Monday, August 27, 2012

The 2012 JRunners Relay Race Awards

The 2012 JRunners Relay Race Awards
Martin Bodek

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 2012 JRunners Relay Race Awards. I am your host, Martin Bodek. Ryan Seacrest tried to land the hosting gig, but I beat him away and immediately signed a four-year contract with JRunners to continue my hosting duties. With that secured, I’ve got “Runnies” to hand out to some deserving recipients.

The We've Got The Runs Award for the Best Team Name - The team names were, in order of their arrival at the finish line: Team 4 AKA Sons of Mitches, Team 2 AKA Team 6-Pack, Team 6 AKA The Lean Mean Relay Machine, Team 5 AKA Smells Like Team Spirit, Team 3 AKA Death Zone, Team 1 The Kohanim/King’s Solomon. This vote was put to the runners, organizers and volunteers, and by an overwhelming margin (of 1-0-0-0-0-0), Sons of Mitches hoists the trophy.

The Abba The Winner Takes It All Award – Yaakov Bressler, Team 3. This awards ceremony will be quite short, because our very own Ironman has hogged up most of the available Runnies. To start with, he receives The Steve Prefontaine Guts Award for signing up in the first place to run six legs (5, 8, 10, 26, 28, 30) totaling 32.17 miles. To continue with, he receives The Pam Reed Extra Mile Award for actually finishing what he signed up to do! He also gets The Winston Churchill Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Give Up Award for putting an unbelievable amount of pressure on the next team on the course, despite his team going a little off course. He also gets the Princess Fergie Weight Watchers Award for dropping 5 pounds off his frame over the course of the day (Dehydration alert! Careful!). Due to this haul, Yaakov inherits MVP honors from last year’s recipient, Yitzy Mittel.

The Luke Skywalker The Force is Strong with this One Award AKA The Zeh Hakaton Gadol Yehiyeh Award AKA The Rookie of the Year Award – Yonatan Meiri. All of 13 years old, Yonatan was given 4 legs, and he did them. One of those legs was 17. He did that. Aw heck, let’s also give him the Children of Israel Na’aseh V’nishmah Award.

The Gunnery Sergeant Hartman Troop Rallier Award – Moishie Gamss, Team 2. Many of Captain Moishie’s teammates credited him with providing the proper motivation with a rousing speech during the closing legs, as they made gains on first while pushing third further down the pile. The substance of what he said is a closed-door secret, because what happens in the car, stays in the car.

The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine Best Decorated Van Award - Team 3. They deserve this award simply for trying so hard, especially for my attention so they could grab the award. Every inch of their car was covered with slogans and messages and streamers and…pirate stuff? Team 1 tried as well, but were disqualified due to a typo that I demanded be corrected. I absolutely will not tolerate such things.

The Crank Yankers Best Pranker Award – Team 3. And I quote a Death Zone team member: “As Levi Chitrik was flying across his leg, making up a lot of time on Bodie's team, we were driving Yaakov Bressler to the start of the next leg when we came across Jonathan Pittinsky. He hadn't noticed us yet, so that's when the evil thought came to me to have Bressler jump out and sprint right past him. The panicked look was priceless. Sorry, Jonathan.”

The Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild Award - Eli Friedman, Team 2. I came across deer, as did Joel Mandel on the same leg 10. Moshe Lewis happened across deer and a bear, Steven Gelbtuch swears he actually made eye-contact with a bear, YItz Ovits ran into skunks and an unleashed barking dog. Rats were also reported on the course. In the hierarchy of things, however, almost nothing beats actually being chased by an animal (being bitten, like Adam Orlow last year, is the upper echelon of achievement), which happened to poor Eli on his second leg. Hey, at least one can get an award out of it.

The Edmund Hilary Alpine Award – Chesky Rand, Team 1: Yossi Cohn, Team 2; Yonatan Meiri, Team 3; Shia Itzkowitz, Team 4; Yossi Pancer, Team 5; Yossi Sharf, Team 6. The names above were the runners of leg 17, designed for the few, the brave, the abnormally masochistic (or sadistic on part of their captains). They RAND hard, charging like PANCERs, but this is not a MEIRI leg.The route is hard as COHN be and difficult to withstand. The pain was SHARF for some, causing yelps of ITZK! OW! ITZ not for the faint of heart, or legs. Pancer could not continue on after injuring himself already on leg 7. Sharf aggravated a pre-existing condition and could not go on. Rand had that frightening thousand-yard stare. Cohn was left looking vacant. Meiri was thrown into it, not knowing what he was in for, but the young padawan (the youngest in the race) learned quickly. However, Shia Itzkowitz beamed like a cheshire cat, seemingly the only one entirely unruined by the difficult experience. He powered through it at an awesome 9:31 clip. He needed a taxi after 7.7 miles into the latest Lawrence Run, but he didn’t need a taxi this time!

The David Zinczenko Eat This, Not That Award – Zevi Jaffa, Team 5. Zevi Jaffa refused all offers of water, Gatorade, gels, and any other form of sustenance from his teammates. Instead, he demanded photographic and video footage of his runs. His reasoning, according to Aaron Panzok: “Water you can get after you finish running; pictures and video you have to capture the moment.”

The Faster Than a Speeding Bullet Award – Mordechai Ovits, Team 5. 20 miles in an aggregate 6:48 clip. Wow.

The More Powerful Than a Locomotive Award - Moishie Gamss, Team 2. 25 total miles at sub-7:00, and ran legs 6 and 7 back to back totaling 14.1 miles. Wowsers.

The Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound Award – Joel Mandel, Team 4.  Leg 10 at 7:08, a time that’s physically impossible. I know; I ran that leg; I ran my brains out and did it in 7:44. Joel’s time is astonishing. Wowserino.

The It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! Award! – Yitzchok Mittel, Team 4. On leg 7, Moishie Gamss was doing a greased-lightning 6:10 down one of the hills when Yitzchok passed him at the speed of light. Gamss called out, "Yitz, what are you doing? A 5:20?” The response: "Just about." Wowsenheimer.

