Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My 17th Marathon Run

My 17th Marathon Run
Martin Bodek

Waitaminnit, you must be asking yourself, didn’t I just run my 16th marathon? What am I doing running a 17th two weeks later? Have I completely lost my mind?
The answer to each of the above questions is, well, yes. How this came to be might be a little more interesting.
For a long while, I’ve fantasized about running an ultra (any distance run longer than 26.2 miles, which is marathon distance), so I scheduled an off day for 11/21/11, mapped out a 50k course in my neighborhood, invited several friends and got practically no interest. No biggie. I’d go it alone.
Then my JRunners brothers got rabid about participation in the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon, told me to dump the ultra and join them for the race. I couldn’t turn them down, and, knowing the toughness of the course, I decided to take it easy for the race and if anything was left in the tank, to add a few miles via the lower loop of the park.
I didn’t want to burden my wife with dedicating yet another whole day chasing after me on a race course, so I took my older two kinderlach to Brooklyn with me on Motzei Shabbos to stay overnight at my mom’s, and my wife stayed behind with our little one.
I got a full night’s sleep, went potty three times in the morning, klutzed around until tallis/tefillin time, munched a light breakfast and made it out to Prospect Park at 6:30 AM. This was early enough to realize that the park’s maps showing where Center Drive is – the start of the race – was inaccurate. I wandered for a half hour until I could orient myself in the proper direction. When I finally found the start area, the first thing I noticed was that there were no porta-potties, and I had another need left in me. I parked myself under a tree, and my fellow JRunners joined me one by one (there were 17 of us among 262 [26.2! ha!] finishers, 6.4% of the field! We saturated it better than Chai Lifeline does Miami!). As we schmoozed, we each realized that we had no goals, and no idea how things would turn out for us, as so many of us had already run the New York City Marathon just two weeks before.
At 7:44 AM, the porta-potties arrived, and the flatbed driver didn’t even have a chance to get them off his truck before everyone bum-rushed the bathrooms. I made one more use of the privy and I was good to go.
Two minutes before the race, a reporter ambled over and interviewed me and my fellas – including my new best friend barefoot runner. My money quote ended up in her article. Check it out:
The race started 15 minutes late, as expected, following announcements from the organizer through a bullhorn that was pointed in the wrong direction, a national anthem that could not be heard until the singer said, “brave,” and the most confusing race directions you’ve ever heard in your life. The race was two loops around the lower half of the park, six loops around the whole park and one last loops around the middle. Yeah, no one’ll get confused.
So we were off, and I really had no idea how things would work out for me, considering the pratfall disaster that was my NYC Marathon experience. I had wrenched my left knee and I had no idea if it would flare up, or tell me to quite five miles in. We’d see. I had one goal though, and that was: if everything is okay, then even though this would be a much, much tougher course, I had to come in at a faster time than my NYC time.
So here’s how my day went:

Mile 1: The start is spent dodging an incredibly disgusting amount of moosepoop. Once past that point, however, it’s the smoothest sailing marathon start I’ve ever experienced. I get to the start line in fifteen seconds. Already it’s worlds apart from NYC. I have all the space in the world, and the terrain is incredibly forgiving on my feet. I am immediately in a good mood, coasting along, schmoozing with my JRunners compadres, and clearing the first mile in 8:21. A very, very good start.

Mile 2: More pleasantry in my wide open space. More how-do-you-dos with my homeys. I clear it in 8:26. Nice and steady and loving it. Though, upon looping past the start area, it can clearly be determined that some runners with Asics and Skechers footwear did not successfully circumvent the elephantpoop.

Mile 3: I enjoy so much of my own space, and nestle in so nicely with my fellow runners, and run so steadily and comfortably that pretty much nobody passes me for an entire mile, and I don’t pass anyone else. That’s how comfortable we all are. Towards the end of the mile though, I do pass one person with a small sign on his back that says, “3:45 unofficial Brooklyn Marathon pacer.” Well hey, I’m faster than he is! A good day so far! I clear it in 8:10. Peachy keen jellybean. (two points if you get the reference)

Mile 4: Uh oh, my left knee hurts a bit. Hmmm, seems manageable for now, but we’ll see. I know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Looping past the dinopoop again, I notice an Adidaswearer apparently wasn’t so lucky. Another relaxed 8:20 mile in the books.

Mile 5: Totally taking it easy and 7:48. Whoa, that’s a bit TOO fast! I try to slow down a bit, but it doesn’t work. Anything slower is crawling. Cool that I’m completely relaxed, yet still zipping along. This course is great!

Mile 6: Another 8:20, and we’re still happening along, but uh oh, here comes The Hill. I’m going to climb it six times, and I intend to take it very, very easy. I’m not trying to set world records here, just trying to finish the race. I’m not wearing my Superman t-shirt today (lots of people asked me about that) because I’m feeling very, very mortal. I’m not Kal-el this morning. I’m just Clark Kent.

Mile 7: The Hill. Eaaaaaaaaaaaaasy does it, with a very measured pace. I find two clusters of very energetic people here shouting out my bib number (32) and my name (across my chest). They help me up and over and I clear it in 8:58. Whoa, relatively fast, and I took it easy. Only five more assaults to go! At this point, I’m well ahead of my marathon PR (4:10), as I’d have to average 9:09 for 4:00 and this 8:58 was my slowest mile. Whoa.

