Monday, August 22, 2011

Report from My (and the) 2nd Annual JRunners Relay Race

Report from My (and the) 2nd Annual JRunners Relay Race


Martin Bodek

It was the best of times, it was the worst at times, it was the day of glory, it was the day of agony, it was the race of invigoration, it was the race of exhaustion, it was the relay of solitude, it was the relay of camaraderie, it was the Run for Hope amid legs of despair, we had everything in us, we had nothing in us, we were all pounding for Ohr Meir, we were all pining for the finish line - in short, the 2011 JRunners Relay Race had literal and figurative ups and downs, for individuals, for teams, for the volunteers, and for the organizers themselves. Overall however, the elevation - again, literally and figuratively, was a net uphill, and nobody could ask for anything more.

The following is my personal experience in the race, leg for leg. Liberties were taken when - due to the mad whirlwind of activity and my personal spent energy - certain events could not be remembered in their proper order.

Leg 0: Pre-race was filled with my captainly duties: wrangling beverages, arranging radio installs for the cars, co-coordinating logistics, and selling out the copies of my new book ( that I brought with me. I should have brought more!

Leg 1: We were off, for our team ("The WEeBLes" - acronym revealed only to those who ask) it was Adam Orlow whose boots were on the ground first. At about 5 miles into Leg 1, a Glatt Mart Cheering Zone was set up. We hurried over and welcomed in the runners amid a frenzied and joyous crowd. Adam was in 2nd place at that point by about the length of a random hair on my head (for those of you that know me and the degree of my challenged follicles, you'll know how close it was). I met members of my family there. It was delightful to see them. We took pics, regrouped and we were on our way to the Fort Lee exchange while group A toughed it out through Brooklyn, Manhattan and up the 9W.

Leg 2: As we headed up to Fort Lee, we learned that we were still in 2nd place, by 10 feet. Adam Goller was holding it down for us, and holding it down strong.

Leg 3: We (group B) made it Fort Lee, and tried to get some sleep. First I tried to sleep in the driver's seat, then the back seat, then the middle seat, then slumped against a tree, then lying down in the grass. Nothing worked. I resigned myself to the impossibility of actual slumber, but over the course of the day, I'd continue trying, but to no avail whatsoever. Meanwhile, group A was holding the position, but the lead team (Team 5, or the Slaughterhouse Five, as I'll call them) had opened a curiously large lead on 2nd place. Jonathan Pittinsky took this leg for our team and ran strong.

Leg 4: Pacing, lots of pacing, and bathroom trips, lots of bathroom trips, and nervousness and excitement. Lots of those too. Chezky Rand took this for our team and ran it well despite some nausea, and interpreted some dicey directions (through a tunnel and up some steps, tricky!) successfully.

Leg 5: Team 5 came in first, then team 8. Finally our man Avi Hornstein (hill-climber extraordinaire and veteran of the Tiberias and Jerusalem marathons) zoomed in and handed off to Yosef Landau, our plucky last minute replacement due to an injury to brother runner Steven Perel.

Leg 6: Yosef had a great finishing kick and handed off to Mordy Ovits, who had 7.7 miles ahead of him. The first half downhill, the last half way uphill. Throughout the race, we kept driving ahead of our runner, pulling off to a safe spot, jumping out to offer supplies and hollering encouragement. SOP for everyone else, I hope. At one point, Yosef realized he was missing his cell phone, so I called his phone, drove back to the last place we pulled over, prayed I didn't drive over the phone and as we approached, there it was, glowing in the dark because of my call. Wow. We then zipped back to Mordy for further support.

Leg 7: Mordy finished his leg like a champion and handed off to Joseph Levine, who had the opposite leg of Mordy: 4.8 miles, the first half up, the last half down. He maintained power all throughout though. Tough guy. While this was all going on, we were receiving updates from group A as to race position. We were in 3rd. First place was increasing their crazy lead.

Leg 8: Levine finished strong and handed off to Yitz Ovits - Mordy's baby brother - who had a nice, flat route perfectly designed for his abilities.

Leg 9: While Yitz was out there and being yelled at (in a good way) by his proud older brother, we continued receiving updates. Same ol' same ol'. We were in 3rd, with a good lead on 4th, and 1st place was way, way, way out in front.

