Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My 13th Marathon Run

On November 2, 2008 I ran my 11th NYC Marathon and 13th Marathon overall. This is the story:

Training: My training for this race was my best ever. I had run more miles than I ever had before (350+ miles worth of training runs and races), had a better diet than ever before (Omega 3 oils, fish, nuts, fruits, no soda, little juice, minimal snacks, little red meat), weighed less than ever before (2 lbs. over my wedding weight on my pre-carbo-loading-Shabbos weigh-in), had awesome sneakers (Adidas Microbounce) and finally figured out the best socks possible to prevent blisters (Thorlos).

I was ready, man was I ready. All I needed was proper pre and mid-race nutrition and good weather and I could easily have my PR (4:24:36) in my sights.

Erev Marathon: I spent Shabbos eating heartily - snacking on challah and nuts and fruits and yogurts and salty foods and water - and sleeping as much as I could, since I always anticipate having enough jitters to keep me from sleep the evening before the race. Motzei Shabbos I continued carbo-loading, including my favorite macaroni dish (it’s my favorite because it’s the only one I like).

On a full tummy, I went to sleep. The operative word being “went” as opposed to “fell,” which didn’t happen. But I’m used to that and un-concerned, because I learned recently that lack of sleep has no effect on your aerobic capacity. Interesting.

Marathon morning: I crawled out of bed at 3:45 AM, proceeded to eat yet more hearty food including waffles and granola bars and an egg sandwich and more fruits and water, water, water.

At 5:30 AM, my cab arrived and whisked me to the Meadowlands where a bus took me and what seemed like 40 French men and women to the start.

Once there, I took my “before” photo, grabbed some (kosher!) bagels and hung around the Marathon Minyan, currently in its 26th year. The organizer of the Minyan mentioned afterwards that today was Fred Lebow’s (founder of the NYC Marathon) yahrzeit, and that the next time the Marathon would fall on his yahrzeit would be 2103, long after our running days were over.

Boy was it cold, as they say in Yiddish, it was “moiredig!” It was so cold, pieces of skin were cracking off my body. No, not really! It was bitter, bitter freezing. My toes were icicles. People were using anything they found to keep themselves warm. Garbage bags are common, but some people huddled in cardboard boxes, stood in front of the exhausts of power generators, and clustered together in the few tents that were available. I found bubble-wrap and wrapped myself up in it. I looked silly, but I was warmer than some others. My Sportshell™ wasn’t warm enough.

My buddy Mordechai (I spell it without the “a”, good thing or else you’d be confused) joined up with me following davening and we headed over to the start together. On the back of his red t-shirt he had written in big letters, “It's my first time” and in smaller letters underneath, “Be gentle.” I had my usual Superman t-shirt, with “Martin” written above the symbol. On my back I had a sign that said, “If I’m walking, pat my back, thanks!” and another that read, “Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says ‘despair is forbidden!’”

Start: This year the Marathon organizers introduced a wave system to combat the general runner congestion, and it worked. There were three waves and we were in the third. As soon as we were released into the flow of runners it took us only two minutes to get to the start. Mordechai saw the race unfolding in front of him and he said, “This is so cool!” I said, “I know!” and the P’TOOM! of the cannon was sounded and to the music of Sinatra’s “New York, New York” I gave Mordechai a pat on the back, hit the start line with my right foot (as my grandmother always told me to do) and we were off.

Mile 1: We totally missed this mile-marker. I think it was because we were distracted by four Chinook helicopters flying in formation, coming at us from the left side of the bridge. No matter, we were in a good groove, immediately into our race paces because there was so much room to maneuver because of the wave starts.

I noted that the bridge this year wasn’t bouncing back up into our legs, probably because thousands of fewer legs were pounding into the bridge. Very, very interesting.

Mile 2: Our first downhill, into Brooklyn, and Mordechai encouraged me to attack the downhill and ease up on the uphills, which he would do over the course of the race. In turn, I encouraged him to attack corners, as running a 26.3 mile race was not necessary.

We tossed our extra layers of clothing (no, I wasn’t wearing bubble-wrap anymore) at this point. Mordechai tossed his gloves, I kept mine.

Mile 3-4: We were in a perfect pace rhythm, the weather was nice, with gentle winds at this point. So far, so very good.

Mile 4.7: First family stop! Let’s see if I can remember correctly: There was my former mailman, his wife, my mother, dad, three sisters, my niece and the commissioner of my baseball rotisserie (Pshew! Hope I got ‘em all!). We stopped for photos and pick-up of bagels, Powerade and orange wedges.

A runner passing by admired my orange wedges and asked if he could have some. Sure he could, and I gave him a couple.

Mile 5.7: Second family stop! My father, mum, and little twin sisters were waiting. I got more bagels and Powerade, got in another photo-op and off we went!

Only the morning after did it suddenly hit me that in the space of a mile, I met all of my collective parents and all of my siblings. That is such a pleasant and delightful thought and I won’t take the experience for granted.