Mile 8: I’m cruising happily along, scouting the spot where my family should be a bit later in my run, and who shows up? Shia! He promised to join me for a bit and he was true to his word. Nice to have the company. He’s got fruit roll-ups and Gatorade in a bag he stashed in the park further up ahead and asks if I’d like some. Sure I want some! So he zips ahead with intent to double back to me and supply me with some nourishment. 8:40 for the mile. Steady as a rock.

Mile 9: Shia comes running back from where he placed his bag, cursing under his breath with various Peter Griffin-esque “Ye bastid” bromides because some lowlife has stolen his bag! In it was food for me and other JRunners, a change of clothes because he has to zip off to Yeshiva afterwards and some personal effects. Uh oh, quite a bind he’s in! He continues to run with me though, as we mull over what to do about his clothing situation.

Mile 10: Alrighty, one more time up The Hill, but before that point, I need some water. But the water stop is too far ahead. Conveniently, this park is filled with easily-spottable water fountains. They’ll do just fine. The clutch of supportive groups are still assembled at the top of the hill, still hollering my name and number. Nice and easy I go, up and over the hill. I only have to do that four more times.

Mile 11: I begin munching on the gels in my shorts to stave off “The Wall.” I’ve made great strides with this and intend to continue the trend. Uh oh, my left knee hurts a bit. Not enough to slow me down, but enough to worry me just a wee bit more than previously.

Mile 12: Shia takes leaves of me to cut back across mid-park to the start line, thinking perhaps some good Samaritan spotted the bag in the park and brought it back to the baggage area. It’s the only prayer he’s got. I continue cruising along, but my left knee is beginning to bark at me a bit harder. I slow things down to 9:30 pace, relax a little more and my knee seems to respond.

Mile 13: As I approach The Hill once more, my buddy Matt pulls up behind me. He’s got his own left knee in a wrap, and I ask him how he manages the pain. He says to take it easy. Exactly what I’m doing, I dial it way back to 10:00 per mile and the pain is alleviated again. I’m still at PR pace, but I’m beginning to worry. Absolutely nothing else hurts, it’s just this left knee. I hit the halfway point at about 1:56, which is three minutes faster than my split at NYC. It puts me in good spirits, and I do The Hill mile in slightly under 10:00. I do some math: If I was sub-9 for the first half and can only do 10s for the last half, I’d still challenge my PR. Interesting!

Mile 14: Pain-free sub 10:00 coming off The Hill, munching on my gels, as “The Wall” is six miles away. Only three more times over that hill.

Mile 15: Shia pops out again at Center Drive. He couldn’t find his bag. Oy, poor guy. His last recourse is to check the area where he left it. Maybe somebody plopped it down somewhere, moved it, something, anything. I’m a bit slow for the moment with my 10s, so he scoots ahead of me for some reconnoitering. A few minutes later he comes running back to me, bag in hand! Everything is accounted for in the bag save for the food. A noble thief! He took what he needed and plopped the bag down for retrieval. Shia is happy, but now he’s running with a big bag of clothes alongside me, which is kinda awkward. Also along this stretch, I bump into my man David and we run a bit with him. More great company! I check again for my family. Not there. Maybe next pass. I’ll be back.

Mile 16: Smooth-sailing now, holding steady, discussing movies, TV and books with Shia. He does a good Peter Griffin impression. I do a good Cartman, but not 16 miles into a marathon. He’ll have to hear it later. According to him, I have to read a book called The Immortal Game. Will do! Uh oh, here comes The Hill again.

Mile 17: My “32” cheering squads still have their pep up. At the top of the hill a nice lady is handing out Twizzlers! Yes I’ll have some! This will make up for my missing Twizzlers guy at the NYC Marathon. Yum! Midway through the mile, I spot my family! Woohoo! My mom, Aba, sister, niece and my little girl and boy are in the sidelines, waving signs. I dodge whizzing bicycles to make it to them, give my kiddies kissies, and scarf down oranges, Powerade, and pizza. Man, there is nothing like pizza 17 miles into a footrace. Ironically, I get the pizza at nearly the exact same mileage point during NYC, when I get it from my brother-in-law. My kiddies are adorable and shy, and very eager to get back to the playground. I tell my mom I’ll be back again in about 30 minutes. The kids head off to the playground, and I – uh oh. My left knee is locked up. What’s going on? I can’t move it. Ow. Well, not really ow, just, oof, it feels like it’s in a vise. It’s encased. I can’t shake it loose. Oh man.

Mile 18: I decide to take it slow. My aba joins me, as he wants to do a circuit around the park to prep for the JRunners Health Awareness Run on 12/4 (plug!) After about a quarter mile, I try to run again, but it’s tough going. No fair, everything else feels so good, but this knee is locked. No PR today, but I’ll finish.

Mile 19: I hobble through the mile, taking lots of breaks, stopping at the water fountains to stretch my left leg. I realize that stopping hurts most of all, and proceeding makes the hurt less. Again, it’s not a hurt, or a pain really. It’s just…sealed shut. Like my knee forgot how to bend. Keeping it in motion though, seems to be helping.

Mile 20: Shia takes leave of me at this point. He ran 9 miles alongside me and was great company. I’m alone now, though. So I’ll have to rely on my internal voice and external crowd to get me going. My knee loosens up a bit, but not all the way. Here comes The Hill again. Oh no, can I do it again? I text back and forth with my wife to distract me. It kinda works! At the top of the hill is my Twizzlers lady. She now has Pop ‘Ems! Oh, YUM!!! That’ll put a charge in my run, if anything will. Delish!

