Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My 22nd Marathon Run

My 22nd Marathon Run
Martin Bodek

The Brooklyn Marathon is everything The New York City Marathon is not, but it also is not everything that it is.

Did you follow that?

Let’s put it this way: whereas the New York City Marathon is an overblown, overhyped, wallet-gouging, loud, volunteer-laden, city-overtaking, all-day consuming, rock n’ rolling, people-out-of-the-woodworking, unbelievably exciting affair of marauding thunder, the Brooklyn Marathon is a modest, local, inexpensive, quiet, thinly-manned, ensconced, early-morning, peaceful, isolated, relaxed good time in a nice park.

For me, this edition of the race was like a Seinfeld episode – at least in the eyes of George Costanza: nothing happened.

Well, of course, something happened, but not really anything of interest or note until the pain started much later in the race. It was really, essentially just a nice stroll around Prospect Park running – literally – into, together, and with a whole bunch of my friends.

There may have been more excitement before and after the race than during. This is how it played out. Feel free to decide if I’m right:

The night before the race: I pack up my gear, and my two boys, and I head to Brooklyn with them to stay the night at my mom’s. Effectively, my wife and daughter enjoy a Ladies Night. My boys and I enjoy a Boys Night. The girls have ice cream and watch Princess Diaries. The boys have matza pizza (me too, plus my favorite pre-marathon noodle dish) and watch Mrs. Doubtfire. Both parties have fun. I lay out my golem, set my alarm, and head off to sleep.

The morning of the race: did I say sleep? Ha! Sleep. Right. I do manage to doze for approximately an hour, during which I have a dream that my iPhone has been stolen. I tell my subconscious that this was way too easy (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I dropped my phone in a porta-potty before the NYC Marathon. It’s now the stuff of legend). I slip into my golem and animate it, then I perform my morning prayers, have a very light breakfast (my stomach is not in the mood for more; I won’t fight it), and I head out with my car to Prospect Park.

Pre-race: I arrive at the park, probably less than a quarter-mile from the start line, at 6:40 AM for the 8:30 AM race, because I am a psychotic, neurotic lunatic. I try out a virgin porta-potty, and, implementing my new procedures, I do not drop my phone in. I take this as a sign that it’s going to be a good day. I go to fetch my bib, but the volunteer is dismayed to find that I don’t have a bib number. Don’t worry, I tell him, I’ve got this under control. Puffing my chest, I declare myself a Legacy Runner (those who have run every Brooklyn Marathon), and therefore, I don’t have a number, I have a name. This, I have to say, is a really delirious little perk. I love it. I then pace back and forth until my toes begin to crack off from the cold. I find a spot under a tree, next to the porta-potties (figuring, what better way to find all my friends who’ll be out here today?), and hunker down until the volunteers invite us to the start area. I then take a billion selfies with my friends, one of which offers to take a selfie of me. I bite my tongue, wanting to cite the impossibility and illogic of that statement, but to the qualities listed above, I don’t wish to add “pedantic.”

Just pre-race: While lined up behind the start line, two noteworthy things occur while I desperately try to hear the announcement past the overexcited, hypercaffienated group of runners in front of me: first, the director, Steve Lastoe, announces that Larry Macon is in the pack. Don’t know who Larry Macon is? Go ahead and google him. I’ll wait right here…

Done? Is he amazing or what? I want to say hi to him so badly, but I can’t remember at all what he looks like, and I’m not fumbling with my phone right now to google for a picture. I may miss him. Darn.

Next is the National Anthem. I suppose Lastoe has a thing for Metropolitan Opera sopranos, because we had one last year, and we have another one again, who shatters everyone’s shades just before the horn, and shuts up the chatty gang.

And the race is on.

Miles -.021-13.09: This is the nothing period I was speaking about. Me and my man David ran side by side, the whole way, in a totally relaxed state, cranking out one slightly-below-9:00-per-mile after another, chatting about school tuition and cost of living, because we had the breath for it. Interspersed were moments where we came up behind friends and passed them, or were lapped by some of our speedsters (“Hi JRunners,” I remember Mordechai saying), or ran into friends spectating and cheering (thanks for coming out, Yossi!), or were chided by friends (Yisroel, Faige) for going too fast if our goal was sub-9:00. No we weren’t! We were totally well below any kind of stress level. Easy peasy. We mounted The Hill three times and did not lose any of our good time whatsoever.

