Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Own Private Marathon

My Own Private Marathon
Martin Bodek

I wasn't going to let the mere cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon (for my opinion on the subject, see here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/what-were-the-arguments-a_b_2101149.html) keep me from completing the run I had signed up to do. Not only that, I would wear the exact gear I would have worn to the race, bib, nutrition and all. The only exception would be my headgear. I wear a kipah at the NYC Marathon (and will do so until I go completely bald), but I needed a cap this time so I could wear a headlamp and rear light for illumination in the darkness.

To allay end-of-race safety concerns, the course I plotted would take me ten miles out to West Orange, NJ, ten miles back, and 6 1.02 mile loops around our local park, just .2 miles from home.

I set out at 6:11 AM, into a world enveloped in darkness and cold. Those turned out to be the most accommodating conditions. Also thrown into the mix were wind, storm debris, hills and a very unfamiliar feeling of terrible loneliness.

The first in the list of these conditions were expected. I knew the weather conditions before heading out, knew the hills that were laid out before me, and expected debris everywhere in the aftermath of what Hurrican Sandy had wrought. What I did not expect was the utter isolation I felt almost immediately, during mile 1. The streets were barren of humans. It seemed everyone had squirreled away and tended to everything that was theirs. Home was safe at this time, at least for those who hadn't been turned out so horribly by the storm. There was no one to be seen. It was just me.

Just halfway through the first mile, I noticed a pile of logs at least one story high. The park I was running through was being used as temporary storage for all the fallen trees in my neighborhood. It reminded me of another run I had set out on following a storm where I witnessed much devastation (http://the-martin-chronicles.blogspot.com/2010/03/95-miles-through-apocalypse.html). What was beginning to unfold before me was much worse.

I saw no one for the first two miles. The only cars were just a few passing over me on Route 3 as I ran through the tunnel underneath. Finally in the distance, I saw lights. Ooh, human contact. Somebody I could say good morning to. It was a police car, manning a cordoned-off area surrounding a downed telephone pole that had squashed a car. Police tape everywhere, and right on my marathon route. Time to improvise. I took the first turn I could find, and uh oh, it was straight uphill.

Just after mile 3, the same exact thing happened again. Police tape over an expansive area in my path, detour, uphill. I did not like how this was going. There wasn't even a cop this time. I'd even buy one of them a doughnut and coffee just so I could say hello to somebody.

My route was as planned for the next few miles, but the cold and wind were relentless. The darkness would lift shortly, of course, but the other elements would remain to batter me. I was genuinely surprised at my emotions concerning my isolation. I wanted people. At mile 5, a runner darted past me, glanced at my bib, and carried on. He ran so fast, I didn't even have a chance to say good morning. Oh well.

At mile 5.5 I took my first planned water-fountain break (I had Powerade on my waist) in Edgemont Memorial park, admired the fog rising on the ballfield before me, and welcomed the first rays of the rising sun. It lifted my mood.

Just past mile 6 I encountered another human being, to whom I said good morning. He was drunk, so he responded by belching.

For the next few miles I kept a steady pace as the sun kept rising, but the cold, wind, tree debris, and police-taped zones would not relent. These conditions were dismal, but finally, as I reached West Orange, a man happening by said good morning to me. Ah, a human connection and a simple spark. I was buoyed. I hollered a very enthusiastic good morning in return, and continued on into the harsh elements.

It's the little things that can lift your spirits sometimes. My good morning exchange was followed a half mile later by discovery of another water fountain on my usual route. I was buoyed some more, but constantly teetering in the wind.

At this point, I began my usual marathon nutrition routine, beginning with a gel at mile 9, a salt packet at mile 10 (yes, I take down the whole thing, and yes it tastes horrible), and finally, at mile 11, some runners I could say hello to. The people had finally awoken to the day. Not so fast, though. It was just runners, really, for miles and miles and miles. The rest were still hunkered down.

To bolster my mood and my exploratory appetite, I ran along the route extension I have been planning for my 2013 ultramarathon (For my first, see here:
http://the-martin-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-first-ultramarathon-run.html) and found it to be a lovely new stretch (with wide shoulders that my runningmates prefer) that hopefully will not have as much storm debris as I was encountering now. I hit the 13.1 mile mark at 1:52 and was surprised at my relatively good speed. My goal for the NYC Marathon was 1:50 at this point. I wasn't far off at all.