Mile 21: My left knee is feeling better as I keep moving. I realize as I’m coming off The Hill that I am completely not bored of the repeated circuits of the park. It is not monotonous at all, which is surprising to me, as I thought it would be. Instead, I find the familiarity of the course comforting. I’m getting to know its twists and turns, and frankly, I’m loving it. Know what I love even more? My family! Here they are again! My kids run towards me so fast that I get nervous about the zipping bikes. I bolt towards my kids so they don’t have a mishap. Me and my son run so fast towards each other, that when he meets me with his hands out, he pounds me in the nuts enough to knock the sails out of me. Oof! Easy, boy! You’ll find out this is not so pleasant! My mom tells me that she got worried when the 30 minutes passed and I wasn’t there, so she asked a fellow JRunner about my welfare, who said, “He’s back there with a knee injury.” Not something a momma wants to hear! More oranges and Powerade and bagel parts. It’s good to run on a full belly. The kids head off to the playground and ouch, my knee is stuck again. Arrrgh.

Mile 22: I pass the water stop at Center Drive. My fellow Vibramite (though not in public) Moishie is handing out water, which I gulp while lamenting that everything is working except for my left knee. I walk, I jog, I hobble, and stop stopping. Something about stopping isn’t working for me. I just kept on keeping on.

Mile 23: I psych myself for one final run up The Hill. Wow, I’ve done it five times already and this is the last one? Cool. As I approach, a supremely fit woman is running against the marathoning crowd shouting encouragement. Every inch of her is covered in clothing except for her sterling abs. As she passes me on the right, I overhear a women to my left saying to her friend, “Did you see that girl? She’s all, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m skinny and cheerful, go runners!’” Hyuk hyuk!

Mile 24: One last trip over The Hill. I come across my energetic “32” cheering squads again and thank them for their love and support. They appreciate my appreciation and holler me up and over. My Twizzlers/Pop ‘Ems lady is nowhere to be seen. Thank you, Twizzlers/Pop ‘Ems lady for your Twizzlers and Pop ‘Ems! Just before the end of the mile, my left knee unlocks. Just like that. I’m free, and suddenly I’m running again and feeling very, very good. Perhaps stopping the stopping helped me and keeping it in motion is what I needed. Wow, it feels great to run again unencumbered.

Mile 25: I pass the Center Drive water stop again. Somebody is offering brownies. Brownies? Did somebody say brownies? Mmmm, brownies. But oh no, they’re homemade! Iyagh! Okay, mental note to ask my family for brownies during my next marathon. Oh man, that would hit the spot. Moishie’s still handing out water. Off I go for the stretch run, in good spirits. My left knee is still functioning normally and I’m running confidently.

Mile 26: At the mile 25 sign, I check my GPS. I have to beat my NYC time and it’s going to be close. Fortunately, my legs are now in working order, so I’m going to give it my best shot. Oy, if only my legs worked this well for miles 17-24, but no regrets. They’re working now, and that’s all I can ask for. For the first time in nine miles, I actually pass runners as I barrel towards the finish line.

Mile 26.2: I look up as I approach the finish line. I’m going to beat my NYC time. And who do I see just past the finish line waiting for me? My kiddies! I must have smiled a smile wider than the one fixed to my face at my vort so many years ago. I cross the finish line in a time that’s 46 seconds faster than NYC. I accomplished my goal. I get my gorgeous medal. I stop and pose for pictures with my kinderlach. OH, it’s great to see them! What’s not so great is that my leg has locked up. Like I said earlier, I know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. I have to fold ‘em. There won’t be an ultra today. There will be one some other time, but I need to rest this knee. I’m thrilled that absolutely nothing else hurts. I think it’s indeed a residual flareup from the spill I took at NYC. I can’t rest it too much, though. I intend to put in a good performance at the JRunners Health Awareness Run on 12/4 (another plug!). For now, I’ve got some daddy duties: my kids need lunch and I’ve got to get my daughter to a birthday party.

Two mornings after: I wake up and find that my knee is at about 82%, but the rest of me – and I do mean every other square inch – is 99.4%. There’s no muscle fatigue, no hip or ankle pain. My right knee is solid. I feel wonderful. I just need to be responsible with my left knee, build its strength back up. There are more marathons in me (17 is just the beginning), more races to run (157 is just getting warmed up), and I’ve got an ultra I need to put in my rearview mirror (1 is the best way to start).

Monday, November 14, 2011

My First Roast

I was asked to participate in a friend's roast, and was delighted with the opportunity! I hope I've acquitted myself with my first go at the concept. If you think I've done well, hey, I do wedding and bar mitzvahs. Writing material for roasts is HARD, but FUN!:

Good evening everyone, it's a pleasure to be here this evening roasting our friend Yaakov. It's really nice that his wife invited so many of his close friends. Looking around, it's obvious though, that none of them accepted the invitation.

So she asked me to say some nice things about her husband. But ya know, I'd rather tell the truth.

But what can you say about a man who's admired, revered and loved by everyone? I can start by saying he's not the man we're honoring tonight. Instead, we're roasting Yaakov.

I'm at a disadvantage though, as most everyone here knew Yaakov from back in the day, whereas I only know him as an excellently-coiffed metaphor-spouting Star Wars-geeking partially-whipped whiskey-sucking superskinny crybaby. Actually, upon further review, this seems to be the same person he was back in the day, except then he was called Jake. Ooh, big difference.

