Friday, July 30, 2010

Report from My (and the) 1st Ever Jrunners Relay Race

In my running career so far, I have run 14 marathons, 12 half marathons and 131 races in total covering 1028.8 miles.

Absolutely none of them – none! – could come close to the excitement, fun, energy and butterfly-inducing frenzy that was the 1st annual Jrunners Relay Race that took place on July 28-29, 2010.

My involvement began when every human being I’ve ever met alerted me via every method of communication man ever devised (yes, including smoke signals and carrier pigeons – their extinction notwithstanding) that there was this relay race being run in the summer from Prospect Park to the Catskills.

One of the organizers contacted me as well. His pitch was something like, “So we have this race –“ to which I responded, “I’m in!”

Okay, it was slightly more complicated than that, naturally, but I was in after allaying my security and safety concerns.

The months leading up to the race were spent recruiting, fundraising and doing my usual marathon training. The mile totals for my proposed three legs fell perfectly in line for where I was in training distance - minus the hills of course - but nonetheless in perfect parallel with my training.

Fast forward to the expo which took place two days before the race, which was an exciting experience in itself! It was awesome to meet fellow runners, reacquaint myself with old friends, get motivated and as a bonus, to stand on the spot where my office used to be more than a decade ago when the club we were in was a company I worked for called Econophone.

I met my teammates, and we split ourselves up into Team A and Team B. The plan was for team A (me, Jonathan, Ariel, Martin [no, not me] and Mordechai [no, not me]) to be the sprinters and for Team B (Avi, Roy, Yaacov, Avrumy, Nuchem) to be the haulers. Team A would establish leads, Team B would maintain as they conquered the hills.

That night, I could barely fall asleep. My eyes popped open at 3 AM and stayed that way until I rolled out of bed at 5. I felt queasy and lightheaded and my stomach was grinding and butterflying. Basically, my typical pre-marathon jitters. Needless to say, I was nervous and exCITED!

The above was the same for the next evening. I barely got any sleep. Butterflies are annoying for even just a half hour. They’re downright torture when they last more than two days!

I spent pre-race day at work, entirely distracted, and exhibiting a case of restless leg syndrome such that the DSM IV has never seen. It was so severe that a colleague passing by my cube actually said, “Hey bouncy! Take it easy, will you?”

At quittin’ time, I ran out of there like I heard the classroom bell, shuttled and trained and bused to my mom in Brooklyn, got dressed, had a protein-and-carb rich dinner and zoomed off to Prospect Park for the start. Before heading in to the park, my mom cautioned me – as she always does – to begin with my right foot. Will do, Mommy.

The two hours before the race were spent in a frenzy of activity, loading up RVs with supplies, getting race numbers, receiving instructions, listening to dignitary speeches, meeting more friends I haven’t seen in years, confirming leg assignments, and all the time, without end, trying to shake off the nervous energy and butterflies wrecking my system. The only cure for this? Running.

So at 9:16 PM, we were off. Team A jumped into the car and sped off to the first exchange. Team B jumped into the RV and rumbled off to the first major exchange in Fort Lee to rest up and switch with us when we arrived.

All cars got there ahead of their Leg 1 runners and handed off smoothly. Jonathan came off the bridge, slapped the identifying bracelet onto my wrist and I was off like I was shot out of a cannon (yes, I started with my right foot). I hightailed it down Chambers Street and hit a red light on the West Side Highway, so up and over the bridge I went. When I set foot on the highway and began sprinting North, I suddenly realized that the humidity was seriously affecting me. The air was simply not comfortable to breath.

My stomach was killing me, and I was slowing down and the air felt like tangible friction and at 46th St, at the Intrepid, I came to a stop. I had a Tums in my pocket, swallowed it, guzzled some water, breathed rhythmically, and picked it up again at 49th, keeping the jets going until I hit the exchange at 59th and handed over to Martin. At that point, we were in fifth place.

At the next exchange, Martin rolled in at second place position, displaying a confident stride as he rambled up. The stride is emphatic, and looks like he’s punching a wall. He possibly wastes considerable, valuable energy this way, but it does look cool and confident.

Martin handed to Mordy, who suffered through the humidity and brought us into 1st place, empathizing with me about the disgusting humidity.

At that point, some news hijinks reached the runners. One Jrunner had gone over the Manhattan Bridge by accident and cabbed back to exchange 1. Another team’s second leg runner wilted in the heat and the first leg runner completed the second leg as well!

While everyone discussed amongst themselves, we hightailed it to the first major exchange, had some food, listened to some music, checked on each other’s conditions, when Ariel came motoring in, having climbed some serious hills to get here and maintain first. His performance was so impressive that I dubbed him Alpine (one of the G.I Joes I had as a kid was a mountain climber named Alpine).

We switched into the RV, Team B hopped into the car, and off we both went.