The Speedy Gonzalez Yepa Yepa Handaleh Handaleh Yeeha! Award – Yitzchok Mittel, Team 4. Then Yitzchok finished the entire 7.7 mile leg 7 at a 6:10 pace. Wawaweewa!

Bodek out! (Take that, Seacrest!)

Martin Bodek is the beat reporter for Buy his books though ( as this gig pays him squat. Ironically, you can get the Kindle versions for squat (

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Report from My (and the) 3rd Annual JRunners Relay Race

Report from My (and the) 3rd Annual JRunners Relay Race
Martin Bodek

The third go-round of the JRunners Relay Race was, by far, the most fun, invigorating, challenging, exciting, supernal iteration of any of the races JRunners has thus far staged. There was something inherently electric and fantastic about it. At the writing of the piece below, I’ve not yet put my finger on why this was exactly, but perhaps upon reading, the nature of the why of the race’s excellence might filter through.

Leg 1: Boom! We’re out of the cannon following a resounding rendition of the national anthem. I removed my cap, as usual, but my trustworthy mother covered my Mariano Rivera-bald pate with her hand while I respected the Star Spangled Banner. Our man Zevi Jaffa was first out of the blocks. The start looped back on itself after one mile, to add to some of the excitement of the start proceedings. Ten minutes had passed before the first man through, Levi Gutwein, made an appearance. Perhaps they had traffic issues. Our man Zevi followed close behind, by less than a minute. A great start to our race. After the last man was through, Car B (me, Mordechai Ovits, Yossi Pancer and Abraham Lebovits) was off to Fort Lee to rest our legs for our legs.

Leg 2: While Car B was en route to Fort Lee, Car A(Zevi Jaffa, Jonthan Pittinsky, Aaron Panzok and Yitz Ovits)’s Zevi handed the baton to Jonathan Pittinsky in second position. Jonathan was passed by one runner in the first half mile. Later, Adam Orlow caught him just before the Brooklyn Bridge (Jonathan prevented Orlow from going straight to the Manhattan Bridge, a time-honored JRunners practice). Our man Jonathan Ran the 7.7 miles at an 8:17 clip, three seconds faster than his 10K PR. While scorching the earth with his new speed, he saw one of the race support vehicles got into a minor accident/incident with a biker, right in front of a police car on Myrtle Avenue. Ouch.

Leg 3: While Ovits managed to get forty winks in, I sold all of the books I brought with me, making my prediction to regret not bringing more, come true. Meantime, Aaron Panzok was kickin’ it for our team and putting on a good show, finishing with a 7:56 pace and maintaining our fourth place position, six minutes off the lead with plenty of time left in the race.

Leg 4: As the fog lowered on Fort Lee and all the Car B runners were schmoozing or sleeping or keeping loose, Mordechai’s younger brother Yitz was out there in pitch blackness, running for miles without seeing a soul. Animal souls were a different story, as he saw plenty of those, in the manner of skunks all along the Hudson River Greenway, one of which forced him to a full stop. Another full stop came in the form of an unleashed dog who apparently wanted to eat him. He had to beg the owner to call the dog inside. Memo to dog owners: place your unleashed, rabid wildevermin behind the runners to improve their times!

Leg 5: Yitz stormed into the exchange and handed off to Zevi Jaffa, who eclipsed PRs for the stretch and came in well under his self-deprecating prediction of “really slow.” He also refused all assistance vis-à-vis water or sustenance, instead asking for pics and video of him out on the road. Hey bud, whatever floats your boat, so long as you keep settings PRs!

Leg 6: Zevi cruised in to the Fort Lee exchange in a chipper mood, holding on to our fourth-place position and handing over to Abraham Lebovits. Car B locked and loaded the car and headed out to support Abe, who was running in to a fog something fierce. Abe paced himself excellently, and finished his leg with Mordy ra-rahing a Marine Running Song alongside his buddy. Abe tore into that leg with gusto, annihilating his 10k PR by five minutes! Five minutes! We were in fifth place now, 41 minutes off the lead, but our speedsters were coming up.

Leg 7: Lebovits handed off to Pancer, who bounded into the night and descending fog, sashaying in his familiar style (which, interestingly, makes him more visible to traffic). The fog was causing Car B some problems, and despite the combined brains of Bodek and Ovits, we couldn’t exactly figure out all the physics. We managed, however, and while fumbling with the heat and windows, caught sight of the Tappan Zee bridge, which I consider to be a beautiful architectural jewel. Back to Pancer, who was tearing up the road at an earth-grooving pace, emboldened by Mordechai’s exhortation to beat his time of 6:53 from last year – and that’s exactly what he did, blasting into the exchange having done the leg at a 6:44 pace, coming in seconds behind Ariel Kohane. We were in a virtual tie for fourth place, 37 minutes off the lead. We had a hilarious moment when rolling into the exchange, passing Ariel, who shouted, “Holy @#$%! Your runner’s catching up to me!” Yes he did, but he paid for it. Yossi’s hammy went whammy, and Chesky Rand tried to provide therapy, but the pain was present, and we now had a problem on our hands. He ran his brains out, but may also have run his legs out.

Leg 8: Mordechai was so completely surprised by the hard-charging Pancer that he wasn’t quite in position to begin his run, but begin he did, at a very fast pace. While driving by in support, we asked him if he needed anything, hoping to hear “water” or “Gatorade.” We heard something that rhymed with “chest,” and I commented to the guys in the car that neither water or Gatorade rhymed with “chest.” What was he talking about? So we cruised by and asked again. He said, “Vest!” Ohhhh! Vest! So I slipped that on him deftly as he nearly bowled me over.

Leg 9: Mordechai handed off to himself, rip-roaring through the night, while I was deposited at the next exchange to await his arrival. I left my phone in the car, and started fretting. Moishie Gamss was nice enough to offer his, without knowing when I’d have an opportunity to return it. He’s a helluva guy. Car B did roll in ahead of our runner, so I retrieved my phone quickly and got into the exchange. Mordy came steaming towards me, having finished 9.8 miles at a 6:49 pace. Wowsers.