Let's start with the easy target. Look at this guy. Ever seen anybody skinnier?

Yaakov is so skinny, his nipples touch.

He is so skinny, his pajamas have one stripe.

He is so skinny, C3P0 uses a Yaakov costume as a Purim outfit.

He is so skinny, people think he struggles with Bulimia - but I think he's pretty good at it.

let's switch to something a bit more controversial, shall we? Yaakov likes his whiskey, a lot.

His doctor recently found traces of blood in his alcohol stream.

I actually thought of doing this roast as Foster Brooks, but I'd probably appear sober to Yaakov.

He drinks so much, when alcohol does its taxes, it lists him as a dependent.

For his new job, he had to provide a urine sample. There was an olive in it.

His liver is probably so black, it had sex with Lisa Lampanelli.

And is there a shaila about his geekiness?

Yaakov is such a geek that he's probably the only person in this room who knows that 00101010 is the answer to the most profound question in the universe.

He's such a geek, DOS was his favorite toy as a child.

But what really defines our guest of honor is what a crybaby he is. He cries during kol na'arim, he cries when the space shuttle launches, he cries when he makes speeches, he cries when he can't keep up with Elmore Leonard's books, he cries when Threadsy goes out of business, and of course, he cries at the thought of becoming shul president.

I mean, what do you call a man this dedicated to his shul, to his family, to his craft? You call him Pinny. (our shul president)

I kid, of course. We only roast the ones we love. Tonight, we've proven the exception to that rule.

But seriously, our man Yaakov is the king of metaphors, which is worth mentioning as I close, because when the chips are down and the stakes are high and it's the bottom of the ninth and you need to win one for the gipper and you need someone who's got your back and won't let you down and it's do or die and it's now or never and your back is to the wall and you're running on empty and the gauntlet's thrown down and you need all hands on deck and the whole nine yards and there's no turning back and there's no way out and the going gets tough, who you gonna call? Duh, you call my wife, but Yaakov's a good backup.

In truth, Yaakov, you're a consummate professional, a devoted husband, a doting daddy, a great vice president, a helluva programmer, an excellent friend and - please don't cry on me - an amazing legacy for your father.

Happy 40th birthday, my friend, ad meah v'esrim.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My (bitter)Sweet 16th Marathon Run

My (bitter)Sweet 16th Marathon Run


Martin Bodek

There are days when you wake up in the morning, and you feel real good, and you roll out of bed and you’re in a good mood, and you brush your teeth and comb your hair (in my instance, whatever’s left of it) and you feel right, and you get dressed and you practically whistle, and breakfast is yummy and you go out for a race and smash a PR and everything is well with the world.

Then there are days when everything is shifted a bit, when you’ve got some rust on you, and you don’t like what the scale says as a result of six days of holiday fressing combined with a taper, and when you head out for that run, you get punished with a hard, violent lesson.

My 16th marathon run – my 14th NYC – was the latter. The lesson: you do not wear Vibrams for the NYC Marathon. I paid for that lesson in pain. Lots of it.

I smashed my marathon PR last year by 14 minutes, finishing in 4:10. I rejoiced (the pictures are great!), and immediately thereafter resolved to find an edge for next year. One week later, I purchased the Vibram Five-fingers and found that edge, combined with a 20 lb weight loss over two years. I published an article praising the Vibrams and detailing their proper breaking-in for Trail Runner Magazine. Through 2011, until this year’s marathon, I had run 14 races and PRed in 11 of them through cold and rain and rough terrain.

Little did I know that the course of the NYC Marathon would prove the most brutally punishing terrain of them all.

We begin with my alarm going off.

4:00 AM: My alarm buzzes me awake, and I’m amazed to have actually caught some shuteye after getting a good nap in the afternoon and dealing with a nervous and agitated stomach. I don by usual marathon outfit – Superman T (with the symbol in the shape of a magen david), red shorts with gobs of nutrition, minor first-aid, salt packets and cash in the pockets lined across the back, Vibrams, arm warmers, gloves, kippa (I haven’t had a haircut for two months and still barely have enough for it to stick to!), my bib with a sticker, Livestrong cancer bracelet, 4:00 and 4:10 pace bracelets, “14th NYC” sticker on my arm, JRunners tattoos on my calves, a “Martin” sign on my chest, a sign that says, “If I’m walking, pat my back, thanks!” on my upper back and a sign that says, “’The main thing is to have no fear at all.’ – Rebbe Nachman” on my lower back. I calm my nerves for a few minutes by writing a page for the novel I’m working on while I partake in NaNoWriMo (, check it out), have some light breakfast, and I’ms ready to rock.

5:30 AM: My father-in-law drives me out to the Meadowlands, where, for the umpteenth time, absolutely no signs are available to show us where to go. I find the buses only because I know where they are. Why they can’t have the buses in a spot viewable from the major highway that passes by, I have no idea, but I will complain again. I do find my favorite seat, all the way back left (perfect for zoning out) and enjoy the bumpy, fishtailing ride as the sun rises. Before the bus comes to a full stop I hit the yellow strip indicating a passenger would like to get off at the next stop. Because I’m silly like that.