Mile 13.1: We hit the clock at 1:55:32, averaging 8:49 per mile at that point, with near-perfect splits. David said that all we’d have to do was maintain and we could do 3:50. I said to stop with the crazy talk, let’s just, well, maintain, and see how things play out. There’re three more times up The Hill, and it’s going to have a say in matters. So we ran on (homage to Cormac McMcarthy).

Mile 14.1: My family is supposed to be here at this time, with pizza and Powerade and hugs, but they’re not. Okay, no problem, I’ll be back in a half hour, but later, I would learn why they weren’t there, and it was entirely my fault! See, I was supposed to switch cars, like last year, and use my aba’s van, while giving my aba my van with the carseats in it. Oops. At that moment, my mom was scrambling to find a neighbor with a carseat that she could install for my little one. I totally screwed up, but my family improvised in time.

Mile 16.3: Okay, I am very, very shaky on the 4th trip over The Hill, but I maintain the pace alongside David. Our rhythm isn’t perfect. He goes ahead and I catch up a bit, then vice versa, but we’re on target.

Mile 17.9: My family! Woohoo! My aba, mom, sis, and two boys are waiting for me. I run a path off course to ensure they don’t get smashed by bikes, take a billion photos, grab some Powerade and the pizza crust they have for me. Mmmm…pizza crust. David continues on his path, Steady Eddieing all the way. I exit my happy family stop and pursue David. The man in shades fled across the park, and the SuperJew followed (homage to Stephen King).

Mile 19.0: Connie appears at the volunteer table and hoots and hollers encouragements at me. Great energy which hurtles me forward.

Mile 19.4: While holding on to a steady pace, I manage to catch up to David. When I do so, I actually realize that I’m still holding the crust in my hand. That’s how focused I was on catching him. I stay with him for a just a bit longer until:

Mile 19.6: The Hill. This time it’s not as friendly as it’s been before, and I fight to stay with David, hard. Somehow I manage to keep up with him, and at the top, he’s still merrily cruising along, while I’m a quivering mess. What a difference a fifth trip around makes.

Mile 20.5: I finish my crust. Yeah, it took me more than two miles to do that.

Mile 21.1: My family again! Lather, rinse, repeat as before. David goes ahead. I will not be seeing him again on the course. I begin to struggle, my left quad feels like that ol’ familiar rip is starting up again. I can’t tell if I’m not properly healed from the NYC Marathon, or if this is a weak spot that needs strengthening, but my right quad is fine. This isn’t great, however, because I’m imbalanced, which leads to injuries. I’d almost rather have the same hurt in the other leg. I try to work it out by diving into my nutrition (so far today, not a single spectator has anything to offer, not a one!). I start, stop, stretch, struggle, try to turn the engine over. Not going well.

Mile 22.1: At the physically-and-emotionally lowest point of my run, my good man David B. spots me from the sidelines and hesitates before he says anything. I can see that he sees a runner in distress, and he’s looking for the right thing to say. I think he says something like, “I came here to cheer you on! Not to see you walk!” He probably says something kinder, because he’s a kind man, but I’m in the doldrums and can’t make it out. I shuffle on.

Mile 22.4: Water stop. I look for Connie for support. She’s not there, but the guy with the “Run now, beer later” sign is. I yell that I need beer now, not later.

Mile 22.9: The Hill. I can’t do it again. I’m done. I don’t have the stuff for it. I amble up, barely able to walk a straight line, my left quad screaming. I’m in a daze. Midway up The Hill somebody hands me a pretzel. I grab it, but I don’t know if it’s kosher. I recall immediately that last year I accidentally ate a non-kosher item (which The Good Lord hopefully forgave me for this past Yom Kippur, but would love a sign that I’m forgiven), and I wonder if I’m being tested. I decide to toss it as soon as I’m past the person who handed it to me, otherwise I’d be kind of rude. As soon as I make my decision, an angel appears in the guise of a little girl, who is holding out a single banana. I say thank you, shove that thing down my mouth like it was a garbage disposal unit, fling the pretzel, and reach the top of the hill, with renewed energy thanks to the implied accepted penance.

Mile 23.2: Which doesn’t last very long. I need a new boost. I’m flailing. My left leg is barking. I need more angels from heaven. I beg for more. Whaddya know? I’m sent exactly what I requested. Suddenly Chanan and Yanki appear. Yanki thrusts a water bottle into my hands, and they begin to tow me. I turn the engine over and try to keep up with them. I’m feeling better.