Leg 10: Showtime for yours truly at daybreak. I was running for my breakfast. Yitz handed off to me and off I went in Wesley Hills. In short order, I would learn with terrible intimacy why "Hills" is appended to the town's name. I smoked the first mile at sub-8 and suddenly came upon a hill that looked literally like the ramp on the highway to heaven. I fished out the map in my pocket and noticed a little blip on the elevation chart. Well, that blip was a 150 foot rise on a tenth of a mile. Cars cried when they tried going up. I could hear them weeping for themselves and for me as they passed me. But I had good energy and passed a strong runner (Aron Rosenfeld, Team 7) on the way down. I had another sub-8 mile and then, oh my gosh, another crazy ramp! I fought and struggled and powered my way over it until I came to level ground. I spotted an old lady out for a jog, and I had to pass her, so I did. Maybe I'll send her flowers as my wake turbulence must have rattled her. Soon after I passed her, Rosenfeld suddenly thundered past me with great energy, powering his legs high and swinging his arms efficiently. We both dashed towards the exchange. He had more than I did and beat me by a picometer. Interestingly, I finished my entire leg in a faster time than he did. I handed off to Adam Orlow, headed for a mostly flat leg to take advantage of his incredible speed.

Leg 11: While Orlow was running his brains out and receiving support from group A, I and group B scarfed down our breakfasts, did our morning prayers, recharged our cell phones, talked trash (Mordy Ovits and Moishe Gamss - great competitors) with another team on Nachum Segal's radio show, failed at further attempts at sleep, and worried about the impending rain - which doesn't bother me unless conditions are extreme, but certainly affects others adversely and makes the organizers nervous from a safety perspective.

Leg 12: It was wheels up for our group to make it to exchange 15. Before we left though, Mordy whispered in Nachum Segal's ear what our team name stood for. The look on his face was priceless as he slapped his heel into this forehead and laughed his durn fool head off. Meanwhile Avi Hornstein was conquering with aplomb a truly painful 3.4 mile leg with 718 feet of elevation. He mastered it though, because man, his legs are as amazing as his hair.

Leg 13: Adam Goller was out there for us, running through Harriman State Park and experiencing everything a leg could throw at him: a massive drop, long flat and massive elevation towards the end. Meantime, we passed the entire field with our car, getting a sense of how everyone was laid out. It seemed there were two clusters: four teams in a relatively tight group in the front, then a wide gap, then four teams in the back. However, team 5 was off the charts, with a lead of approximately two miles. Yikes. That was - literally - fast!

Leg 14: Chesky Rand's turn. He was granted a leg with a straight-down 600 foot drop off a hill. Before you think this is easy, go ahead and ask his quads what this felt like. Go ahead, I'll wait for you here while you speak with them.

Leg 15: Not so easy, huh? Jonathan Pittinsky now. What goes down, must go up. Jonathan had to go 300 feet into the air over 2.9 miles, but he did very well, and was very strong, and oh yes, Jonathan must have gotten the scare of his life when a motorist passing by lowered her window to holler at Jonathan to be careful, as she saw a bear nearby. A bear! Holy cow! Imagine running while fretting about a bear in your way??? Yikes!

Leg 16: Jonathan handed off to group B (after successfully not getting mauled by a bear) in the visage of Mordy Ovits, who was in for some serious torture. I mean, the leg map actually has a pointer blurb to "top of mountain." This top of mountain was 500 feet higher than the beginning of the leg, spread out over two miles. Following this was a 700 foot leg-shredding downhill. I can't imagine the pain. Mordy can.

Leg 17: Yosef Landau - remember, our last minute replacement - had the honor of tackling the longest sustained climb of the course: 551 feet of elevation in 2.1 miles with a single 13 foot dip over a tenth of a mile at mile 1. And that's it. The rest is up, straight up. He toughed it out despite severe physical agony. He was sweating profusely, so we were hydrating him well, but my gosh, when he was done, he was very happy to be done. He was very, very proud of himself for that gutty performance. We were proud of him too!

Leg 18: A 700 foot drop off a cliff over 5 miles for Joseph Levine. Again, this hurts, but Joseph aced it. Checking back at the field, we're still in third, and first place is now in the lead by about a light year. Yours truly waiting for the baton in the blocks. Pacing pacing pacing, sipping sipping sipping. Here comes Joseph.

Leg 19: And I'm off. 3.6 miles ahead of me on mostly flats with some rises. I tore into it like I was made for it. I ripped into the first mile at a 7:02 clip, then encountered some hills over the next two miles and was distracted by wildlife (cows, horses, gorgeous yellow-and-black birds) but kept both sub-8 (7:51, 7:54). Then for the final 10k I was unleashed and ran it in 6:16, handing off to Yitz Ovits smoothly and fully re-energized from my run. MAN, that felt good!

