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).


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