It was not the plan, not even close.
The plan had been to run ten kilometers with Chaim Wizman as he started the insane Y’m L Yam ultra marathon. I would run ten with him then say good-bye and run back to my car. A twenty kilometer run is a good solid workout. No need to go further, especially that the marathon season is behind us.
When I woke up around four in the morning I could hear the Neve Daniel wind raging outside. It was cold and raining. I debated whether I should even get out of bed. But I had told Chaim the night before that I would run with him and didn’t want to leave him hanging. Plus, he would be at it for 6 or 7 hours. I was going to be done by 8:00. I was going to eat a hot breakfast. I couldn’t really complain.
So way before dawn I jumped in the car and headed for Modi’in. I had none of the usual stress that always accompanies me before a race. Because I wasn’t going to race. I was just going out for a jog. Maybe I would even walk back to the car and make it more of a hike than a run. Why not?
Chaim, on the other hand, was registered for the competitive race. While I was hanging out in the dark, he drove up for the 6:00 AM start at about 5:59. By the time we got to the start line, everyone else had already begun the epic run. Chaim and another friend were actually pinning their numbers on while running. I know what it’s like to come late for a race so I didn’t envy them. And as far as I was concerned, we could have started an hour after everyone else. I was just going for a friendly jog.
We started running the first twelve kilometer segment and at one point Chaim said to me that I was — in fact — going to run the whole race with him. Ha! I laughed. What a joker. How dumb did he think I was! I would be taking a nice hot shower by the time he was not even halfway through. What a sucker.
But then….. then…… I started to think. (Usually a dangerous thing for me.)
Maybe I would run just a bit more. I mean, I saw so many people who were going to run this insane distance. Chaim and I were having a good time, the trail was fun, and it felt really good to be outside.
But if I ran a lot more, how would I get back to my car? I could always get a ride with Chaim’s wife from Tel Aviv back to Modi’in. The only flaw with that plan was I would have to get to Tel Aviv.
Of course Chaim knew what he was doing. I love that his description of me is “One who needs only the gentlest of prodding to be convinced to do something insane.”
So at twelve kilometers, I called Stella and asked if she would mind if I came home shortly before shabbat most likely unable to walk or string two sentences together. Compared to what she has been through, I didn’t think she would be that worried that it would be too tough. We have both decided that “too tough” is always subjective, and if you want to do something, you do it. She just wanted to make sure that I would not be alone.
So with her approval I told Chaim that I was in. I got excited at the prospect.
And then it started to rain.
Honestly, I was not feeling my best at twenty kilometers. I was soaking wet and freezing. But I was with Chaim and Eran, a friendly guy who I had just met. So we laughed off the circumstances and kept going.
The segment of the trail after Shoham is quite technical. It is a mountain bike single and the kind that I would usually get off my bike and walk down. You could not get a running rhythm because you were constantly scrambling up and down rocks and afraid that one small slip would spell disaster.
But eventually the trail opened up and Chaim did what he does best — ran fast.
By the time we hit thirty kilometers, we had stopped passing people. Because most of them were behind us. We both agreed that we should slow down and run a smarter pace.
And then we kept running way too fast.
After a few more kilometers, the wind kicked up, always pushing against us. We could not really take advantage of the fact that we were in flatter territory because the headwind made it feel like we were always running uphill.
At every rest stop (around every 10K,) we would take 2-3 minutes and force ourselves to drink really disgusting energy drink and gels. We also filled up a bottle we were carrying and promised each other that we would continue drinking between the rest stations.
Dehydration is a runner’s worst nightmare (well, one of them at least.) But carrying a bottle while running, especially one that is covered in sticky goo is not much fun.
So Chaim says, ‘let’s play a game.” I was excited at the prospect because it was just not fun to think about how much further we still had to go. A “game” might make the kilometers go by quicker. So here were the rules of the “game:”
I would carry the bottle for two kilometers. Then he would carry it for two. And so on.
Now isn’t that a great “game?”
At 45 kilometers, they told us that the finish was another 20. Now the race had been advertised as a 60 kilometer run. And even though our brains were a bit addled after being in the sun so long, we knew that 45 plus 20 had to equal more than 60. I did the only thing I could think of. I told Chaim they were lying. We would finish at 60 as planned.
The next 10K we had to cross the Yarkon river a few times. That’s right. Running through cold water and into mud on the other side! Why not indeed?
We started giving ourselves goals. We would try and run two kilometers and then we would give ourselves a 200 meter walking break. As time went by, the running segments got shorter and the walking breaks got longer. But we kept plugging away.
At one point Chaim started having some painful muscle spasms. Not to be outdone, I tripped over a rock and fell in a giant mud patch. Hey, if you are going to run an ultra, you should at least look like you’ve been through hell.
At 55 kilometers, Dror Ben Ami from the club met us to pace us to the finish. He gave us water and gels and kept up a running stream of commentary to keep us moving. It was a very sophisticated conversation:
Dror: O.K. guys, great pace. One foot in front of the other. You’re doing fantastic.
Dror: Just a few more. Keep it up. You’re doing great.
(Repeat about ten thousand times.)
There was one more rest stop around 58 kilometers. We shoved all sorts of things in our mouths. Most of which tasted nasty.
We reached 60, and I had to admit that maybe the race officials had actually, eh, NOT, been lying.
Dror runs in Tel Aviv and so he knew every landmark over those last 5 kilometers. He would tell us “300 meters until the lake, 400 meters until the big tree,” and so forth.
Of course neither one of us was able to comprehend these detailed directions. We kept asking him again and again how much longer.
“ARE WE THERE YET???? ARE WE??? ARE WE????”
(O.k. kids, I know what it’s like.)
And then, all of a sudden, just 6 and a half short hours after we had started, there was the finish.
We stepped over the line, stopped running, and hugged. As an added bonus, we were told that out of the roughly 60 runners who had started, only 2 had finished ahead of us.
I have done lots of runs in the last few years. Marathons, trail runs, a duathalon, and a tri.
But nothing was so amazing, so much fun, and so beautiful as this race. The description above may make this race sound difficult. Yeah, it was. But I’ll tell you something. I made the right decision to go for it.
As odd as it sounds, running to me is NOT a solitary sport. As in everything else in life, when we are together — helping others and being helped — we can do more than we ever dreamed.
And if you think that running 65 kilometers is insane, there was a second option. Thirty runners set out the night before to run 124 kilometers, including our friend Rael (who I have heard not only finished fourth overall, but, to the best of my knowledge, is still alive.)
124 kilometers? That is absolutely nuts. Insane. Crazy.
No way would I EVER try and run that.
But if anyone wants to do it next year, I’ll run the first 10K with you.
Don’t even think of asking me to run more.