Leg 20: Yitz enjoyed a mostly flat leg, albeit with a 130 foot headache over three-tenths of a mile midway through the run that left him cramping, and ran it very well despite the "bump." Big brother Mordy continued to take pride and joy in his pride and joy. At the approach to exchange, Aron Rosenfeld (there's that man again!) overtook us and dropped us to 4th. Yitz then handed off to Jonathan Pittinsky, as group B handed off to group A. Lead team now in the lead by the distance of approximately three galaxies.

Leg 21: While Jonathan was on the road, another of our troupe lost his cell phone, so group B drove alllllll the way back to exchange 18, where we couldn't see it on the ground. We called the phone, heard a faint buzzing somewhere in the vehicle, and after much investigation, voila, it was in the glove compartment. It remains a mystery to this day how it got there. At this point, we remained in 4th place by a few minutes, but kept the 3rd place team (7) in our sights.

Leg 22: While Pittinsky was handing off to Adam Goller, group B passed by the entire running field to get a sense of what was going on. We encountered our Fearless Leader Steven Friedman struggling up the hills, a rictus of pain etched on his face, his cute usually-pinkish cheeks fire-engine red. But we also saw determination. Steven Friedman is no quitter.

Leg 23: Group B continued making tracks to exchange 25 for our lunch, and we passed our man Avi Hornstein, our mountaineer, on a serious uphill charge, calves bursting. He totally had it. Avi's money, baby. We continued closing the gap for that silver medal slot.

Leg 24: While Avi handed off to Chesky Rand for a tough, tough uphill 2.7 run, group B made it to exchange 25, had some lunch, bought some ice, showered and made ablutions, GUed, recharged our batteries, got comfortable in changes of clothing and prepared for the final stretch. We were still in 4th, closing in on team 7, but also holding off a fast-closing two other teams, nipping at our heels, both within a mile of us.

Leg 25: Adam Orlow on the prowl, who shot past team 7's runner and gained a 3-minute lead over 4th place. Mordy got into the blocks when we saw Adam in the distance. We could see Adam was hurting, bad. The look on his face was scary. Marked on it was the quad-trashing he endured on the 700 foot drop. But he was okay, and he handed off cleanly, and Mordy was away, and it was group B now for the stretch run.

Leg 26: Mordy absorbed a monster. A 600 foot climb over 6 miles with terribly steep ascents in spots. He muscled through it with confidence though, refusing water as he focused on charging through his leg. At the end of it, he had completed the most miles for our team. 18.1 in total (he would add 8 more via runs alongside his teammates plus the mad dash for a total of 26). While he was out there, group B had pulled into the next exchange, so group A went to check on him. As they approached, they noticed a rattlesnake on the road, right in Mordy's path. Mordy had enough to worry about! So Avi shooed the snake away with his car (I too would be scared of an Escalade bearing down on me) and he slithered out of Mordy's path.

Leg 27: Mordy handed off to Joseph Levine who absorbed similar difficulty with a 400 foot rise over 4 miles. He kept refusing water, asking for a sponge instead to wipe the sweat off himself, then finally accepting water as the hills grew steeper. He remained a trooper and handed off to Landau.

Leg 28: Yosef had a nice, smooth and swift run on a leg that was mostly flat for five miles. That doesn't mean he didn't need our help though. Any runner on his last leg needs as much help as can be given. We started passing bungalow colonies where kids would run out to the fences and cheer us on. That was rather neat. At one point, we parked awkwardly (Okay fine, I did, as I was driver for 90% of our journey) and when we (okay fine, me) pulled out, we knocked askew a mailbox in the front of someone's bungalow. We started getting out of our vehicles to apologize and see what we could do, but the owner - standing right there - said, "Don't worry, just run." Now isn't that nice?

Leg 29: Yitz Ovits now, on an up and down, twisty-turny, very unforgiving leg. Mordy accompanied his brother nearly all the way. During one of our support stops, team 1 rolled in and we talked some smack again with Moishe Gamss. I realized suddenly that my toe felt funny, and whaddya know? The small hole that had eroded into my Vibrams had now grown so much that my toe was hitting asphalt every time it stepped down. Nothing I could do about that now. I'd have to grin and bear it. Further on, at another support stop, Team 7's Aron Rosenfeld (again!!!) came storming through again like rolling thunder and overtook our runner. I got out of the vehicle, bumped first with Aron and said, "Respect, brother." He said, "Thank you, brother." We were now in 4th place. From there, I drove to the next exchange to await Yitz and Mordy for the final assault. Aron came rumbling in, yelling like a banshee, handing off with fury to Moshe Sanders (an impressively fast man 10 years my senior), and collapsing to the ground, breathing heavily. I was two seconds way from calling Command for medical assistance, when he started doing pushups.Ohhhhkay! He was gonna be alright, I estimated. While I waited for the Ovitses to appear, I paced, I GUed, I jogged in place, I went weewee multiple times, and then, in the distance, here came the Ovits brothers, powering up the hill towards me. Here we go, here we go, showtime, I gotta catch Moshe Sanders. Gimme that bracelet, gimme that.