Leg 10: My turn! Off I went with a successful exchange, Mordechai having carved into the lead of the team in front of us. The fog had lifted and the sun was rising, and I was in excellent spirits with lots of energy. I ran hard, I ran fast, I climbed monster hills as best I could (by using the skitter-step log-rolling technique), I ran up unfair right-angle hills that shouldn't be run, I climbed 702 total feet, all while having in mind to come in under 8:00 per mile, which was the time that was fastest last year. I wanted that, bad, so on the downhills, I absolutely let it all go. I was flying so fast at one point, that my curiosity got the better of me. I plucked my phone from my hip, and discovered that I was zipping along at a 4:36 pace! Whoa! Slow down! So I did, but not by much. A deer crossed my path, sending my heart rate through the roof. Some other JRunners cars passed by, offering me assistance, I told them all I needed was a shotgun for the deer and dynamite for the hills. I came storming into the exchange, handing off to Car A’s Aaron Panzok, and was pleased as punch that I completed the leg in 7:44. Woohoo! I sliced six minutes into the lead of the team in front of us, and we were just 20 minutes behind the lead team. I then ate the biggest breakfast of my life, prayed to the Lord, then had another massive breakfast for dessert. While at Bubba’s, I would learn that a fellow named Joel Mandel had completely nuked my time on leg 10 with an astonishing 7:08. No fair! I worked so hard!

Leg 11: Aaron Panzok’s boots on the ground, exhausted after spending a stinky sweaty four hours in an unventilated van. He imbibed an espresso power gel as breakfast and got his second wind at my handoff to him and ran another super-proud sub-8:00 pace, while shouting that he was having the best time ever.  Aaron was so pumped over his times, he was ready to disrobe if it meant picking up the pace. His words, not mine.

Leg 12: Jonathan Pittinsky on the prowl, chewing through the very difficult leg like a champion. He actually overtook third place temporarily while climbing 593 net feet at a thrilled-to-bits 9:13 pace. Nice going, Jonathan!

Leg 13: Zevi Jaffa now, refusing water again and demanding pictures again for posterity. His reasoning? “Water you can get after you finish running. Pictures and video you have to capture the moment.” Hey, like I said, if posterity is your food, eat away! Aaron Panzok served as trusty videographer. At this point, Car B misheard that Car A had just started leg 14, which meant we might not make it in time to leg 15 to accept the handoff! Yikes! Everybody in the car! Lickety split and vroom vroom! I made some quick calculations and determined that we’d have to make it to leg 15 traveling approximately 245 miles per hour. Wouldn’t you know it, with Pancer driving (and in obvious pain, something we needed to address quickly, but were avoiding the elephant in the room, or uh, injured runner in the car), we were likely going to pull it off.

Leg 14: Fortunately, the 245 MPH requirement was brought down to 17 MPH when we received news about where exactly the Car A runners were on the course.  So we took in the scenery while Yitz Ovits was out on the course, PRing yet again with an “easy peezy lemon squeezy 8:00 minutes per mile on the nose.” Gravity did the work. All he had to do was not fall down. He succeeded, much like Douglas Adams’ secret to flight: throwing yourself at the ground and missing.

Leg 15: Yitz handed off to Panzok, who powered through his leg once again while beginning to suffer some uh, TMI issues and needed to use an entire bottle of TMI stuff to take care of it. Aaron also had diet issues, as the jitters kept him from eating fully just before or just after his legs – which was the whole time due to the fact that we were just eight runners! Then he needed to do some TMI things off in the woods. The temporary reprieve for him and Car A came at the right time, as the exchange was successful with Car B arriving in time to receive the baton.

Leg 16: Car B now on the move, supporting Mordechai once more on the “teepee” course (500 feet up for two miles, 700 feet down for 2.4). He ran through its brutality at a faster-than-last-year pace of 6:39. It was probably too fast, as it took a lot out of him.

Leg 17: Speaking of having a lot taken out of you, Yossi Pancer was out on the course on the most difficult leg of all, especially because it targeted the one muscle that was giving him a lot of trouble. He used it as a testing ground to see if he could continue racing, using the short distance (2.1 miles) to his advantage. He gutted and grunted it out, grimacing mournfully throughout; ambling slowly to the end, when he declared that he was done. He did his best, but when a 25-year running veteran says he’s hurt, he’s hurt. He’d live to see another day. Yossi took over driving duties and we started planning for the two tough legs still left on his itinerary. This was not going to be easy.

Leg 18: Lebovits out there now, on some psycho-steep downhills (600 feet down in 1.5 miles, anyone?) so treacherous, he was scared he was going to fall over. He may have been the only runner on the course thrilled to actually see some uphills for a change. We got him through it with some good team support. Abe looked solid all the way.

Leg 19: I took the baton from Abe and screeched across the Warwick roads at breakneck speed, determined to put in an awesome time. I was familiar with this leg, having run it last year. I knew its contours, turns, even where all the gravel spilled, and I was rolling. My first mile was 6:51. Whoa, that was way too fast, so I slowed it down to survive the next 10k in front of me. I barreled into and through the next exchange having finished the leg at a thrilling 7:33 pace while climbing 500 feet. Awesome!

