Monday, January 09, 2023

My first DNF, or The Shortest Marathon Race Report I’ll Ever Write

 It should be obvious from the title of this article that I won’t be asking for your attention for an extended period of time. I didn’t finish the 2022 NYC Marathon, and I prepared for that inevitability going in, for reasons that will be clear very shortly. I’ve been through a lot.

This is what goes down:
3:30 AM: Wakey wakey!
3:35 AM: Dressy dressy!
5:00 AM: Pickup from my good man David and our annual chauffer de excellence, Michael.
6:00 AM: Arrive at Ford Wadsworth, locate minyan, hang out for a while, reminisce with old friends, take selfies and otheries, miss the biggest Marathon Minyan class photo ever because I was in the porta-potty.
8:20 AM: Enter my corral, find a seat on a curb, fret over how the day will unfold, wish the helicopters would stop hovering directly over the runners.
9:15 AM: While in position waiting for the start, a runner named Bridget approaches me to wish me luck as I try out a marathon for the first time on my new hip (that little factoid is on a bib on my back). I thank her, and she casually mentions that she broke her femur during a marathon two years ago, and this was her comeback race too. Aghast, I ask her how she knew it was broken. She says she knew. She heard the crack like a gunshot, and felt it too. Then it took too long for her to get medical help. Holy moly. I wish her luck, turn around, and right in front of me is the record-holder for most NYC Marathons completed: Mr. Dave Obelkevich. At the opening bell, he’s got 45; I’ve got 22. I make his acquaintance as I did last year, and advise him that I’m still coming for his record. He wishes me the best, but judging from his prima facie fitness, he’s not gonna stop doing this for years. Grrr.
Mile 0: Kerboom! And we’re off! I’m immediately surrounded by my little sub-club of Streakers (those who have done 15 or more NYC marathons). Matter of fact, I’m part of an even more exclusive club: Streakers on New Hips Now Resigned to Walking. There’s a lot more of us than you think. In Yiddish we’re called Alter Krachers. I’m a proud member at a young age. The numbers on the back of the Streaker bibs are video-game ridiculous and get lots of comments from the Non-Streaker contingent.
Mile 0.1: Mary Wittenberg herself comes up behind me and wishes me luck with my new hip. Awesome.
Mile 1: Already there are very few people behind me. We’re the back group of the first wave of the day. Anybody faster than a snail is long gone and already enjoying Brooklyn. Me and my slow lane people? We’re tight.
Mile 1.9: There’s this thing I like to do at this point in the marathon: I like to approach the first cheerleading person I find on the course and thank them for coming out. It’s usually a little kid who’s thrilled with the recognition. This year, at least 20 Gen Zers are lined up, but all are staring into their phones. I’ll reserve comment because it’s slander, but the first guy who’s actually not staring into his phone is holding up a sign that says “Welcome to Brooklyn.” I turn around to take a selfie with the sign, and he tries to dart out of the way, but I bid him to stay because he’s not staring into this phone, and he should be honored.
Mile 2.1: Somebody hollers “Rabi Nachman!” (I’m wearing my usual NaNach kippah) I swivel my head around to see who it was, and it’s a member of the NYPD. Now that’s interesting.
Mile 2.3: Best sign of the day: “No, you’re not almost finished.” Ha! Very good. The rest are vulgar (“**** Yeah!”) or praising the field for running better than the government. Some new creative infusion is desperately needed.
Mile 3.5: The obsession with Pete Davidson continues. A couple has carved out time of their day to fashion one sign that says, “How could you leave Staten Island?,” and another that says, “Pete Davidson lives there!” Mmmkay.
Mile 4.1: I jump into a porta-potty real quick, because my day is almost over and I’m not sure when my next opportunity will be. Upon exiting, I get panicky texts from my mom asking me where I am. I guess the tracker is finally working well this year!
Mile 4.65: A stranger chats me up. He’s curious about my new hip. Turns out, he lives in my neighborhood, and I’ll likely see him around after today! He slaps me on my back and wishes me well, when I look to the sidelines and see…
Mile 4.66: …my daughter? What’s she doing here? Everybody was supposed to stay home, and my mom and aba were supposed to bring me back home. I’m confused.