Leg 30: Okay, it's all on me now. I tore out of the exchange with Sanders many minutes ahead of me and Gamss on my tail. My best hope was to cut the tangents (safely) and hope Sanders wasn't doing the same. Despite the crazy hills, I was doing very well. My mile splits were 7:44, 7:58, 8:17. I had to have been making ground on Sanders. I had to. As I was running, I kept repeating, "Gotta catch Sanders, Gotta catch Sanders."

And then.

The lights went out. The energy meter went down to zero. I was snuffed out like a candle in the wind. Cognitive function ceased. I started babbling. My teammates Joseph and Mordy took turns running alongside me to motivate me. I tried communicating with them, but my vocabulary was reduced to "Meh," "Veh," and "Fleh." I remember trying to ask for ice, but all I could muster was "Mm, mm." I also remember attempting to ask, "Where's Sanders?," but all that would come out of my mouth was "Wuh, Zzz." Mordy would later share with our team that anyone who knows me, knows I'm a loquacious fellow (certainly on paper!) and to see me lose my power of speech was scary. Twice I felt like I was going to simply tip over and kiss the pavement, but Mordy and Joseph stayed with me and kept me going, giving me instructions, promising me the end was just over that hill, just over that hill, just around that bend. I couldn't hear them, I was too busy hallucinating. For fleeting moments, corrupting thoughts entered my head, like, "Gee, if I tip over and road rash my face, that might actually be more physically pleasant than what I'm experiencing at the moment." and "That is such a pretty ditch: gravel, bees, animal droppings and everything. I want to lie down there, it looks so serene and heavenly." But I could never give in to thoughts like that. I really think I would rather die than quit. Death is better than giving up. If I would have stopped running at any point, I would never, ever be able to live with myself. Death before dishonor. I could never quit on people counting on me. My last drop of life force that exited my body was when I crossed the street and started up the Loch Sheldrake golf course hill. My soul left me from that point until I was revived. My thoughts weren't normal. I'm not kidding about that ditch though. I also looked up at the sun and thought, "Burn me up now, I've always been curious what spontaneous combustion actually looked like. Kaboom. That's gotta be cool." Seriously, that's how my brain was going. I know I had an out of body experience because from above I could see Moishe Gamss passing me by, and Mordy in bewilderment, saying, "You're a runner?" And then I realized, no, this is not an out of body experience, that was actually Gamss zipping right past me. It hurt so bad when he passed, but I kept on my feet, my teammates relying on me for 5th and no less, no less, oh please, no less. So I charged up the hill with Mordy's support, and my teammates joined me and we got our lights-and-sirens hullabaloo escort and we crossed the finish line, 5th of 8. We all ran our guts out. Now there may have been celebrating and whooping and family reunioning, but I wasn't up for that right now. I needed to lie down somewhere. At first, the concrete seemed real inviting and I leaned over, hoping the pavement wouldn't hurt so much when I hit it, but I spotted a patch of grass just fifteen feet away, and I dove right into it and lay down and begged whoever was listening for ice. I was on fire, burning up, my whole body was aflame, my privates were a cauldron of insane bristling heat. And people heard my whimpers, and somebody put me in the seated position, and a lady began pouring cold water on me, and somebody handed me a bag of ice, and I stuffed it between my legs, and three EMTs surrounded me, and I remember saying, after being offered oxygen, that "I don't want to look like a nebach." But he insisted, and I took the oxygen, and a teammate circumvented the payment scheme for the finish line food to fill me up. And I cooled down, and I was oxygenated, and I was hydrated and nourished, and brought back to life. I gave everything I had. Every ounce. All of it. We fought hard and placed 5th, and I'm proud of me and my teammates. All guts, all glory.

Martin Bodek is the author of the recently released The Year of Bad Behavior: Bearing Witness to the Uncouthiest of Humanity (, which is ironic, because he encountered nothing but goodness and kindness during the entire race experience.


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