Friday, January 9, 2009

The achievement of a lifetime

As I sit here and write this, still suffering from the pain and soreness of having run the marathon yesterday, I reflect back on the amazing experience of 5 months I just went through.

Running a marathon is something I have wanted to do ever since I was a kid. As a kid, I went to a school that was right on the path of the Boston Marathon. We would go outside and cheer on the runners. I had no idea what a marathon was at the time, or how difficult it is to run one, but since then I always wanted to do it.

Getting older, other things took priority, my laziness got in the way, and the sheer absurdity of considering running 42.2 kilometers, or 26 miles, prevented me from working towards running a marathon.

7 years ago I had surgery on my foot. Nothing serious, but surgery nonetheless. 3 years ago I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee. In the days leading up to the surgery, I said when I recover from this I am going to start training to run a marathon. Like the old joke, I asked the doctor, while on the operating table, if after the procedure I would be able to run a marathon. He said yes. I said, "Great, because I have never been able to until now, so this will be worth it!"

Of course, after the surgery I said "I have not run the marathon until now, why should I bother now!"

3 years later I decided it was time to get off my lazy butt and run it. Pretty much it became now or never. Then I saw Chaim's email to the local email list saying that marathon training season is beginning and, if you follow the program and join the BS Running Club, in just 18 weeks you can train to run a marathon.

It sounded incredulous. I wrote back to Chaim and asked if it is really possible, especially considering I was starting at a point below zero. I was overweight, out of shape, and couldn't run around the block without stopping, have horrible flat feet and a serious foot problem I later learned to be called an extreme pronation, bad knees and ankles, and just general laziness and lack of discipline. Chaim said if I follow the program I could do it (I did not tell him about all my problems I just listed! I just asked if it is really possible to train from nothing to marathon in 18 weeks).

That was it. I decided it was now or never. This was my chance. I started training, following the program.

I started out not being able to run even 2 minutes without a break. Slowly I worked my way up to running 6 km. I remember my first long run of 11km that I needed a break at 5.5 (the first half was uphill) and I could barely make it to the end. But I kept going. The others were encouraging and helpful. It was a great group of runners to be associated with and there was a sense of camaraderie, as we were all training to do something that is extremely unnatural.

Little by little, with a lot of time and effort, a lot of post-run pain and soreness, a lot of waking up early for morning runs, I increased my mileage and my endurance.

Suddenly I was running distances I would not even drive unless I had something important pressing me to go. I was running speed workouts and hill workouts. I was running up hills that I previously could not walk up without taking a break. I was out running distances of between 18 - 25 km regularly. I ran to Rehovot 5 times from Bet Shemesh at varying distances!

I was, amazingly, as ready as I was ever going to be. It did not matter to me that I was the slowest guy in the group of runners. I was finishing every run last and well behind the rest of the group. My speed did not matter - just my ability to finish.

Then the big day was upon us. The adrenaline was flowing. This is it! I met lots of people who have dreamed of this day - older people in their 50s and 60s who were running their first, younger people running their first, people who have run before and just want to prove to themselves they still have it in them, people who want to improve on previous runs, etc.

There are people along the route cheering. Schoolkids are out whooping it up for the runners, reminding me of the days we went out as schoolkids and cheered on the runners in the Boston Marathon.

I don't know why, but at a certain point, the run got very difficult. I don't think I "hit the wall". It just got difficult. Maybe it was the heat, maybe the emotions, whatever. It is kilometer number 32 and I am slowing down and dropping back to running with all the shleppers. Suddenly I am running through people who can't run. They are stopping to rest, to walk, some are groaning and moaning in pain.

I did not want to go out like that. I pressed on, telling myself only 10km left. I can do that - that is a short run for me. Just 8 left. Just 6 left.

At about kilometer 40 I am feeling more dead than I ever felt before, but I am still "running", and there is a woman on the side of the road screaming at everybody "You have run hundreds of kilometers the past few months training for this. You only have 2 kilometers left. Keep going. Keep running. Even slowly. But don't walk. This is the day you have trained for!"