Mile 6: There’s a family that hands out bananas here annually, but I couldn’t find the banana give-outers for some reason. Oh there were plenty of banana peels, but I couldn’t locate the actual bananas. Maybe they were refilling. Nunu, next year.

Mile 7: Cruising, still in perfect rhythm, no pain, plenty of gain, hydrating properly, all systems go. I popped a salt packet at this point to prevent hyponatremia.

Mile 8: Bushwick, or as I like to call it, “Cowbell Country,” because I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell! (Two points for the first person to get that reference - no, not you Yaakov). I don’t know, there must be a cowbell store in this area, or a cowbell importer hands out freebies here, because the clang-a-lang here is off the charts.

Mile 9: Big, yummy downhill. Mordechai attacks it and I fall in line, zipping after him. We make some good time here without burning up too much energy.

Mile 10: The heart of Williamsburg. I give Mordechai a guided tour. There’s the Satmer Rebbe’s house, there’s my grandmother’s pad, my uncle lives there, my dad used to live there, etc.

Still the most annoying part of this stretch is the overwhelming need of the locals to play Frogger with us. Often they lose (what’s the sound? “Wah wah wah?”), boy do they lose.

Both of us needed to answer the call of nature. Miracle of miracles, we find a park at South 9th St. with a bathroom inside. Also inside are runners waiting for the one urinal. So sue us for answering the call on the bathroom instead of in the bathroom.

One block later, I met my cousin-in-law, Shushie (think she’s chasidish?). Nice to see her!

Mile 11: Somewhere around here usually stands a fellow who hands out Twizzlers beneath a sign that says “Twizzlers, kosher!” I didn’t see him these year. Open letter to that guy: Come back! I need my Twizzlers fix!

Mile 11.5: McCarren Park. This park became popular in the wake of several articles highlighting the Charedi/mixed race weekly baseball games, a la that opening scene in “The Chosen.” As my father tells me, baseball games in his youth used to not be so peaceful. There were fistfights to determine who’d get to play that day.

Mile 12: Uphill. A long uphill. And at the end of the uphill, I can glimpse the worst uphill of all, the Queensboro Bridge. I start cursing, Mordechai tells me not to worry, we’ll make it. Hope he’s right.

Mile 13.1: Halfway! Woohoo! I hit the mark at 2:08:20. Doubling that, I would clobber my record to pieces. We’re in great shape as we head into Queens.

Mile 13.5: There was a huge sign that I can’t remember verbatim, but it said something like, “Chabad Kosher Powerade for runners, something something something.” Though there was no Lubavitcher there and no Powerade left. I’d later get more information on that table:


Never mind the annoying posts.

Mile 14.0: I can see the Queensboro again. I don’t like that bridge. I mutter some more and Mordechai gives me more positive encouragement.

On the approach to the bridge, I looked for ways to encourage myself from within. My usual marines to whom I yell “hooha!” weren’t there, but the crowd was great and 4-5 people deep at that point. There’s always good music playing here, and the song coming through huge speakers is “Sugar, We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy. Hey, I’ll take it. I ask Mordechai to give me a pat on the back, he gives me one, here goes nothin’.

Mile 15: We make the left turn onto the Queensboro, I hit the ramp with my right foot, and we ascend into the blackness.

Then, as if we rehearsed it, we have a conversation as follows:

Me: Gesher tzar me’od, huh?

Mordechai: V’ha’ikar?

Me: Lo l’fachad k’lal!

Mordechai: You bet your sweet .

I then notice something. The bridge does not seem as bleak as it did previously. It seems the soot-covered scaffolding that has been there for years has been removed, and suddenly the bridge is slightly brighter and cheerier. Mordechai helps us keep a slow, steady pace and I pick my chin up so I can look ahead. This is diametrically opposed to my approach from previous years, which was to pound over the bridge with my head down. This works better.

A few hundred feet into the bridge, we notice a runner splayed out on the ground, surrounded by other runners, screaming for medics. In the distance, we see the medics hurrying to the scene. Uh oh, not good, not good.

Later I heard on the news that two runners suffered heart attacks and one died. I hope that the guy I saw wasn’t the one that died. Oy. The morning after, I looked for news items that covered this incident. It took purchases of several papers and free ones (Metro, AM New York) and massive Googling to gather the entire story together. Some coverage left out the fact that he was running with his wife, others left out that he took defibrillator shocks to get him revived. But the complete picture looks something like this:

On the ascent of the Queensboro Bridge, Jean-Louis Maubaret of France, aged 59, was running side-by-side with his wife when he suffered a cardiac arrest. A fellow runner administered CPR until the medics arrived and defibrillated him to consciousness. He was transported to Weill Cornell Medical Center and is currently in critical but stable condition.


The runner that died did so after completing the marathon and one other runner suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized.

Mi yichye, mi yamus, eh?