After mile 14, I was faced with a fateful decision: I was now entering Yantacaw Brook Park, a Y-shaped park. The entrance was at the bottom of the Y. At the forking junction was a water fountain. To the left was a downhill portion that led out of the park, which would lead to a slight uphill to enter the next park in the chain. To the right of the fountain was an uphill portion that led directly to that next park. I took a drink at the fountain and decided to go right.

Bad decision.

After so many uphill reroutes, my body had finally had enough of it and didn't want anymore. It objected to my actions and impaired me almost immediately. It may as well have been the cruelly-located Queensboro Bridge. I had a fine first half of a race, but I had taken too much pounding. From here on in it would be maintenance and the going would be even tougher.

I did refresh myself at several water fountains in Brookdale Park, but encountered further uphill reroutes over the next few miles after exiting. Enough already.

At mile 18, exhausted, wind-battered, chilled to the bone and down in the dumps, I pulled in to Nichols Park for a mental and physical break. I found a text from my wife asking me how I was doing. Her question uplifted my spirits. She couldn't have asked at a better time. She's like that. I responded with the following:

"Good, 18 down, phone 32%, 3rd ward loops start in 20 mins, taking 5 min break in Nichols Park."

I refilled my water bottle, breathed deeply, said hello to a fellow walking his dog, and was on my way. By "way" I mean stopping and starting, trying to get going, suffering unbelievable mental fatigue, attempting to re-energize by chomping on my nutrition and just giving it my best despite the conditions.

I hit the park after mile 20 and began my loops. Just before mile 21 I fired off another text to my wife:

"Battery 17%, 5.5 to go."

Round and round I went, walking, running, walking, running, despondent, tired and very, very lonely.

At mile 22.5, after the foot-shuffling began, I sent this text to my wife:

"Walking now, bit beat up, conditions tough, cold, windy, debris everywhere, 3.7 left, phone 7%."

I put my phone on my waist and left it to die. My arms didn't even feel strong enough to lift it up again in case I needed it. There was so little left to go, but it felt like an uncrossable distance because of my fatigue. I put my head down and plowed ahead.

Suddenly in the distance, I heard a familiar noise. Thundersticks? Was that the sound of Thundersticks? Who's doing that at this time? Wait, are those my children? Is that my wife? Oh my gosh, it's them! It's them! They'd come out to cheer me on! Ahaha! I immediately began running again. I was so delirious at their appearance that I yelled to my wife asking if I should stop and say hi to everyone or keep going. She said keep going. Okay, I'll keep going.

Once I was past my family and they were out of view, I resorted to walking again. Once they appeared on the horizon, I began running again. I couldn't not run when they saw me. I would let them down. I couldn't run when I parted with them. It was just impossible. So I did a bit of both when appropriate.

At the second family pass, I gave everyone cheek-pinches.

At the third family pass, my girl and eldest son (my younger son is still stroller-eligibile) ran a short distance with me.

At the fourth and final family pass, my kids joined me to my pretend finish line.

What a thrill to finish with them. The race went from my most brutal marathon ever to absolutely my most thrilling finish. What a joy to be surrounded by my loving family.

My wife then revealed to me that before I spotted them for the first time, I was commencing with my original lonely loops when they approached the park and saw me with my head down. They wanted to be in a better position to surprise me, so they hid behind a large tree as I passed, then hurried into their positions once I was out of view. Too cute.

Incidentally, I was one of thousands of would-be NYC Marathoners who went ahead with their own Run Anyway Marathon, Alternative Marathon and others. I didn't know what to call mine until my wife coined it perfectly: The Makeshift Marathon.

The day after, I lobbied NYRR politely for my marathon medal. Looks like I asked nicely enough, because I now have it in my possession. I earned it.

JRunners Saturates Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Arizona, and New York City

JRunners was once again all over the place on 11/18/12, most notably taking up 3.2% of the field at the Sophomore Brooklyn Marathon. Practically everyone PRed on the tough course, as home field advantage was a major, comforting factor. Also consistent was at least a half dozen JRunners reported leg cramping at mile 19. That's approximately near the wall and on a flat portion at the Southern end of the park. But another consistency is that everyone had a blast, pulled and rooted for each other and motivated one another to sterling finishes.

Some highlights from members of our club:

Moishie Gamss destroyed the course, flying tzitzis and all, and his own PR by an astonishing 36:45. That's the reward for picking up bibs for his fellow runners. Mordechai Ovits and Martin Bodek heckled him in the first mile. You need to join the JRunners Yahoo group to know why exactly they did that.