Leg 20: I could not keep up the pace here, and ran into some hills that were so steep, I swear my chest was only five inches off the ground. My teammates found me on my grunting phase. I couldn’t have appeared in good shape at that point, but as soon as I had a downhill, I rocketed. At another uphill juncture, my team offered help, I asked for ice in my cap, got it, plopped it on my head and was immediately refreshed. When I started to not be able to perform basic algebra due to the brain freeze, I figured that was enough, and dumped the remainder down my shirt. Ooh, felt good. Later on, another team sprayed water on me and I was refreshed again. My goal for the 7.2 mile stretch was sub-8:00. I did it in 7:59. That's what I'm talking about. I handed the baton over to Yitz, and proceeded immediately to the car to huddle with Mordechai about what exactly we were going to do about the legs that needed to get done in face of our team injury. We could not give any to Car A because they were about to run themselves silly. We could not give any to Car B because we’d be in middle of running the surrounding legs and wouldn’t be able to take the additional pounding! What to do? We looked over the leg maps and the assignments in depth, and we had only one solution: we’d have to run the legs by committee. The director was at the exchange, so Captain Ovits went over and asked for permission. The answer was no, so we huddled again, went over everything again, tried to find a creative way to get the legs done by singular runners. It couldn’t be done. Mordechai went back to the director, begged, no. We huddled again, called Car A for input, looked it over this way and that, bent ourselves silly trying to find a way through this. It just wasn’t possible. We’d be asking too much, risking grave injury of already-beaten runners. Mordechai went back to the director, pled our case, laid out the facts. We got permission to run by committee. Oh thank heaven. We had a plan. We’d finish unless we had another catastrophe.

Leg 21: With the plan in place, Mordechai now had to deliver the bad news to Car A. They’d have to help out with some additional miles. They said yes. What awesome teamwork. With the matter settled, we pulled up stakes, and headed for exchange 25, enjoying the scenic (according to Mordechai), beautiful (according to Abe), pastoral, and bucolic (according to me and the Thesaurus in my head) landscapes of lush greenery, farms, cornfields and domestic fauna. I demanded we stop and patronize the first farmstand we see. Abe was on board. Unfortunately, all we found was a maple syrup stand, and we had enough of that at Bubba’s. Meanwhile, Yitz was out there enjoying as well, finishing at 10:00 minutes per mile on the nose. And I quote: “I was passed by a runner, but he was so damn polite. He just said 'good luck' as he passed, and he wasn't even being sarcastic! Jerk.”

Leg 22: We rolled into exchange 25 and chilled. Literally: we iced up, our bodies and our coolers, while our respective Car As were doing hard work in the sun. Panzok was out there, suffering more TMi issues, but he never gave in despite two bleeding toes and some serious TMI. He simply would not quit when chances were excellent that we could overtake third. He pounded out another mid-8 pace on an empty stomach, festering TMI problems, and happy feet, running hard all the way and handing off to Zevi Jaffa.

Leg 23: Jaffa ran his brains out, gaining on the team ahead of us in third place, closing the gap to three minutes. Again, Zevi refused assistance and demanded photos.

Leg 24: The Pittinsky machine was loosed yet again upon the mountains. He challenged the same runner as he did on leg 12 and tried to psyche him out by showing him the towers on the top of the hill they were about to climb. Jonathan closed the gap on the team in third place from three minutes to one minute, and probably would have overtaken him and climbed into third (while climbing 300 feet) if he didn’t have to preserve his energy for leg 25.

Leg 25: What did he have to save his energy for, exactly? The 800 foot drop. Eight. Hundred. Feet. In 2.5 miles. Yowza. Jonathan was all over it though, finishing the 7.7 total mountain miles at an 8:51 pace. The gap between us and third was now just three minutes.

Leg 26: It was the committee’s turn to huff and puff through their difficult leg. Before heading out, I gave Panzok some TMI stuff for his TMI problem, and he was off. The strategy for each runner would be to run at a respectable rate, and hand off once exhaustion and flagging set in. No matter what the committee did, they couldn’t equal one Pancer, and inevitably, we’d lose our grip on making headway towards third place and would cede ground to the team behind us. So be it though, we were undaunted and all we wanted was to finish proud. Aaron’s continued diet issue got curiouser, as he fed off the music Car A and B blasted for him. Car B (Pancer’s car) only had kiddy music, which put a huge, bewildered smile on Panzok’s face. I had a hearty laugh as well with the most hilarious run of my life. I stepped out of the car to run alongside Aaron to provide encouragement, and he outran me! I felt a bit stupid, but man was that funny! Aaron kept running bravely at an 8:30 clip, but got winded, handing off to Zevi for a mile and change before Jonathan took the remainder. Great teamwork all around. Both cars were filled with pride.

Leg 27: Lebovits’ turn. The man is tough, and he was tired, but he powered through. At one point, he doubled over in pain, and it caused us some concern, but he regathered and kept climbing the ridiculous hills. Yitz joined him at his side for the support, pacing him through, and semi-mooning him for motivation. At the end of Abe’s leg, after handing off to me, he laid down in the gravel, completely spent. Both runners achieved the venerated Runner’s High: Yitz declared it his favorite leg despite the fact that it wasn’t his; Abe said he’s never been so happy to be in so much pain that he couldn’t move.

Leg 28: Before taking the handoff from Abe, the mood was relaxed at the exchange. I chatted with the director and found Chezky Rosenblum petered out in the grass. I approached him and said, “What the @#$% did you go and create this race for? We’re all dying out here!” He took it in good humor, which is how I meant it. We were having the time of our lives. I then went to do some TMI in the woods, and returned to find Chesky sprawled out on my seat in the car. So I ventured over to another parked car, only to find, where runners were supposed to be, three kinderlach, a lady in the driver’s seat (apropos) and Steven Weber in a state of delirium and exhaustion. In a pan, the lovely Mrs. Weber brandished some delicious-looking cinnabuns (I rewrote that sentence twelve times to avoid sounding like a naughty cad), which I scarfed down with delight. Yum. Thank you, Mrs. Weber! Perfect fuel! I then got into position and took the baton from Abe. Just before heading off, Captain Mordechai cautioned me to take it easy, in light of the heat exhaustion I had suffered the year before. I said I would, but I also needed to head off Yaakov Bressler’s team, who was closing the gap behind us. He said, “Oh, then run your brains out.” He was kidding of course, so I obeyed his initial advice, gunning for an 8:30 at a measured pace, hydrating properly along the way. This leg was the best of legs and the worst of legs; the best due to the scenic run through various bungalow colonies (one named “Mountain Hill” something, ironic), the worse because it was the dog-barking (and therefore unnerving) route. While cruising past Damesek Eliezer estates or something, I came across a daf yomi chabura. I recalled that last year, I wanted to pull off the road and lie down in a ditch. Now, I wanted to pull over for some learning. What a difference a year makes. I was taking it easy, but gaining on the team ahead of us, and keeping Team Death Zone at bay. A DZ vehicle pulled up alongside me and advised that Bressler was way back. I didn’t believe them. Then my car pulled up and said to take it easy, Bressler was way behind. I didn’t believe them. Then DZ’s next car pulled up and said Bressler was nowhere close. Finally I believed them and took it a bit easier. I climbed 460 feet and was strong on all the hills. I did it in 8:09 while holding on to our position. I would have been slightly faster had the last stretch not been a Vibrams-unfriendly gravel pit. I handed off to Jonathan, runner 1 of The Committee.