7:30 AM: After my 3rd of 5 bathroom trips for the morning and a scouting-out of my corral, I join the International Marathon Minyan, co-hosted by my JRunners brothers with some nice, new amenities. I hang around for the 2nd minyan as well, chilling in the risen sun and thawing out my frozen feet. The organizers of the Jerusalem Marathon are there. I kibbitz with them and say that if they’d cover my plane ticket, I’d be there in a heartbeat. It’s merely freezing at the staging area, which means it’s the warmest I’ve ever been at the start. It’s been bone-chilling and even marrow-chilling, but it’s just right for the start. I wouldn’t have minded it colder. I hang out with my Bro Eli Friedman (3:59 on his first marathon try!). He is freezing to death, one foot from me, while I feel felt balmy and comfortable. Go figure.

9:15 AM: I enter my corral, sit down to rest my legs and sip some water and think about my wife and kids, who I didn’t see last year because said wife gave birth to said youngest child just five days before the marathon. I’m always amazed when women who’ve just given birth show up at their son’s brissim, but I don’t think I’d expect them to holler at runners on a marathon course just a few days after giving birth. When we’re ushered out of the corral towards the start, I Facebook that my race is dedicated to my children, and that I’d make them proud. While we wait in position before the start line, I – yet again – experience some German racism. Well, maybe not racism, but certainly hate-ism, or run-ism, what have you. You decide: Behind me I hear some of them talking, fully understanding what they’re saying because I speak Yiddish. Suddenly one says to the other to check out the sign on my back. Now his response doesn’t even need an understanding of German or Yiddish to interpret, because it basically sounds like this: “Err shtinkin in laufen, untz klappen eim un backen der gantzen vaygen.” Didja get that? I ignore it, but I think that’s the last time I do. Anyway, just before the start, I take a last look at my kiddies on my phone and the pre-race chizuk from my wife and it elates my mood.

10:10 AM: P’toom! The cannon fires and we’re off.

Mile 1: I’m on the lower level this year. Good for faster starts and two miles free of the sun, bad for clothing being tossed off from the upper level and the urinators who are unmindful of those below. My goal is to run the first half at an 8:00 MPH clip and slow gradually for the 2nd half and perhaps claim another PR. It takes me 3:06 to get to the start line and I finish the first mile in 9:37, which is very, very nice. We can start some 8s from here. I notice a lot of T-shirts bragging about 15+ marathon finishes and a lot more saying the run is dedicated to a brother or sister or son or daughter or father or mother killed on 9/11. So many.

Mile 2: Though there’s quite a crowd, the pace picks up. The urinators from my corral begin their work. The men go against the wall of the Verrazzano bridge, the women go just behind the concrete barriers separating the road from the grass. Such a perfect setup. There’s a guy running with a Giants helmet. I just can’t understand why a person would run with something that induces hardship. Yes, I’m dressed like Superman, but it contributes to my ability to run, as opposed to detracting from it. I finish the second mile in 8:25. Great, now let’s get those 8s.

Mile 3: Did I say 8s? How am I supposed to do that with this crowd? Man, there are an awful lot of people around me, and I can’t break free. The Brooklyn energy begins, with lots of hootin’ and hollerin’ and cowbells. I gotta have more cowbell! The route here is new, so it’s nice to experience a few different parts before re-joining the familiar, which – when it happens – frustrates the heck out of me! At approximately mile 3.6, the course rejoins the throng of runners, and there is NO room to maneuver. None. I’m trapped. I’m forced to go at the speed of those around me. There’s just no getting away. I’m hoping it will loosen up soon. I have another problem at the first water stop, which are now a block long. This means that my feet get positively soaked as I try to wend my way through the melee. It’s seriously uncomfortable. At 74th and 4th, I expect to see a co-worker of mine hanging out. I don’t see him, but one block later, I see someone holding up a sign with my co-workers’ name! Interesting! I see a little girl with a “Free hi fives” sticker stuck to her jacket. Free? I’ll take one! I finish the mile in about 9 minutes. Hey, that’ll still get me a PR, but I still want to break free of this crowd!

Mile 4: Did I say break free? There is no breaking free. I want to climb back to 8s but there’s little chance of that. The crowd is just too thick. At least I’m running steady 9s. I’ll make my peace with that for now, but sometime before Mile 10, I need me some 8s! Another water stop, and more foot sloshing. I run through a minefield of Gatorade trash, and my Vibrams get all sticky, then they get rinsed at the water stops. It’s starting to make me cranky, but if the liquids were reversed, I think I’d lose my mind! The signs people are holding up are a little grosser this year, such as “I think black toenails are sexy.”

Mile 4.7: Pit-stop 1. My mommy’s waiting for me with a tray, like she’s my concierge. Upon it are a salt bagel, sliced four ways, a Powerade bottle and four orange wedges. Just like I ordered. Now that’s service! My Aba is there and my sister Devorah and my old mailman Charlie with his wife. We take some pics, hand out hugs and kisses, and just before I depart, I notice some of my JRunner homeys there! Joseph Pancer, Shai Grabie, Sam Weisz and Yehuda Braunstein give me fives and I’m on my way. Hoo-ha!

Mile 5: Still traveling at 9s with the immovable phalanx. It feels like all 47,000 runners are crowding me, and I’m liking the idea of a two-day marathon more and more. The water stops are becoming grueling and aggravating. The signs are cleverer this year: “You are the 1%.” Heh, I like that.

Mile 5.2: Pit-stop 2. I spot my dad, rocking his Justin Timberlake hat real cool. My little twin sisters are there and my mum. Hugs and kisses all around (no need for food, I’m still munching the bagel I got a half mile ago!).

