January 9, 2009: Running and Dreaming

Originally, I was not going to write about the Tiveria Marathon. With soldiers in harm’s way, it seemed to be a bit inappropriate. Yet it was the proud father of one of our Golani heroes who made me promise that I would write about the race. He told me that the reason his son is fighting, risking his life in Gaza, is so the rest of us can lead “normal” lives. If those of us who are not in the military cower in our homes, it would defeat the whole purpose of what the soldiers are fighting for. So, in honor of all our IDF heroes, here we go:

4:00 A.M. Neve Daniel: I wake up and look outside. It is cold and raining. I wonder if I have finally done it: bitten off more than I can chew by entering the 42.2 kilometers Tiveria Marathon. Six months ago, it seemed like a worthy goal. I have always envisioned the marathon as the ultimate challenge for the normal guy. Really, from what I had read, anyone can complete a marathon. It just takes a commitment to training and the ability to deal with pain. Why not? Now as I picked up my support crew, I wondered if I was really ready.

9:00 Tiveria. Starting Line: I was standing packed together with a few thousand other runners. Everyone just wanted to start as the clock counted down. A few minutes before the start, someone yelled that there were missiles being fired into the North. We all had the same thought – Get the race started before the Army cancels it!. (We’re running a marathon so assume that we are all a little nuts.)

12 kilometers: O.K., the sun is out, it feels great. As I run, I look across the Kinneret at the beautiful Golan Heights. Forget about military strategy or politics – the very notion of giving up such a beautiful treasure seems more unthinkable when you are looking at the mountains.

Halfway Point, Kibbutz Ein Gev: Hmmm. This is just half way. I think this is going to be hard. Pushed down a few energy gels. Despite the wonderful labels (“vanilla pudding,” “apple-cinnamon pie”) they taste the same: like a mixture of toothpaste and Elmer’s glue. Instead of grabbing a bottle of water at the water break, I reached for a cup of some type of blue energy drink. I ended up getting a few drops in my mouth and the rest on my face. Note: It’s hard to drink from a cup while running.

30 kilometers. What the hell was I thinking! My body is killing me, and I still have another 12.2 kilometers to go. I catch a guy and we pace each other for a few kilometers. I am now spending all my time staring ahead looking for the kilometer markers. At one point I thought I was up to 34 kilometers and then I saw the marker for 33. I used a string of very choice profanity on the innocent sign.

34 kilometers: I actually heard my body have the following conversation:

Legs: Hey Brain! What the hell is going on! Is someone chasing us or something? Maybe it would be better to let them catch us. Brain?

Brain: Bedebedebedebede.

Heart: I have switched off brain. He’s not making any sense. Just keep moving.

Legs: Why not take a hacksaw and cut us off above the knees. It would feel more pleasurable than continuing.

35 kilometers: I pass my support crew. They are yelling at me to keep going. One hands me a banana. Unable to think through the process of eating the banana I run with it until he takes it back and peels it. The pain is now complete, my muscles are on fire. If you had asked me my name at this point, I would have answered “aardvark.” Me and the guy next to me have a conversation consisting completely of grunts. Funny thing is, I understood him perfectly.

42 kilometers. Aren’t we done? What was that: 42 POINT TWO! That’s a joke right? I don’t have 200 meters left. I don’t have 200 centimeters left. I hate this! I want to go home, these other people are crazier than me. Why did I decide to do this? Someone let me out! I’ll be good, I promise.

Finish Line. 3 hours, 50 minutes, 38 seconds after starting.

How can one feel euphoria and intense full body pain at the same time? I lean against a fence with the finisher’s medallion around my neck. As I look at the other finishers we all share the same thought:

We paid money to do this to our bodies!

No matter who we are or what we do, I have come to the realization that the essence of life is to push ourselves – to take on tasks that at first appear too difficult. The task can be anything from making Aliyah, to taking on religious observances to running a marathon. But to complete the task that one day had seemed impossible gives a feeling like no other. It’s a feeling that can’t be purchased or found by chance.

Friends, you can do anything. All it takes is will.

Shabbat Shalom from our blessed nation.

Much gratitude to my support crew of Avi and Ari Eastman. You guys are the best!

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