Mile 4.7: Wait, what? What’s my wife doing here? And everybody else? They’ve got signs for me and everything, but this wasn’t the plan! What’s going on??? Turns out, because of my plans to not finish, my wife put herself through the insane trouble to pick me up at my finishing point. And I mean a lot of trouble. I’m touched. This is the sweetest thing. We take tons of family pictures, along with pics with our old mailman (who lives on the block and camps out annually as tradition). I jump back on the course, because I have one more stop to make.
Mile 5.2: I pull up to the medical tent so I can officially check out. There’s a girl vomiting there. She’s having a worse day than me. Yikes. So my day is over, and as I walk back towards my family, a fella on a stoop hollers at me, and we have this conversation:
Stoop: “Hey buddy, done for the day?”
Me: “Yeah, sciatica. Can’t finish.”
Stoop: “Ooh, right side or left?”
Me: “Right.”
Stoop: “Oh man, I once had both sides. I know what you’re going through. Good luck to you, buddy.”
Me: “Thank you, man!”
I rejoin my family, and cheer on the runners from the beach chair my mom brought for me. We look for friends of ours we know to be on the course, and whom we’re tracking via the app, but the crowd is so thick now, that we see none of them. I then post the following, which should give you full detail of the why of my shortened day:
It had to happen at some point, and in my 252nd race, it finally did.
There was a high probability that today was going to be the day, however. For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with ever-increasing leg pain. It got so bad, I hauled myself into the ER, spent a night on a stretcher pumped full of pain meds, and got an MRI in the morning. Initial diagnosis was frightening, so I got a 2nd and 3rd opinion that concurred to be less scary, more manageable, and fixable without a scalpel.
So I huddled with my family, and we agreed that a DNF was less devastating than a DNS, and that my long-term health was most important of all. I would start, and, among many scenarios, if I experienced any distress, I would greet my Mom and Aba in Brooklyn, report to the next medical tent, have Mom and Aba scoop me up and bring me home.
A friend said it best to me: “I know how proud you are of your streak, and deservedly so. But it's just a race. You matter more. Take care of yourself.”
True. I am. I promise.
Then my wife shocked me. There she was at the Mom/Aba stop with all our children, supporting me. Everybody’s bringing me home. I’ll have my scheduled junk food meal, then I’ll begin the process of fixing what’s wrong here, and rebuild myself again.
This will be the first year since 1996 that I will not have completed at least one marathon. But that’s okay.
Because I’ll be back.
I’ll always be back.”
So home we all went.
Now my day wasn’t all sadness, as it finished in quite a positive and upbeat way.
As it happened, I had pending wedding invites from two cousins – one from my dad’s side; one from my mom’s - who were marrying off children, the night of the marathon, in Williamsburg, two blocks apart. Had I finished the race, it would have been impossible to attend.
I was a bit down, though, and wasn’t really in the mood. However, my wife – who doubles as my Good Inclination – convinced me to go. So I suited (and hatted) up, and I went. Adding some intrigue is that my mom and Aba needed a ride, as their car had broken down when they headed home from the marathon!
Interestingly, the marathon course was long cleaned up by the time I arrived with my folks in tow for mom’s-side wedding #1. My cousins were delighted to see me, and treated me as a bit of a celebrity, because my book about our grandfather ( recently launched, and the whole crowd had a million comments and questions for me. It was wonderful.
I then skipped over to dad’s side wedding #2 and was treated like a celebrity because I was confused for someone else!
Turns out, when I wear a suit and hat, and am surrounded by chasidim, and slump in a certain way, and have a bit of a five o’clock shadow, that I’m some kind of doppelganger for my dad.
On *two* occasions, ten minutes apart, complete strangers slapped me on the back and said, “Barry! I haven’t seen you in a long time!”
My name isn’t Barry.
That’s my dad’s name, and both back-slappers were mortified when I turned around and revealed a face they weren’t expecting. I asked them their names so I could give regards, but like the Joseph story where he reveals himself to his brothers, they were too “disconcerted” (Artscroll’s translation of “Nivhalu”) to respond.
After that I headed home, and I have to say, I had an interesting day overall.
I’ll be back, as promised, and at the moment, I think I have the sciatica under control, having done what I needed to go to have it all in order.
Just do me a favor, my dear cousins, no more weddings on marathon Sunday, please, even though I love you all, because I have to finish what I start.
You see, I’ve got to get halfway to Dave. Thanks!


Post a Comment

<< Home