Leg 29: Jonathan piled on 2.78 more miles into his exhausting day. This was technically his sixth leg!. While out there, Bressler’s team pulled off a clever prank by dumping Bressler out of the car to zoom past Jonathan and pretend his team had caught up to us. The look on his face has been described by historians as “priceless,” but Death Zone owned up to it immediately. Well played. Zevi took over from Jonathan for some downhills, Yitz then ran for about half a mile, Panzok took some more lumps on the lumpy route, and Jonathan closed it out in good form and in fourth place, placing the baton in the hands of Mordechai for the stretch run.

Leg 30: Car B provided support for Mordechai until it was clear that a) he didn’t need us, and b) we had to double-time to the finish area to meet him for the final team dash to the finish line. We met the members of Car A, thrilled to be holding on to fourth place and bewildered at how close we were to third, having spotted the runners headed for the finish line as we pulled in with our car. Mordechai came charging in, with the hammer down at a 6:53 pace, outrunning nearly everybody. Pancer joined us, and I accompanied him to the finish, where we got our medals, did pushups, gobbled down garbage food, enjoyed a nice, cold beer, and disbanded in excellent spirits. We finished fourth. Last year my team finished fifth, the year before: sixth, so next year I podium. Pittinsky was nominated unanimously for team MVP. Others may have run faster (Mordechai Ovits did his 20 miles at 6:48!) and more (Aaron Panzok’s final total was about 24 miles, Jonathan’s was 22.6), but no one ran more legs or climbed higher or dropped steeper or said “yes” more than did he. Great performance, Jonathan!

So I think this year was the best ever because of the increased teamwork, coordinated support, excellent camaraderie, unselfish brotherhood, motivated performances, loose atmosphere, and agreeable weather. I can’t wait for more, of everything JRunners – and my beloved band of running brothers – has to offer.

Martin is the beat reporter for and the future author of "54 Runners, 54 Stories: The Tale of the 2012 JRunners Relay Race." You can see his other books here: Yes, they're all available on Kindle for bupkiss.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm HDI-SCM Certified!


This means that of the top 5 certifications available in my field, I am proudly accredited with 5 of them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'm in Bookstores!

You must buy this calendar:
Why? Because the author was nice enough to reach out to me and - while piling on heaps of praise - request excerpts from for inclusion. A half dozen snippets of my work are featured. This means my work now appears in bookstores, which is classified as, well, joy, on the self-actualization chart. Ecstasy would be a book reading, euphoria would be my book in a book store and nirvana would be my book in a library. Thank you for the love, Marnie Winston-Macauley.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Siyum HaShas Speech