Mile 6: Okay, my feet are now officially annoyed by all their waterlogging, and I’m annoyed that I can’t break free from this pack of people. There is no loosening up that can be seen and no way to dodge the water deluge. I can’t mount the sidewalks and running in middle of the road is no help whatsoever. I can’t believe I have to deal with this for another 20 miles. It’s already clear that Vibrams do not work in a race of this magnitude. The crowd energy is still good though, and the signs are noticeably more profane: “There are two kinds of runners: those who run $#!T, and those we eat $#!T.” Okay!

Mile 7: I try to dodge the waterfall any way I can, I can’t. I try to pick up the pace to move away from this pack and only find myself at the same pace with another pack. I feel like I sped up to the rear of the next wave. I try to grab some food, including my usual banana spot just before the Prospect park Expressway, from the sidelines and keep missing. What’s going on here? My mojo’s all busted.

Mile 8: I suddenly and serendipitously realize why I’ve been having a problem getting away from the pack when I look behind me to get a look at the crowd. What do I see about 50 feet behind? The 4:00 pace team with their bobbing balloons. I then notice that the people I’ve been traveling with mostly have 4:00 pace team bibs on their backs. It seems I’ve been enveloped by the front end of the bubble surrounding the pacers! I speed up just a smidgen, break free of the bubble and whaddya know! A sub-9 mile for me! Woohoo! Just when I pull that off though, I run into a massive bottleneck, coupled with another waterstop, the combination of which practically grinds me to a halt. This is getting really, really annoying. However, I’m still around 9:00 per mile pace, slightly ahead of the 4:00 pace team and once I’m free, I’m cruising.

Mile 9: I stay ahead of the pace team and pull off another sub-9, and the streets are wider here, so I survive the rinsing and still get a cup of water. I’m still at sub-4 pace and I’m finally in a buoyant mood. It’s gonna be a good day.

Mile 10: We turn into Williamsburg, home of the Chasidic Froggers. They need to build these people bridges or tunnels, because they are going to cross whether the runners like it or not. A little girl offers me candy. I ask her in Yiddish if it’s kosher. She probably still has the look on her face that she gave me, which is: stunned and scared to death. I notice several chevra toting tallis bags. The time now is about 11:45 AM. If it was PM, I’d understand. Y’know, tefillin dates and all.

Mile 11: Bedford Playground is at about mile 10.5. There’s a bathroom here some runners take advantage of. There’s a black woman standing about 20 feet ahead of the bathroom hollering at runners that there’s a bathroom, which means runners have to double back to make use of it. Hey lady, you’re helpful, but how about moving 40 feet down so runners can veer directly into the facilities after you alert them to it? I can’t do all the thinking around here. At this point, the 4:00 pace team finally surges ahead of me. I stay far enough behind them to move out of the bubble and keep them in my sights, traveling at their speed. At this point, I scarf down the first of the gels in my shorts, to combat the “heaviness” feeling that’s plagued me in the past. I’ve determined that this was the proverbial “wall” due to improper nutrition. I’m doing what I can to avoid this.

Mile 12: We enter the hipster – or non-Frogger - portion of Williamsburg, where my man with the Twizzlers is hit or miss every year. I miss him this year. Darn. I’m still behind the 4:00 pace team, still at PR speed.

Mile 13: We enter Greenpoint, a bit of an uphill but a nice, wide expanse. Still with the 4:00 pace team, things are looking up, uh, literally. My feet have been mostly dry for a few miles because of the wider streets and pocket I’ve found for myself. Clever sign: “Chafe now, brag later.”

Mile 13.1: At the halfway point, the 4:00 pace team pulls away from me because of the hill up the Pulaksi Bridge ramp. I don’t want to overdo it, so I let them go. I’ll fall back and try to stay ahead of the 4:10 group, which would still be a PR for me. I hit halfway at 1:59:21. That isn’t bad considering the aggravation and annoyance my feet have been experiencing. Only 13.1 miles to go!

Mile 13.6: Pit-stop 5: Chabad of Long Island City is here! With hammer gels and water and a band and some of my fellow JRunners! Woohoo! My man Chanan Feldman is manning the station with some of his compatriots. They even capture a picture of me enjoying my hearty swig of elixir!:!5841100 . Cool!

Mile 14: I can now see the Queensboro Bridge in the distance, begging me to take it on. I’ve conquered my fear of it through repeated attempts and have finally learned to manage it well. I fear it no longer, but I must have in mind to climb it with a measured pace, to run down the middle as others fall back and to the side and run steadily and surely. If I’m laboring, I use a mantra (“Up and over! Up an over!”). I got this.

Mile 15: At about mile 14.5, I turn the corner onto Crescent Street, which is the straightaway toward the Queensboro. I spot something I’ve never seen before, a frum guy fronting a rock band. Cool! Rock on! One block before I make the left turn up the bridge ramp, a woman on a megaphone yells, “Last water stop before the bridge! Last water stop before the bridge!” I grab an extra cup of water. I’m gonna need it. Just before we turn, I hear at least three runners mutter stuff along the lines of “Okay, here we go,” “Here goes nothing,” “Here we go again,” etc. This bridge really takes its toll on people, but I got this. I got this. As I approach the mile marker, at nearly the same exact spot where, years ago, some German bunghole whacked me on the back and sneered “Greeeeeeeeeeeeetings! From Gerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmany!,” the same thing happens again. This time it’s a couple of Netherlanders. How do I know they’re Netherlandites? Because I later google what it says on their t-shirts (“KiKa Kinderen Kankervrij” – yes, I memorized that), come up with a web site, run some phrases through Google Translate and learn that it’s Dutch. Well the first guy slams me in the back and says, “Nize shooooooooooooze!,” and the second guy slams me in the back and says, “Gooooood for youuuuuuuuuu!” So what is it with the Deutsch and the Dutch with their harsh backwhacking? Somebody clue me in.

