Of my six marathons, this year’s Jerusalem run was by far my favorite.
It was the coldest.
It was the wettest.
None of the others had gale force winds and, yes, several hail showers.
Yet despite the extreme weather, I can honestly say that I had a blast.
We left Neve Daniel at 5:00 AM in complete darkness. I ran about 30 meters from my house to my friend’s car and got soaked. Our driving pace was extremely slow since the fog prevented us from seeing more than a few meters in front of the car. Not really the kind of weather that makes you excited about running for almost four hours.
When we got to Jerusalem, I met up with my running family from Bet Shemesh. After about four years of running with the club, I can honestly say that one of the reasons I run — an admittedly solitary pursuit — is for the camaraderie. There is a bond between those who run together. It’s hard to explain, but basically it is like people who enjoy a strange, off beat movie that most people dismiss. If you are one of the small but ardent fans of “The Great Lebowski” you might understand what I am saying.
Whatever “it” is, fellow runners get “it.”
A minyan formed between the Bet Shemesh group and friends from Neve Daniel who were running the half. I hope that the Neve Daniel guys will get a sip of the Kool-Aid and go for the full marathon next year. It was very special to pray surrounded by two of my worlds.
At this time of year, the standard Jewish prayer asks that there be rain in the Holy Land. Ironic to be praying for rain and dreading that the prayer would be answered at the same time.
We walked over to the starting line and two great things happened, although at the time I thought they were bad things:
It started raining; and
my pacing watch stopped working.
In my marathons, I have been guided by my watch and calculated to the second how fast I should be running. Beforehand I had strategies worked out and had to make sure that every step was not too slow or too fast.
This one I would have to wing. In the pouring rain.
We started running and I have to admit: it was cold. Really cold.
When rain wasn’t coming down from the sky, it was coming up from huge cold puddles in the road. Even if you tried to avoid them, someone next to you would go through and you could feel the icy water climb your legs.
At kilometer seventeen, we started up the brutal Mount Scopus hill. That’s when the hail began. But for some weird reason, I started laughing.
And that’s when I finally got “it.” I finally understood what a marathon is all about.
It’s not really about how much time it takes you to finish. After a marathon, runners tend to ask each other their finishing times. As a group, we can have whole conversations based on how many hours and minutes it took each one of us to run.
It reminds me of women, who after giving birth compare the weights of the babies. Saying you ran a 3:40 or a 3:50 is about as meaningful to someone else has saying your baby weighed 7 pounds or 8. It’s really nonsense.
What is a better question in both situations is: How does it feel?
Last year, when I finished the Jerusalem Marathon, I felt horrible. I was in pain and feeling sick to my stomach. I was in a bad place.
I mean literally, a really, really bad place. I had to use a nasty, stinky, disgusting porta-john (A porta-john after a marathon may be the most horrible place in the world. Dante never dreamt of a place so nasty. But when you gotta go…)
My legs hurt so much that I got stuck and had a great amount of trouble leaving that little piece of hell on Earth. I had trouble walking for a few days.
This year, I felt on top of the world.
I held my pace back for a bit and let myself enjoy every kilometer. Even kilometer 38 — the infamous kilometer 38 — came and went, and I was smiling and high-fiving spectators. While many of my friends looked like me last year, I couldn’t wait to go home and celebrate. Two days later I ran another twelve kilometers at home.
I think perhaps running a marathon is an apt metaphor for life. You can rush through it and feel horrible at the end. Or you can play it smart and try to enjoy every day, every kilometer. You can focus on your GPS watch and calculate to the second how fast you should be running, or you can look around when you run and chat with special people that you run with.
I am writing this post from the chemo room at Shaare Zedek hospital. Despite the fact that the marathon route passed very close to here, it seems like a world away. But hopefully I will remember how wonderful that run felt as Stella and I continue our own long run.
And if it’s at all possible, we will continue trying to appreciate every kilometer.