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you very much for being here today, smack in middle of your busy summer day. I know that I’ve interrupted your schedules and I therefore I very much appreciate that you made efforts to be here. Naomi went to great pains to find a date and time that would be agreeable to everyone, knowing that no matter what she settled on, it would be inconvenient for a lot of people. So in the first place, I’m grateful that you made it here today, and more importantly, I’m extremely grateful to Naomi for putting this affair together.
I had a Rebbe. His name was Rav Shlomo Eisenblatt, zatzal. He authorized his talmidim – and it was his common practice – to speak the name of God when one is feeling extremely grateful. He held of this in matters both spiritual and secular. Therefore, b’reshus my rebbe Reb Shlomo: Hodu lashem ki tov ki l’olam chasdo! Tov lehodos lashem ulezamer lesimcha elyon! We have finished Shas! Boruch HaShem boruch HaShem!  We have finished Shas!
Five years ago, my wife and I – and our little Naavaleh – were zocheh to go to Eretz Yisroel. While we were there, we had a tour guide by the name of Reb Chayim who showed us around Tsfat. In Tsfat is the kever of Rav Yehuda bar Iloy. At the kever of Rav Yehdua bar Iloy there is a collection of benches and tables. There is a minhag to circle the kever while reciting tehillim in a certain way and when done, to approach the kever, ask for things in a very specific manner, and when the request is fulfilled, to return to the kever, and have a seudas mitzvah at the benches and tables.
I asked for three specific things:
One, I asked for a refuah for my old friend Dovid Yifrach ben Tuvia Yamnik, of blessed memory. Unfortunately, the immediate response was no.
Two, I asked that I should publish a book. That’s not specific enough though, because I knew I would eventually get that done. That was under my control, and indeed, I’ve written a few books (available today for $19.95!). What was not under my control was how successful I’d be. So my specific request was to make a living as a writer. So God’s answer to that has so far been: maybe.
Finally, I had just started learning Shas at the time of my visit, and I already had an inkling that I would finish it. Because when Martin Bodek starts something, he sees it through to the end.
L’mah dovor domeh? To borrow a phrase from the gemorah? I have a perfect analogy, which is most apropos since the Olympics are occurring as we speak, and the marathon was run just this morning. There was a marathon runner from Tanzania in the 1968 games by the name of John Stephen Akhwari. He was badly hurt during the race, dislocating his knee and bruising his shoulder. He limped into the stadium one hour and fifteen minutes after the winner. He was asked afterwards why he bothered finishing when he was obviously in so much pain. He said, “My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”
I think my in-laws realized this quality of mine in short order. Originally, we had a program where I would finish one of the Schottenstein gemorahs, visit our local seforim store, and use my father-in-law’s credit card – on file – to purchase the next one. Finally he caved and bought the whole darn thing. Either there was a great deal or he saw how committed I was. I prefer to think it was the latter.
So my third request was the boldest of all. I asked that I be zoche to finish Shas, but I needed to be more specific, so I asked that I would do it while my grandfather was still alive. He was 86 at the time, and he would be 93 when I finish.
Boruch HaShem, my grandfather is alive, although he’s not very well. But he has been rejuvenated and revived, in large part due to my sister Yenti’s efforts and my brother-in-law Nuchem Yitzchok and their children.
So, God’s answers to me have been: no, maybe, yes. Therefore, I’YH, my family will be going to Israel and we’ll make a siyum there. I don’t know when this will be, and my wife and I missed out on the El-Al pricing snafu, but I’m hoping that when we do, we can be joined once again by our tour guide.
So today, I’d like to answer some burning questions you might have for me. I’m not talking about easily answerable questions, like: when do you have time for all this stuff? That’s easy. We’ve already established that I don’t sleep.  And I can’t discuss in public what my favorite learning was. You’d need an internet filter for the full answer. I’m talking about questions whose answers need to be fleshed out a bit more, and that can be talked about at length in a public forum.
I have four questions I’d like to answer for you today: 1) What does it take to finish daf yomi? 2) How long does it take to finish daf yomi? 3) Why does it mean so much to me?, and 4) To whom have I dedicated the learning?
So now that you asked me the feer kashes, I’ll do you a toivah and answer you a teretz.
Question # 1: What does it take to finish daf yomi? Well I’ve crunched the numbers and I think I’ve determined the exact formula: 65% OCD and 35% enablers.
                I’ve established, by word and by practice, that I finish what I start, that I don’t start what I won’t finish, that I have a certain stick-to-it-iveness.
Also, I have made good decisions in life, and have avoided bad ones. I’ve chosen a good and honest living, I’ve chosen a good town to live in, I’ve chosen a great shul, I found myself a good woman, I chose some really great inlaws. On the other side of the coin, I’ve avoided catastrophe in my life and used my energies towards good things. In my youth I was surrounded by friends who had tracks on their arms, who were drunk half the time, taking hits from soda canisters in the camp canteen. But I never partook. I wanted no part of it. I was properly channeled. Instead of drugs, I got into fitness. Instead of alcohol, I got into Scrabble. Instead of wasting time In various harmful ways, I took up daf yomi.
This is all part and parcel of the same mode of thinking that I’ve used my whole life. I see things through, I make good decisions, I avoid bad ones.  I’d like to think I’m an example of the correct approach to internet filtering. We have to make our children into filters, so that they can discern for themselves. This is the quality that my parents have given me.
This is why I can’t give myself the entire credit for my gestalt. A lot of this goes to my enabling quartet of parents, each of whom focused on a particular part of my personality to channel me in the proper direction. How did they do it? Well, my mom focused on my physical wellbeing. My father focused on my mental and emotional wellbeing, my aba made sure I enjoyed the fun part of life. We went on lots of fun road trips together. And my mum was always after me about my academic success and was very adamant that I marry a Stern girl.
As you can see, boruch Hashem, I remain physically fit, mentally sound, fun-loving, serious about my career, and I found my perfect Stern girl. To my parents, I say thank you for all this – I hope you see that your efforts have been rewarded – and today, I thank you in particular for leading me down the path to the occasion we’re sharing today.
I’d also like to point out the things which you all took responsibility for were successfully handed over to Naomi, and she has handled the facets that you handled quite capably. She gets to my heart through my stomach, she makes sure I remain responsible to our family as far as making a living, she nurtures my intellect, and we make sure to spend Date Nights together. So thank you, Naomi, for scoring a touchdown after the handoff.
So that’s what it takes. That’s how I’ve been able to stick to something for this long.
So how long does it take?
Well that seems to be a simple question, and it has a known answer: Talmud bavli is 2,711 pages. It takes 7 years and 5 months to finish.
But I wanted to show you in metaphor.
(beckon over Naava)
This is my daughter Naava. She is as old as this daf yomi endeavor. I completed my first masechte - maseches Brachos - at her simchat bat, and here we are all this time later. She was a little baby then, and she’s a pretty lady now. She is the physical manifestation of the spiritual undertaking. This is how long it takes to nurture the learning.