Mile 16: I make it over the bridge hump with some good energy. My man Joe Herman passes me by. He has a goal of 3:58 today (he will eventually finish with a PR of 4:06, nice going!). It has long been a standard for me that if I run over the Queensboro Bridge, then I run the rest of the race, and if I don’t, then I don’t. As I come screaming down the ramp into the shouting throng of NYC, I’m in good spirits and feeling great, still holding on to my PR pace. And then-.

Mile 17: Disaster.It’s one thing to run with Vibrams over maybe ten straight feet of gravel, or hey, 100 feet in some circumstances, but they are NOT designed for four straight miles of punishment! I’ve driven down 1st avenue before, and yes, walked with shoes across the street, but it only took wearing Vibrams to realize I was going to be in a world of hurt for a long, long stretch. I do my best to dodge the gravel, but there’s nowhere to dodge. I try to go into the crowd and run on the sidewalk, but there’s no room! There’s no escape! I contemplate running one avenue over and running parallel until The Bronx, but that’s insane. I just can’t get away from this. My feet are ground to hamburger patty, and I slowly fall off my PR pace. That’s not even the worst. I get a massive soaking at the next water stop. Runners partake a lot here because they’ve just run the water-less bridge and need to hydrate. I can’t escape two straight blocks of Powerade and water flooding of my toes. But wait, that’s not the worst! There’s a hydration zone a bit further up, where they hand out sponges! Sponges! Noooo! I’m forced to squish through three straight blocks of this. Oh GOSH the aggravation! Make it stop! Make it stop! Total misery!

Mile 17.7: Pit-stop 4: I get a short reprieve when I meet my brother-in-law and nephew. They’ve got Powerade for me and something very, very refreshing: pizza! Oh yum, it’s cold, but it’s delicious and it’s a sight for sore eyes, or a taste for sore feet, or however you want to remake that metaphor. Oh yum yum yum. I stay for a minute or two and explain my predicament. Knowing today is no PR, I have the time. I take another couple of swigs, rip off the crust, and I’m on my way, thankful for the oasis in the desert of pain.

Mile 18: The crowd is more sparse here, and I do some sidewalk running, but I’m forced back repeatedly to the road and it just hurts so bad, man, so bad. My feet just can’t take it anymore.

Mile 19: Oh G-d it hurts, it hurts it hurts it hurts. Get me off this avenue of agony. Get me the hell out of Manhattan. I need The Bronx. Get me to The Bronx, I need it now. My favorite-named band is along this stretch: Squirrels from Hell. I just love the name, amuses me every time. Hey, I could use the distraction.

Mile 20: I pull off to my annual “urinal,” the beams for the highways supporting the Triborough - oh excuse me, RFK - Bridge. I’m aware I have a yarmulke on my head so this spot allows me to do this discreetly. I’m grateful for every stop. My feet need the break. We head over the Willis Avenue Bridge and I get no reprieve whatsoever. The road has vertical grooves. I can run with the Vibrams over more common horizontal grooves, but verticals HURT! They HURT! Get me the hell off this bridge!!! I get off the bridge, finally, and pretty much the worst thing that could happen to me on a day like this, does: I slip, on a banana peel. You may take some time out of your day to laugh at my predicament. Done? Okay, so I slip on a banana peel and go kersplat on my elbows and face. I feel, at the same exact instant, like I’ve been pulled apart like Stretch Armstrong AND smashed into the Earth by the Fist of God. I wrench my left knee, my left hip and my right ankle. At this point, I’m just completely demoralized. However, I remember a lesson my father taught me when he used to chaperone me on Purim when I tended to drink a bit much. He constantly admonished me to never, under any circumstances, allow myself to be in such a state that I was wallowing in my own mess on the ground. I carry that lesson with me always, so I get up to my knees immediately, but can’t stand up right away. I’m in too much pain. I’m just so embarrassed at this moment. Here I am, SuperJew and all that, surrounded by a field of banana peels. Uch, just psychologically horrid. I do get up, but I’m not the same after that. My left leg isn’t working. I do a fair amount of walking, and the pats on the back start. Lots of them, with lots of encouragement.

Mile 21: I limp through The Bronx in agony. My left leg locking up, getting worse. Balance is getting to a be a challenge. For the first time ever in my marathon life, I have to pull over to rest my head on a fence and stretch out my legs and breathe, breathe, breathe before continuing on my broken, painful, agonizing path. I come back into Manhattan, where I pray to the living God that 5th Avenue isn’t gravel-filled like 1st. It isn’t. Oh, thank heaven. I don’t know what I would have done had it been the same. I think I would have curled up on a sidewalk in the fetal position and begged for my mommy, or at least beg someone to throw me on his shoulder and carry me to finish line. The irony? While I’m thinking that, that’s exactly what I see on a runner’s t-shirt: “Notice: if you should come across my lifeless body on the road, please drag to finish line.” Now that’s an awesome t-shirt! It gets me going. Sometimes you need little things like that to give you a charge. I can’t keep it up forever though, and I find myself getting a LOT of attention, both from runners behind me with their back-pats and words of encouragement, and the spectators shouting for Jewish Superman to fly already. I gobble up every piece of nourishment offered, and keep digging into my gels. Energy, energy, I need energy. I need my legs to stop hurting, I need to see my family, I need to finish this race. It’s hurting me so bad.