Mordechai Ovits reported to no one, but this reporter knows, that he lambasted his own PR by 31:20. He will now go into race hibernation for the winter.

Matt Katz, in his 15th(?) marathon, set a new standard for himself and might continue to do so for years to come.

Aaron Rosenfeld, Abe Piekarski, Michael Weber, Yisroel Pupko (whose sister joined him for a spell), and Michael Wilhelm all bested their best by various margins. Michael did so by the slimmest of margins (53 seconds!) of all those that PRed.

Martin bodek PRed despite a nasty, painful spill at mile 4.

Chaim Backman enjoyed running with his son Sruli (his first marathon! Go Sruli!) and partaking of free beer that Martin Bodek missed for the second year in a row.

Shia Itzkowitz and Avi Blisko were also marathon virgins and performed capably.

Finally, closing in on AARP status were Mark Sanders and Jerry Gross, the latter of which - and the most senior JRunner on the course - clobbered his PR by an admirable 11:36.

The final times and standings, including PR statistics:

Moishie Gamss 3:10:32 PR by 36:47
Mordechai Ovits 3:16:02 PR by 31:20
Matt Katz 3:27:25 PR by 01:30
Aaron Rosenfeld 3:29:16 PR by 13:32
Abe Piekarski 3:42:25 PR by 04:53
Michael Weber 3:46:23 PR by 05:04
Yisroel Pupko 3:49:46 PR by 02:05
Michael Wilhelm 3:58:16 PR by 00:53
Martin Bodek 4:08:36 PR by 01:47
Chaim Backman 4:33:25 Son PRed instead in 1st marathon
Shia Itzkowitz 4:34:16 1st marathon
Mark Sanders 4:37:53 Missed it by this much
Avi Blisko ~4:38 1st marathon ("~" because of malfunctioning bib)
Jerry Gross 4:50:46 PR by 11:36

It is noteworthy to mention Yossi Pancer, who was back for a long distance run following a slow recovery from a debilitating injury. He had planned to do nine miles of the course, but he did 13.1 in 2:03. Way to tough it out, brother.

Over at The Philadelphia Marathon, the PR train kept right on rolling. If anyone didn't PR, it was missed merely by a hair. Yitzy Mittel just keeps getting better and better, Rachel Mittel kept pace with her husband, Joel Mandel ran his 5th marathon of the year, Eva Rothberg represented nicely, Moshe Lewis took the PR crown for the day (by nearly an hour!!! Wow!!!), Glenn Pfeiffer got in sub-4 for the first time, while David Colman and Moshe Kaufman were exceptional in their first ever marathons.

The final times and standings, including PR statistics:

Yitzy Mittel 2:53:28 PR by 02:22
Rachel Mittel 3:39:55 Missed by 04:17
Joel Mandel 3:39:59 Missed by 04:14
Eva Rothberg 3:46:25 PR by 23:19
Moshe Lewis 3:50:32 PR by 58:14
Glenn Pfeiffer 3:54:15 PR by 21:05
Moshe Kaufman 3:59:25 1st marathon
David Colman 4:03:24 1st marathon

Over at Ironman Arizona, Mark Izhak joined the vaunted hall of JRunners greats who can claim Ironman status. To the club started by Chaim Backman and expanded with Yaakov Bressler, we now add another. Congratulations Mark, your accolade is well earned:

Mark Izhak 13:29:28 1st Ironman, bravo!

Finally, in Central Park at the Race to Deliver 4-miler, rounding out the day and putting four more JRunners into a total of 27 known JRunners in competition were the following faithful:

Jacob Vorchheimer 30:46
Chanan Feldman 35:06
David Balassiano 35:33
Jacob Granek 41:06

JRunners, representing everywhere. Let's all be in the same place in Prospect Park on 12/2/12, as we gather to assist Sea Gate with their devastation.[*]

Martin Bodek,
Beat Reporter, JRunners.org

[*] Please help me do my part: http://tinyurl.com/BodeksPageforSeaGate

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm in The Huffington Post!