So I give myself a brocha that I should I’YH finish Shas again when she’s twice this age. And coincidentally, around that time, my Freddy will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. So Freddy, I should be zoche to finish Shas again at your Bar Mitzvah in your honor.
Der driteh kasha is…
What does this mean to me? Why does it matter to me? I have two reasons.
One: I’ve done a few cute things in my life of some note. I’ve written a few books (available today for $14.95!), I’ve run a few marathons, I’m the 37th best Scrabble player in Jersey. Now these are all very cute, nice, good, fun, but mostly trivial. Finishing Shas is something I take with me. It follows me after 120 to wherever I’m going, and it’s the legacy that will remain with my children.
I was particularly struck by what appears on the tombstone of my wife’s paternal grandfather’s tombstone. There it is: He finished Shas twice. It doesn’t mention all the interesting things he did with his life. The degrees he earned, the music boxes that he sold for a living, the responsible way he cared for his family. No, he finished Shas twice.
That’s the way I’d like it to be for me. My matzeivah will say I was a good husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, I’YH. And there’ll be a play on words for my third name, but I want it to say how many times I finished Shas. Because that will speak for me, in this life and the next, more than anything else I’ve done with my life.
Two: My grandfather, Benzion ben Chantze, is no longer able to learn daily. He has finished Shas 14 times, and I feel it would be a shame if his “horeving” yomim v’lailah was not continued by any of his descendants. I am proud and feel responsible to pick up that mantle and continue his legacy. I want to be the vehicle through which he earns the brocha of ”Sheloy tamish hatorah m’pi I’m’pi zari v’zera zari, ad oylum.” I feel that if I, his “zera zari” continues along this path, I will be the vessel through which he becomes blessed in this way, having earned it over the course of his life. And in turn, I hope to be zocheh to the same. I hope to deserve it.
Finally, we come to the last question, for whom did I learn the gemorah? I think the answer is obvious, if you’ve been paying attention. It’s for my maternal grandfather, Benzion ben Chantze, who is not well at the moment, but present, B’H. I completed Shas at his bedside the day before the official Siyum Hashas. You can imagine how emotional an experience it was for me.
                To put this into context so that you understand why it is that I owe him, allow me to give you a brief biography and a single story, and we’ll then complete Shas together.
                Zaidy had one older sister and one older brother. After they were born, my great grandmother endured six miscarriages. She became pregnant again, and my great grandfather, Reb Aharon, went to the Vizhnitze Rebbe for advice, and the Vizhnitze Rebbe told him to name his future son Benzion. He did so, and my grandfather got a very interesting start to his life.
                In his younger years he was not quite the masmid he would eventually become. He was a man about town. His only surviving cousin, Shula, referred to him as a lady’s man. One day, before heading out to gallivant about, he opened the door to his parents room to say that he’s leaving, and his mother was sitting there crying. He asked what she was crying about. She said, “You, I’m crying about you. You’re wasting your life running around when you could be spending your time so much more wisely.” He did teshuva on the spot, went to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe’s beis medrash, and became his personal chavrusah.
                Then the war came.
                Now, I’ve kind of categorized the different ways in which that generation survived the war.
1)      Concentration camp.
2)      On the run.
3)      In hiding. This includes those who hid underground for half a decade or more.
4)      Shipped out to a Jewish family in some unabused country. This includes the Kindertransport.
5)      Taken in by one of the chasidei amos ha’olam. Oskar Schindler is in this category.
6)      Soldier for the allies, or a partisan.
7)      Somehow found an unaffected place on earth.
What’s interesting about all of the above, is that in my family tree, nearly all of these are covered. Both my grandmothers survived Auschwitz. My wife’s paternal grandmother was on the run the whole time with her family. My wife’s paternal grandfather was sent out on the Kindertransport. My mum’s father was in a Polish labor camp with his brothers, who escaped and went into hiding. And my mother-in-law’s parent were in America, and her father was an American soldier. As was my Aba’s father, of whom I am exceptionally proud. Private First Class Morris Wicentowsky, 101st Combat Engineering Division. Purple Heart Awardee for wounds sustained in defense of his country and of his people.
But my grandfather’s experience does not fall under any of these categories. He falls into an 8th category, lemana min hateva.
There were 18 immediate family members, living close together in Romania, in a town called Transylvania. The Nazis came and tore everything asunder. 16 of the 18 would not survive the war. It would be only him and his brother, who he would not see until the war was over. Everyone else was sent to their death. My grandfather was granted life by the nazis, along with several of his friends, and was used as a foxhole digger on the front lines. He described to me how he watched his friends fall from ally bullets while he was forced to keep digging.
One day in the middle of the night, he escaped, and he trekked through the woods for months, subsisting on mushrooms, stream water, garbage, and whatever he could find inside of whatever dogs and bears left behind.
Then the Soviets captured him, and they enslaved him too. He fetched water for the red army and chopped wood for them in sub-freezing conditions. In return, he got meager rations.
As many of you may know, the soviets were not a well supplied army. They ran out of guns, bullets and food, and believe it or not, after a while, they had to resort to cannibalism to survive.
But my grandfather never partook.
The cook that traveled with the army had to resort to preparing “mentschenfleish,” as my grandfather called it.
My grandfather refused, no matter the hunger he was experiencing. One day the cook offered some of what he made to my grandfather. My grandfather said no. The cook tattled on him and the soviets beat the stuffing out of my grandfather, declaring him to be useless if he didn’t have the energy to bring them their supplies, but he wouldn’t give in and he never did. He abstained.
My grandfather illustrated for me how severe the hunger was. He’s told me this story a few times, and every time he tells it, I chap a pachad.
He said that once, in middle of the winter night, he was laying against a person for warmth, when a person with a knife crawled up to the person on whom my grandfather was laying and proceeded to cut into his shoulder. The person being cut into woke up, turned his hands up, and said, “Brother, can’t you see that I’m still alive?”
That’s how hungry they all were, and my grandfather was hungriest of them all, because he did not partake of what the rest of the marching army and their slaves were partaking in.
The winter ended, and many had died along the way as they traveled, but my grandfather was still alive. They arrived at a Soviet training camp and declared that the red army was running out of men. Any “slave” who was still fit enough for combat would go through basic training and join the allies against the axis.
My grandfather took up basic training, and the Americans arrived. He banded together with nine of his friends and began making their way back home to Romania.