After witnessing this event, we continued our climb, slowly but surely until we were past the midway point with ease. I knew then that I’d run wire-to-wire. Whatever happens to me on the bridge dictates what happens to me over the rest of the race. I had conquered the bridge now for the 3rd time in 11 tries and each time I had run all the way to end of the race. So I knew I was going to finish while running, the only question now was in what time.

On the descent, we spot two runners dressed up as The Blues Brothers (although they both seem to be more in Elwood’s shape than Jake’s). I yell out, “The band!” Mordechai hollers, “Boy, they got everything in this mall!” They both look at us like we fell off the moon. Maybe they didn’t see the movie.

Mile 16: Mordechai says his foot and stomach hurts. Uh oh. I’m fine, though.

As we exit the Queensboro Bridge, I look for Mordechai’s family. They had called my cell while on the bridge to tell me where they were, but the crowd is nine deep and it’s difficult to spot a specific person, but somehow I do! Coming off the ramp, I look behind the course and I see them! Mordechai is hurting, and his head his down, and I have to grab him and pull him over to see his wife and two kiddies. I give his daughter a k’nip on the bekkeleh and he hands out kisses to all, and off we go. Boy is he grateful I spotted them and he says, “Thank you so much!” No problem, dude.

Mile 17: Mordechai’s in more pain, his foot, his legs, his stomach. I’m still fine, motor is running, minor aches, no problems, no blisters, still cruising.

Mile 17.7: I meet my brother-in-law (easy to spot, his Vikings hat really stood out in the crowd) and his son, who was sweet and shy when I ran up to them. I got a bagel and some swigs of Powerade.

Mile 18-19: We’re slowing down so Mordechai can manage his pain, and he is in pain. And I am not, I am so not. My training and diet is working.

Mile 19.7: I finish my bagel. It took me two miles two finish it, but I needed the carbs for the final kick, so I ate it slowly.

Mile 20: The Bronx. Do they not have money in their budget to pave their roads? Every square inch of this place, including the Madison Ave. bridge, seems like Asphalt was dumped and left to rot. I keep my head down and concentrate so I don’t twist an ankle.

Before heading into Manhattan I glimpsed Yankee Stadium, home of the 2009 world champions.

Mile 21: Mordechai needs to puke. Uh oh. (I won’t keep you in suspense, he didn’t end up puking).

On a happier note, we both hear a strange “rrrrrr” sound coming from our left. Somebody’s spinning a gragger! Haha!

Mile 22: Mordechai hits the wall, hard. I know he does because he tells me, “I just hit my wall.” I walk with him for about a quarter mile (can’t leave a friend behind), hoping he can regather himself despite his foot, leg and stomach pain, but at that point, he can’t. He releases me and tells me he’ll be okay. I pop in another salt packet, give him a pat on the back, a “take it easy” and off I go.

Mile 22.5: My family! My wife, daughter and son are waiting for me at their usual spot. My daughter’s wearing a t-shirt that says, “My daddy is faster than yours” (Yes he is!) and holding up a sign that says, “My daddy runs SO fast!” (that was her answer when the Rabbi of my shul asked her if she’s going to see her daddy run the race tomorrow). Oy, adorable. I give kisses all around, grab a bagel (too waterlogged for the Powerade) and off I go yet again, and boy do I go. I have energy to burn and I absolutely sail up 5th Avenue without any pain holding me back.

Somebody’s handing out bananas. I grab one. Yum.

Mile 23-26: I burn up the road as if I just started running the race. Everything I did up to and during the race is paying off. All my training is paying dividends right here. I’m cutting corners, I’m flying, I’m leaping over mountains and skipping over hills (get the reference?). I am an absolute steamrolling engine. I am a human locomotive. I simply cannot believe I have this much energy and this little pain.

Mile 26.2: Boo-ya! Woohoo! 4:29:10! My 3rd best marathon ever! My least pain ever! My best training ever! My most euphoric feeling ever!

Don’t tell this to Mordechai, but I had planned to give him a big fat bear hug (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) when we crossed the finish line. Since he wasn’t there I grabbed the next runner behind me and gave him a nice hug. He didn’t seem to mind.

Mordechai crossed in 4:48:38. After parting with me, he met my wife but couldn’t take any nourishment because of his stomach pain, but he did run slowly, walk and continue alternating to the end. Nice going, Mordechai!

My wife picked me up and we went to KD for my traditional two burger delights, onion rings, fries, pastry and kiwi-strawberry Snapple. And now, it’s nothing but junk food for the next two weeks, a celebratory cigar, a trip to the shvitz and a commitment to have the same diet and training next year. I’m going to break my record. I can and I will.

Kein yehi ratzon.

Motzei Marathon: The morning after I woke up to the least pain ever post-marathon. My worst booboo is a blackened toenail. No biggie. I can’t easily transition from standing to sitting and vice-versa, I have no joint pain, only minor muscle aches, but I do have a swelled chest.