Tuesday, March 20, 2018

With A Lot of Help From My Friends- NYC Half-Marathon Race Report

After nearly three months of training, and raising nearly $6200 to help purchase an ambulance for Magen David Adom in Memory of Daniella Moffson z”l, it’s race day!

I’m nervous. While I’ve gone as far as 9.1 miles on one of my training run/walks, I haven’t run more than 4 miles straight. I know I’ll finish even if I have to walk the whole thing, but there’s a three hour time limit. Who knows? If I don’t finish by then, maybe race sponsor United Airlines will pick me up on the course, and stick me in the overhead bin on the bus.

Before the race

We get to the starting line at the Prospect Park Zoo and it’s freezing. How cold is it? The polar bears at the zoo are shivering. The penguins have started to waddle south. I’m wearing three shirts. A long sleeve running shirt, the flaming pink team shirt, and an NCSY sweatshirt from Vancouver which I’m planning on ditching if it ever warms up.

A random guy comes over and says “Shalom”. How does he know I’m Jewish? Could it be the beard? It’s only later on when I see a picture my wife took after dropping us off, that I realize my sweatshirt, which I haven't worn in ages, has a giant Jewish star on the back.

As I’m waiting to start the race, I find myself wondering whether I’ll see anyone I know. Suddenly, a Facebook friend dressed up as Ironman walks by. Little do I know that he is not the last friend I’m going to see today.

Mile 1

We’re off! They say failing to plan is planning to fail. I don’t know who they are, but I hope they’re wrong. I’ve been so busy with so many things that I haven’t really thought about what my approach should be out on the course, other than a friend’s advice to walk the water stops. All I know is that the first mile is downhill and ignoring everything I know about starting slowly, I let the excitement of the race get to me, and I’m going too fast.

I see someone in an old Camp Simcha sweatshirt. Deciding to do some bageling of my own, I say “Go Camp Simcha!”. Only when the lady wearing it, who’s old enough to be my mother, turns around and makes clear she doesn’t speak English, do I realize she probably got the shirt without working in camp.

Mile 2

It’s starting to warm up a bit. I ditch the sweatshirt. As I take it off, I notice my bib is torn by several of the pin-holes. I don’t want to lose the bib, which contains the timing chip. Let me tell you that re-pinning on a bib while running is not as easy as it looks. Ouch!

We pass BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I think back to a night, probably thirty years ago when my mom ob”m dragged us to see South Pacific, in an attempt to culture us. I'm not uncultured but all I remember from that night was a bunch of singing sailors/

We approach the Manhattan Bridge. Having barely trained on any hills, I decide to walk. As I do, I start cheering fellow runners who are running with Jewish teams, wearing shirts for the always inspiring Team Achilles, or wearing shirts marking them as survivors. As I get to the top, there are a couple of NYPD officers standing near their motorcycles. I ask them for a ride.

On the downhill part of the bridge, I push it. I’m going pretty fast. Well, sort of. Somewhere out there, not too far away, Rochie and some of the kids are waiting for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing them.

Mile 3

We get to the Lower East Side and start to see Hebrew and Yiddish signs on the wall marking many of the old buildings. Naturally, I ask every frum guy I see “Which way to the nearest minyan?”. 

Someone random calls out “Go Pesach!”.

Mile 4

I see Rochie and the kids, along with a sister-in-law and niece who live in the area. I’m really excited to see and hear them. After some hugs and kisses, I’m off. I’m sorry to leave. I’m having a hard time with the running, and am pretty sure I’m going too slow.

I look down at my shirt, and see the picture of Daniella and remind myself why I’m doing this.

Mile 5

We get to the FDR Drive. As usual, it’s crowded and I’m barely moving.

Random drivers going the opposite direction honk to cheer us on. It really helps.

Mile 6

I look at my watch. Surprisingly my pace looks good, even though I’ve been walking quite a bit. I might beat the three hour limit.

I see the UN. I’m really tired and trying to conserve my energy, but I still manage to thumb my nose as I go past. I can almost swear I hear them voting to condemn Israel.

Mile 7

We get off at 42nd St. It is really cold. We pass Grand Central Station, and the thought occurs to me how much faster I could get to the park by train.

Lost in my thoughts, I look up to see one of my favorite buildings, the New York Public Library, which besides being a beautiful building, was one of my dad’s childhood haunts.

I have to admit, running through Times Square is pretty cool. The cheering really helps.

Mile 8

I’m starting to think I might finish in the 2:40s. I find myself sprinting.

Mile 9

We get to Central Park, which is one of my favorite places to run. At this point, I’m past the longest training run I did. Incredibly, I’m still feeling great. Somewhere in the back of my mind I start to wonder if a finish in the 2:30s is possible.

I look up and see the Met on my right, and the Obelisk on my left and I start to cry. I’m thinking of the times earlier in the year when I’d walk nearby, desperate to get any exercise, watching the runners zip past, and wondering whether I’d ever run again. Incredibly, here I am.

I feel my Ramaz wristband dangling on my arm and think of all the incredible support I’ve received from so many people in the building which is just a few blocks to the east. From my colleagues who donated way beyond what I could have imagined, to my students who cheered for me as I ran laps in the gym, to the guards and secretaries who frequently encouraged me and asked about my training, they made me feel like they were all on my team.

Mile 10

The Reservoir, which is my favorite running spot in NY is on my left. I can almost swear I hear Szell asking “Is it safe?”.

I’m cheering on my fellow runners, and I realize I’ve become one of the most annoying people to meet at this point in a race; the late-race peppy guy.

Mile 11

Oh my gosh! I’m going to finish in the 2:30s, unless...I try to banish the disaster scenarios from my head.

Late in the mile I’m walking a hill, and I hear someone call my name. There’s my friend Joe who I’ve been wanting to run with for a while. He’s a really good guy, with a huge heart, who’s been dealing with his share of challenges. “I’m running you to the top of the hill” he tells me. It really helps. “Don’t go”, I want to say as we reach the top of the hill.

Mile 12

Suddenly I again hear someone call my name and there’s Ehud, a friend of mine who’s a great runner, and an even better person. He’s been following my race on an App and came to the park to cheer me on. Thanks to my flaming pink shirt, he spotted me and decided to run me in. He encourages me to give it all I’ve got. Despite his being capable of running twice as fast as my current pace, he tells me I look great.

People are cheering. “Go Pesach!” I hear. I also hear “Go Pee-such!”. Whatever. I'll take it.

Mile 13
800 meters to go , then 400. Ehud points out the Israeli flag at the side of the course.

There’s the finish line! I’m fighting back tears, as I high five the spectators.
I cross the line without pushing button on my watch hoping for a good picture by the course photographer (PS they missed me).


Ehud and I walk for a while chatting and continuing to catch up.

As we leave the park, I spot the Moffsons and some of the rest of the DMF team. I’m so happy to see them, and so honored to have been part of this incredible team which has raise over $130K.

What’s next?

This is what I’ve started asking myself. A generous friend offered to pay for my entry to do another half-marathon at the end of April, but with regrets, I passed. Another friend told me that he’s glad the Running Rabbi is back. Truth is, I’m not. I’m not really a runner yet. I can’t run hills, and I still struggle to run for too long outside. I think I’ll do a 10K at the end of May, as I continue to train and try to lose weight. After that, I might consider another half.

For now I’m so thankful for this experience for Rochie, the kids, and all the other family members, friends, and colleagues who have helped me along the way. While I’ve been the one doing the training, they’ve been the one to keep me going.

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