I agreed—but I had just started running seriously, and it sort of slipped my mind, O.K.? And then, this one day, I was flying home from a business trip. It was New Year's Eve—a bitter cold evening with gusts of sleeting rain. We had been invited to a black-tie dinner party; she was all excited about it. But I got to reviewing my running diary on the plane and..." Lebow pauses and winces at the memory. He had promised himself—he had sworn—that he would run 2,500 miles that year. And now, going over the figures in his diary, he was still 19 miles short. And the year had about run out.
"I hurried to the apartment," he says, "and she was all dressed for the party, in a stunning gown. It was about 6:30 p.m. or so, and the party was to start at eight. I slipped into my running clothes. 'Darling, just these last 19 miles,' I told her. And I went out to Central Park, in the most biting wet cold ever, and I ran as fast as I could. Then, just to make sure—I couldn't bear the possibility of coming up short—I ran a couple of extra miles. I came back at ten, O.K.?, showered as quickly as I could and got into my tuxedo. She was barely speaking to me; we arrived at the party too late for the lovely dinner. But there were still drinks and dancing. And soon after midnight—there among all the laughing, happy people and the hugging and kissing—I looked around and...she was gone."
Lebow tells of trudging home alone in the sleet and of finding his packed suitcase out in the hall and the door locked. "There was a note on the bag," he says. "As she had warned me, we were through. It was my fault, of course. And then, there was a P.S. After packing my bag she had re-added all the figures in my diary. 'Your actual mileage for the year was 2,531,' she wrote. Oh, my...."
Lebow believes he has learned something from that bitter experience. "I have started seeing other vimmin again," he says. The next time, the next love, will surely be different. "I was always in running clothes," he says. "Maybe she would have liked to see me wearing something else occasionally. I was not attentive enough to her; I was always distracted by running. I wonder if it's possible to love two things at once: a fine voman and running."
And Lebow puts the picture away. Next time will be different. Meanwhile, he looks around his office contentedly. Meanwhile, there is the club, the club, the club.