Mile 22: Ow ow ow. At Marcus Garvey Park, I pull over to the sidewalk and walk slowly in parallel with the runners. It’s peaceful here, a nice pocket of silence. I’m able to gather my thoughts together and invigorate myself a bit. I do what I can to combat my despair. I rejoin the crowd after a few blocks of walking in this fashion and then, I get what is probably the most refreshing thing I’ve ever had during a marathon: beer. A guy is standing on the sidelines with Coronas in hand, offering them to runners. I pull up to him and say, “You know what? I could really use that.” He says, “No problem, just two things: 1) Smile for the camera, and 2) Just try to keep your lips off the bottle. I know you runners know how to do that.” Dude, no problem. I smile and make it to someone’s Facebook page,I turn up the bottle and pour it down my throat. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that feels goooooooooooooooooooooood! I thank him profusely and as I rejoin the runners, one of them asks me if that was enjoyable. I said, “Man, that was the most amazing beer I’ve ever had.”

Mile 22.5: Pit-stop 5: My family! Woohoo! My wife is here with our three kiddies, all beaming and giving me different items. My 6-year old daughter gives me a bagel, my 4-year old son gives me Powerade, my none-of-your-business how old wife gives me my 1-year old son, and we smile for the camera. As with my last stop, I spend some time detailing my woes to my wife. There’s no PR today. I’ve got the time. I need the break. Because I can’t run anymore, it’ll also be a bit before I see them again. After kisses and hugs cheek-pinches all around, my trek of travail carries on.

Mile 23: It’s uphill here. I don’t need that. I really don’t. I munch my bagel and my gels and realize that hey, I actually have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have that heavy feeling. I avoided the wall successfully with proper nutrition and hydration. It’s just the punishment my legs and feet have taken that keep pushing me to the sidelines for temporary reprieves. I get so much encouragement from the crowd and the runners, but I’m an embarrassment to Krypton. Under this yellow sun, I should be much more powerful than this.

Mile 24: Somebody’s holding up a sign that says, “Quitting is not a f!@cking option.” Your damn right it isn’t. But that’s not what gets me going. What does is a sign that says, “I’m proud of you, complete stranger!” Why that gets me going, I don’t know, but it does. I need to get away from all these back slaps. It’s not that they annoy me or anything, it’s because my throat is dry from my saying “Thank you” so much. I feel obligated, ya know? I notice that every time a runner gives me a pat, and I give my thanks, that runner has a smile spread across his or her face, as if they’re grateful to have a fulfilled opportunity to provide requested encouragement. The youngest runner of the race, a kid named Louis, 18 years of age, passes me. Two runners are on either side of him holding a banner over him declaring that fact. Interesting. We enter Central Park.

Mile 25: Central Park has hills. Lots of them. It also has a lot people yelling at me to get it moving. I manage a bit, but not a lot. I try to look triumphant for the cameras (I am looking for a good replacement for my current Facebook pic), but after a while, I just can’t fake it anymore. My left legs hurts too much. I pull over at a bridge. A guy says, “Don’t jump! You gotta finish the race!” I assure him I’m not jumping, but I spend two minutes relaxing, watching the pedestrians go underneath, zoning out. I snap to and continue on my tour of torture.

Mile 26: I try to run, it doesn’t work. I try to hop, that doesn’t work either. I try to shuffle, nope, that’s not gonna work. A barefoot runner passes me. Holy hell, how do you do that, man? The “1/2 mile to go sign” pops up. I feel a resurgence of strength, and somehow I manage to right myself into something that might closely resemble running. I can tell it looks kind of like running because the back-pats stop. I enter the park, and graduate the “run” to a gait where I’m charging forward while dragging my left leg behind me like I’m a zombie from Night of the Living Good. It’s good enough, but I’m hurting so bad, I’m actually crying. I can’t remember the last time I actually cried from physical pain. But the crowd keeps yelling for me and I see the finish line in the distance, and – hold on, I’m getting emotional…there, all better – I’m closing the gap, and somehow I get my left leg under me and I’m able to actually run for the last tenth of a mile, and…

Mile 26.2: …I hit that finish line and exult like never, ever before. I did it. Through pain that I’ve never experienced before, I did it. But boy did I learn my lesson hard. I get my medal, I take my photo, I get and give hugs to strangers (I’m like that sometimes, particularly at the end of marathons), I shuffle with the crowd to the exit, meet my wife and kids, head home, have a junk-food dinner (My two week junk-food post-marathon binge will be reduced to two days, I’ve got an ultra scheduled, and I’ve got to stay in shape), put the kids to sleep, take an Epsom salt bath, write some more of my novel and head off to sleep. A good day. I just now have to rethink what I’m going to do about next year’s NYC.

The morning after: I wake up with the feeling that my legs were detached yesterday and re-attached all wrong this morning. I head into work though, it’s good to get the muscles moving and the blood flowing. I should be okay in three days, and I’m psyched for my ultra. Anyone wanna join me?