We didn’t sleep a wink in the RV, as the excitement was contagious and palpable and the Jrunners sign on the side of the RV kept clunking in the wind.

At the second exchange, Team B rolled in last, having suffered some mishaps. One of our guys vomited and another developed back-spasms. Ouch. We were 33 minutes behind second-to-last place. No problem. They were hurtin’, but we were supportin’.

Team A in the car now, team B in the RV. Alpine kept climbing, Jonathan kept it steady, Martin punched emphatically. I ran through the rain and was nearly assaulted by two deer. It took me a few minutes to get my heart rate back down. I also ran past a dead deer, and was nearly tripped up by several bullfrogs (as was Jonathan, who actually had to skip over one!).

While I was out there, Mordechai yelled from the car that Nachum Segal just mentioned my FaceBook posts on his radio show. I thought he was kidding and was just trying to motivate me, but I learned it was the truth. Cool. I also learned that my pre-NYC marathon salt bagel routine was mentioned (correction, I have my salt bagel intra-Marathon, which I get from my mom at mile 4.7). Interestingly, I was mentioned on JM in the AM last year when my name was brought up as part of TeamOhel when Nachum asked who was the most seasoned marathoner on the team. Perhaps one day I’ll get to speak for myself.

Mordechai then braved the rain and the route 17A hills before we were all called back to Monsey in the face of lightning up ahead and for a very necessary breakfast before continuing. Upon completion of his leg, Team A had sliced 15 minutes off the lead time of the next team ahead of us.

For breakfast I had french toast and eggs and tuna and bagels and veggies and fruit and coffee and orange juice and apple juice. Ahhhhhhnumnumnumnumnum!

Team B in the car. Team A in the RV. We were so exhausted, we all actually managed to catch a few winks.

Team B was on some serious hills at this point, grinding through. One of them hurt his knee, but finished his leg with moxie and we designated Alpine to run his final leg for him. Alpine is 5”7’, 128 lbs of true grit.

At exchange point 20 we switched up again, still in last place, but not lacking for pride. Team B tackled monster hills, including leg 16, which had a 500 foot ascent that lasted for a mile. Fear-inducing, but they made it.

Team A took over and skipped over mountains, leaped over hills (get the reference?), but at this point, it was smack in middle of the risen, scorching sun of the day. To keep each other cool, we sped ahead of each runner with the car, jumped out and dumped cold water on them as they passed.

The first two legs worked so quickly up the hills that we gained 13 minutes on the next-to-last team.

As Alpine climbed through mile 22, a lady stepped out of her house as he motored past and asked if she could make a donation. Now that was nice.

I took leg 23. The elevation chart showed a slight uphill and mostly downhill. This was the only elevation chart that was wrong. It was uphill most of the way, but I never stopped. At one point I took a right turn 2/10ths of a mile out of my way, but the Jrunners support crew corrected me, and I ran an extra 4/10ths and many extra hills as a result, but I kept repeating the mantra “Tougher than pain, tougher than pain” and I completed my leg and handed off. I gave it everything, everything. I emptied the tank, all of it.

At exchange 25, my Aba came to fetch me, as I had a wedding to go to in Brooklyn. I hugged my teammates and wished them well and felt like a heel for bailing, but I had to go.

At the wedding, I promptly fell asleep in my soup. Almost literally, I am not kidding. A schnorrer poked me in my shoulder as I was dozing, and he said, "It's not so bad, it'll be ok.”

I stayed in touch with my team throughout. Alpine and Mordechai took over portions of legs for our hurt team B comrades and ran beside them for support. Warriors all. They crossed the finish line with power, pride and passion two hours behind first place.

In the end, Team 3 embodied the words of the great Steve Prefontaine, who said, “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.”

We were not the fastest, but we had the most guts.

I was with them in spirit at the end and hope to be with them in the flesh next year.

And may the person we ran for, Menachem Mendel ben Gella, be strong and be well.

-Mordechi (Martin) Bodek, runner 2, Legs 2, 14, 23, Team A of team 3, AKA El HeHarim.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Hadran Aluch Maseches Makos!

The learning was done in honor of Menachem Mendel ben Gella, the person for whom I'm running the relay race later this month. May he have a refuah sheleimah.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Finished Another Book!

The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande - An excellent discussion for a proposed resolution to a major problem. Gawande's style is very Gladwellian. He posits the lowly checklist to the reader as a solution and sells and sells the point with numberous quick digestible examples. Fascinating though, is what he and Gladwell attribute flight heroism to. Gladwell says it's training and decision making. Gawande says its procedure. Calls to mind another Gladwell "argument" with Steven Levitt about the crime drop in the 90s. Gladwell says it's the "broken windows" phenomenon, Levitt says Roe vs. Wade averted the birth of criminals. These debates, and this book, are absolutely fantastic