Mile 24.3: A very quick stop with my family again. Mishael and Azariah – um, I mean Chanan and Yanki wait for me. When I rejoin them, Chanan asks me what time I’m gunning for. Whatever I want, they’ll get me there. I look at my watch. I’ve been running for 3:40, and I have just under 2 miles left. Despite my addled brain, I’m able to do the math. I need to do 9:30s to get under 4:00. Chanan says that’s exactly what we’ll do. He and Yanki are going to take over for me.

Op-ed: there is no feeling in the world like putting your entire trust into human beings who come through for you. Nothing. It’s the most comforting thing in existence. We are not all this lucky, but I am. I have a few people like this in my life. I am blessed. On this day, I added two more such holy people into my circle of trust.

Now where were we? Ah yes, I gave myself over to my angels. When they said go, I went (homage to Winston Groom). When they said to remain quiet and they’ll do all the talking, and also when they said to resist responding to everyone’s cheers by raising my hand (Chanan’s commands, because he could see my remaining energy stores needed to be used wisely), I listened.

Mile 25.2: It is approximately at this point where the pain lifts, the same point at NYCM just two weeks earlier where the adrenalin kicked in and washed the pain away. This is not a conscious letting-go of pain, it is automatic, but I’d still like to bottle it – and maybe bring it out earlier.

Mile 25.8: These two angels drill-sergeant me all the way, keeping me on my feet, keeping me moving forward. Michael W. appears, and wingmen urge me to catch him. I can’t really do that – though I can see he is winded – but I can maintain a steady pace behind him, not lose him from my sight. He is now my wascally wabbit, and I am huntin’.

Mile 26.0: I enter the trench, the final stretch run. I have the same feeling here as I did last year: as if this was the Death Star, the finish line was the thermal exhaust port, and I, Red and Blue Leader, need to stay on target, in attack formation. I also have friends holler at me from the sides, just like last year too. My legs pick up, for the first time of the day, they elevate so high, my quads bump into the phone in front of my hip. I am in the zone. Mordechai is yelling at me to go. I go. Paul is hollering at me to suck it up. I do. Chanan and Yanki are screaming for me to catch Michael. Connie is barking at Faige – who appears in front of me – to finish strong. Faige chided me earlier for going too fast. I have to overtake her, now. I do. I’m barreling. I look up. I have 200 feet to cover. The clock says 3:59:47. I fly like I’ve never flown before.

Mile 26.2: I hit the line at 3:59:58. The photo of my finish shows the clock behind me at 3:59:59. It took me 29 seconds to get to the start, so my final time is 3:59:29. It’s my second sub-4:00, and just 44 seconds from my PR, done on the same course last year. I’m thrilled. Michael finishes in an official dead heat with me, which is cool.

Mile 26.21: I wibble, I wobble, I congratulate Faige, I find Chanan and Yanki and give them big, fat hugs.

Mile 26.22: I find my family, hug them too, take pictures with my boys in front of the marathon backsplash, feed them all the hot cocoa and donuts that NYCRUNS has in abundance, find plenty of friends to congratulate, and learn that my Left Hand Man, David, kept the steady pace all the way through, and finished with a spectacular 3:53:00 flat. I am proud of him.

Mile 26.4: I get to my car. I told you I was this close to the start! What a convenience!

Post-race: I drive my family back to their car (also .nothing miles away, but in the other direction), head back to my mom’s, take an Epsom salt bath, and get fed the biggest lunch ever, with the hugest French toast slices I’ve ever seen. This is just like old times, in my old house, with my mommy taking care of me. Once I feel right and good, I bring my boys back home with me, and reunite with yet more important ladies in my life. Great day. My friends. My family. A good run. What could be better?

Post-race thought: The 2014 Brooklyn Marathon was not just my second fastest marathon ever, neither was it merely the successful logging of my 22nd marathon, nor was it only the satisfying culmination of a year of hard, intense training. It was also the official first day of my training for the 2015 Jerusalem Marathon, which will be my way of Remembering Reb Chayim Daskal. I will be serving as official coach for “Team L'Chaim L-Chayim Running on Love in the Jerusalem Marathon.” His untimely passing is the actual bittersweet reason I will be able to make the journey. May I be granted success, and may his soul ascend.