He had one more night of travel left to go, and of course, the traveling group was hungry as usual. They found a batch of mushrooms and ate them before heading off to sleep and rest up for the final day’s travel home.
Guess what? My grandfather did not partake. Something smelled off.
The next morning, he was the only person who woke up. He went the rest of the way himself. He made it home and found that only a single corner of his house remained standing. In that corner it could plainly be seen that his father’s Shas was used as toilet paper, and the corner was used as a bathroom.
He walked out to the middle of the street, sat down and cried.
Somebody came over to him and said, “Benzion? Benzion Malik?”
He looked up, stunned to be face to face with someone he knew from before the war, and said, “Yes!”
The man said, “Your brother is just down the street. He just arrived.”
My grandfather ran out to meet him and grabbed his brother Laizer and hugged him and cried with him and he swears to me that he didn’t let go of him for at least an hour before they commenced with picking up the pieces of their lives.
They dug up the jewels that were buried in their backyard, they buried the Shas that was defiled, they arranged shelter for themselves, they attended a ball for single men and women, where my grandfather met my grandmother and were married in Romania.
One day in 1947, over the loudspeakers in town, it was announced that ships had arrived at the port, that they were there for anybody to board and to be brought to the Holy Land to build up the Medina. My grandparents got on board, and they settled in Acco. And there they were, present and accounted for when Ben Gurion spoke his immortal words.
We now fast-forward through the rest of his life.
My grandparents had 3 children, whom they brought to the United States to resettle. Legend has it that my mother flew to an Elvis concert here in the states, and refused to go back, forcing her family to move to the United States with her. The story might be apocryphal, but in any case, they made it here.
My grandfather was a cook all of his life, he learned all of his life. He was a classic learner/earner.
My grandmother passed away in 2004. They were married for 58 years. My grandparents had 19 grandchildren, 80+ great-grandchildren and 2 great-great children.  None of my grandfather’s 100+ descendants have passed before their time, and I think I know why.
Because the summary of his life is that he made good choices, he avoided bad ones, he chose a good and honest living, a good town to live in, a great shul, a good woman,  he avoided catastrophe all his life and used his energies towards good things. He was surrounded by depravity and dangerous choices, but he never partook. He wanted no part of it. He properly channeled himself. Sound familiar yet?
My grandfather embodied the posuk in Devorim:
הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ--הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ
(translate posuk)
My grandfather chose life, and his children and his grandchildren have lived.
So if you ask me why it is that I dedicated to learning for my grandfather, I think the answer is obvious.
1)      I am alive today because of his wise decisions, and his will to live. He lives with a fire. Even today, laid up in a hospital bed, he is infuriated with his physical frailty and is angry when his legs wobble when he tries to walk. He’s a fighter. So I owe him.
2)      Because it wasn’t just the attention and care my parents gave me that helped me with the discernment that I’ve been blessed with. The zechusim of my grandfather, who was given the brocha I just mentioned, flows through me. He’s given me the spiritual protection in addition to the physical protections my parents have given me. Therefore, I owe him for that as well.
3)      Because I’m jealous of him. Because he chose life and his children and grandchildren have been given life, so do I want to be zoche to merit the same. I choose life, I want my children and grandchildren to live. I want those blessings too.
Finally, if you ask me why I chose to honor him in this specific way, by learning Shas, it’s not just because I want to follow in his footsteps, or that I feel a responsibility to pick up where he leaves off, or that I have a mild form of OCD and I have no choice. It’s because, I have to imagine, that he was transformed when he saw his father’s Shas desecrated and defiled in his home. Just like he went to the Beis Medrash when he saw his mother crying, and took up learning the rest of his life, so too he must have decided to create a tikun for his gemorah when he saw it so horribly torn apart and defaced. He finished Shas more times than there have been cycles of Shas! That’s why. He saw defilement and raised it to kedusha. I see the kedusha that I have inherited and I feel responsible to continue it, to continue the tikun, the repair.
You all know that I love books (available for $12.95!), cherish them and write them, and you know if you’ve read them that in the introduction, I caution readers to treat my books with respect. I ask my children to treat books with respect. How much more respect, then, must I have for seforim? And for Shas itself, you can’t possibly imagine.
This is why I have learned Shas, and this is why I dedicate it to my grandfather, Benzion ben Chantze. May he be well, may he be blessed, and may I, and we, all be blessed the same way he has. We can start my making good choices, and avoiding bad ones. If you do, you could end up with days like this, surrounded by the people you love more than anything in the world.
Before we finish, I would like to make three quick points.
1)      There is a young man in this neighborhood, whose name I won’t mention so I don’t embarrass the family members that are present here, who finished TaNaCH in time for his Bar Mitzvah. I’ve been trying to work my way through it myself, and being present at the siyum motivated me to move up the timetable. To keep me to my word, I’m putting it out in public that it’s my goal to make a siyum on TaNaCh in time for my 3rd Bar Mitzvah. Naturally, it would please me no end if everyone here could be there as well. I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.
2)      I’d like to acknowledge my daf yomi brothers, led by the inimitable talmid chachum, Iddo Wernick. He inspired me a few weeks ago when I mentioned that doing Daf Yomi and Nach Yomi is rather difficult and it might keep me from making my goal. He said that he finishes TaNaCh every year! And he’s never made a siyum! Why don’t you make a siyum? Don’t you know Reb Moshe’s psak on that? While discussing, he mentioned that “it’s important to always be in it.” I love that quote, because that’s what it’s all about. To be immersed, and this reflects what I’ve been talking about, to be immersed in goodness and avoiding badness. Mr. David Shapiro is inspiring as well. I sat next to him at the Siyum Hashas, knowing that he too finished the learning. You should be gebentched! David and his wife Ellen are making aliyah in mamesh a few days. Israel’s gain is our loss. We’ll miss you and we wish you well.
3)      When I spoke at our son Ranan’s bris, I mentioned that the cryptic pesukim of Aishes Chayil were slowly, over the course of my marriage, manifesting themselves with meaning. The same thing has happened with some of the phrasing in the hadran. Specifically, the last yehi ratzon. For example, it should be His will that I’m lilmod ulalemed, and that has come to bear. But also what’s come to bear is the hope that it would stand watch over me, b’shochvecha tishmor alaycha. How? Because very often, my gemorah is on my nightstand and it stands sentinel over me. Also, behishalelcha tancha osach, when you walk, it should chat with you. It does, as I go through my day, I constantly am reminding myself that the day’s daf needs to be done, and when I can get to do it. And of course, if all those things have come true, then I hope the ultimate will come true, shelo tumish hatorah m’pi, Imepi zari v’zera zari ad olam!
Boruch shehecheyanu v’kiyemunu v’higdilanu l’zman hazeh! Let us finish Shas!
(Complete Shas, hadran, kadish, mazel tov!)