That marathon cancellation op-ed I wrote that I sent around to the top circulating newspapers in the country, only to get rejected by an awful lot of them (more than usual, I'm making progress!)? Well guess what? It got picked up by The Huffington Post! The Huffington flipping Post! Check this out!:
I'm so happy, I don't know what to do with myself (well I do: this blogpost, at least).
You can imagine how thrilled I am with the publicity for my books which I've generated with my blurb at bottom.
Please enjoy the piece, and please like it, share it, tweet it, e-mail it, or +1 it. I have an opportunity here to reach as wide an audience as possible. Please help me out.
Thank you everyone for believing in me. I'm making progress here.
The Huffington Post!!!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

My Opinion on the Cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon

My inbox, cell phone and land line have absolutely blown up with e-mails, texts and calls, respectively, concerning the cancellation of the NYC Marathon. I suppose it's because my friends know I'm an NYCM lifer. This would have been my 15th NYC and 18th overall. Friends no longer ask me if I'm going to run New York, rather, they wish me luck in the days leading up to race day. Indeed, for every year of this millenium this annual autumn pasttime has simply been what I've done the first Sunday of November.

The questions, though, have not been put to me in a way that I could answer "yes" or "no." Rather, they've begged for essay-length diatribes. They were sneaky questions as well, such as "Don't you think it would have been wrong to divert resources away from those that need it..." and "Was it ever a consideration on your part to not run in solidarity..." It was as if a trap was being set up, to see where I would stand on the Callous-Disregard-to-Human-Suffering meter. Clever, but I didn't take the bait. "Yes" or "no" won't do, so here's the answer everyone's been clamoring for, the opinion that everyone wants of me:

I believe the 2012 NYC Marathon should have been scheduled as usual.

Wait a minute, you might say, what about those suffering in Staten Island? What about those begging for Water in Queens? What about the disrespect for those still without power in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx?

I didn't finish, I would respond. Yes, I believe the marathon should have been staged, but it should have been staged in a manner that diverts no resources whatsoever from the hurricane victims.

How could that be accomplished? Simple: It should have taken place on the original marathon course of 1970, four loops around Central Park. The only police necessary would be those who work in the Central Park precinct anyway on a daily basis.

But how can 47,000 people fit into the park?

Easy: NYC already instituted staggered start times at the marathon and has done it this way at smaller races for years. All that would need to be done was to make that stagger over several hours.

But what about the $37,000-per-permit generators you'd be using that others in more dire need wouldn't have for our selfish endeavor?

Easy: We would do without them. Runners are not a spoiled bunch. We brave the cold every year at Fort Wadsworth; we can do so in Central Park.

But, an overzealous protestor might say, how dare you accept free water when people are boiling the tap water in Breezy Point?

Easy: we'd carry the water on our backs, and expect handouts from no one.

But, one might continue, what about the hotel rooms taken up by international runners that could instead be used to shelter storm victims?

Easy: in a show of respect and solidarity, runners who have used NYC hotels should obtain hotel rooms one hour's drive west of the city, donate their hotel rooms to victims, and organize busing for themselves from their hotels to the start line in Central Park.

The bottom line here is: Clearly there were solutions to this public-enraging problem, and for every grievance, there could have been another compromise. The problem is that the NYRRC is a gloriously dysfunctional club and has been since the departure of Allan Steinfeld. Fred Lebow and his friends were PR masters. Mary Wittenberg and her cronies are PR disasters. One need only to look at the no-baggage fiasco earlier this year that bears witness to this truth.

The real truth, however, is that the fate of 47,000 runners on a planet housing 7,000,000,000 people matters very little. What does matter to most of the world's inhabitants is power. Power itself powers the world, and I'd rather, at this point, offer opinions on the matter, because they matter more.

Why does power travel over land in suburbia when it works perfectly well underground in metro areas? If you're worried about erosion and corrosion, well, would you rather have the situation we have now in Northern Jersey?

Why are utility poles made of inflexible wood? Why aren't more pliant materials sought that might allow for some sway in the wind? Why aren't wires themselves constructed of flexible material? Why are power companies, as we speak, replacing everything that's broken with a functional version? Why isn't anything new being tried? Why is ConEdison not embarrassed by a lack of redundancy in the largest city in the United States? Why can't our homes be powered by giant "batteries"? Why have we not yet found a method for delivering power wirelessly? The Powermat is a start, and I celebrate its ingenuity, but we need to do better, now.

Unfortunately, I'm not a scientist, nor do I serve on the board of any power company or for that matter, NYRR.

I am, and have, been asked for my opinion, however.

So there you have it.