I am still chugging along. Many people by then could probably walk faster than the speed at which I was running.

41km. Arghhhhh... it hurts so much! But I am almost there! I can do this. Just a few more minutes! I started to choke up from emotion that I actually was about to accomplish what I think must be one of the most unnatural achievements. Just because some Greek guy ran, because they did not yet have cars, 42km from Sparta to Athens to deliver a message about the war they were fighting, so I have to be so crazy to run this???

Suddenly I see the 200meter sign. I was not going to go out crossing the finish line limping and crashing. I was going to go out strong. I found some reserve energy, kicked up my legs and sprinted, passing 5 or 6 people during that last 200 meters, and crossed the finish line with my arms raised celebrating my achievement.

I know I could not have done it without the encouragement and direction of Chaim, coach of the BS Running Club, without the encouragement and camaraderie of the whole group of runners in the club, all of whom who have become good friends after spending many many hours running together and achieving together, without my wife encouraging me to go on and being very supportive (it seems not all wives are as supportive and encouraging as my wife was) - Shifra drove me to runs early in the morning, she kicked me out of bed to go run on occasion when I was not feeling up to it, she put up with my being home less during the past 5 months, along with my coming back sweaty and gross and complaining of pain, and for God giving me the strength and determination to keep going. It says in the gemara "Ba'derech she'adam rotzeh leileich, molichin oso" - the way a person wants to go, Hashem helps him go, but in the Hebrew the words used are specifically words used for going by foot, and Hashems help is also in the form of helping him go by foot, rather than just saying "helps him" (me'sayai'in) - and I can say it is very true - I wanted to run, and God gave me the strength and helped me run.

So thank you all for helping me achieve my goal. I could not have done it without any of you.

And the greatest lesson I learned during the past 5 months is that a person can pretty much accomplish whatever his goal is. He just needs the determination, the discipline, the will power, and the motivation. It is a fight, but you can do it!

That lesson might only be topped by the lesson of whoever tells you take an icebath after a long run to help your joints and muscles recover should be shot. That icebath I took was more painful than any run I have ever done, including the marathon!

I will write more about the marathon itself later, for those who want details of what the run itself was like.


Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing your inspiring story!

mother in israel said...

Kol hakavod, SHabbat shalom!

Dov Shurin Fan said...

dont forget to thank G-d

Naftali Rischall said...

Wow !

Very inspirational - makes me think what goals I should be setting.

Bderech shodom ratzo lelech is one of my favorite Gemara's - the best answer to laziness that people think is bashert.

May you go michayil el chayil

Rafi G said...

Dov Fan - you obviously did not read the paragraph of thank yous... it is in there...

Zachreini Na Na Na said...

I guess I'm a meshugana

Jacob Da Jew said...

Mazal Tov! Mad Props!

Neil Harris said...

Awesome! thanks for the lesson.

Anonymous said...

Just because some Greek guy ran, because they did not yet have cars, 42km from Sparta to Athens to deliver a message about the war they were fighting, so I have to be so crazy to run this???

Ahhh, so it's a goyishe thing?


Just kidding. Kol HaKavod to you!!!!!

whatsinaname said...

well done! you are my new hero.
I guess if an old fat guy like you can do it, maybe i can to.. except i'm not as much a masochist as you are :-).
kol hakavod, I am duly impressed, and I am no longer worthy.

Rafi G said...

whats -
1. I wasn't your hero before?
2. "old fat guy" - thanks.
3. no longer worthy of what?

yaak said...

Mazal Tov!

Zevy R. said...

Way to go, Rafi! How many points will your batting average rise this season with your newfound speed?

Rafi G said...

I was wondering that too, Zevy...
actually - batting average might improve because of improved leg strength, but even more is the speed in the basepaths...

Truth is, I am not that fast, but I can now run around the bases more times than anybody else can without stopping!

Eliezer said...

Rafi, yasher koach! And I am duely impressed and inspired by this. May you complete many more of your aspirations!

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