Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rafi the Maccabi

I am now a Jewish athlete. A Maccabean.

I must say, I did not grow up always dreaming of participating in the Maccabiah. As a matter of fact, I don't even remember hearing about it until I was in high school and met someone who had been in a Maccabiah (he was a weightlifter). But once I did hear of it, I was always impressed by people I met who took their hobbies and interests seriously enough to compete at a semi-professional level like the Maccabiah.

I finally had my chance this year. being Jewish, that puts me extremely in the group of non-athletes of the world. Even Jews who plays sports regularly (myself is a good example) generally are not good enough to compete at any real level. Of course there are the exceptions, as a few Jews do make it in the big time of the Major Leagues and even are seeing an improvement in basketball. But they are the exceptions. the rule, I think, still stands that Jews are not real athletes. So being that I excel at nothing, but play lots of sports, I never actually had the dream, or even the idea, of participating in a Maccabiah.

Since I took up running, it became possible. You don't have to be a top runner to run a half-marathon. You just have to be able to endure, as only a few top runners are competing for the actual win. the rest of us are just competing with our own physical limitations and mental blocks. It is not like playing baseball or volleyball or whatever other sport where you have to be extremely skilled and talented to compete. With running, all you gotta do is compete against yourself.

So I ran the Maccabiah Half-Marathon this week and became a Maccabi.

Actually, there is irony in having a sporting event styled after the Greek Olympics, and calling it the Maccabiah - named after the Maccabees who fought the Greeks and Hellenists who imitated the Greek lifestyle.

The venue was Tuesday evening in Netanya. The half-marathon would take us around southern Netanya, starting from Independence Square. The temperature was hot, though not terrible, at about 80 degrees. The humidity was really the problem, weighing in at 91%!!! It was going to be a very difficult run. While waiting for the run to start, I said to a friend that it feels like I already ran 12km. I was dripping with sweat and all sticky, and all I was doing was standing still!

The run began, and I actually enjoyed the first 7 or so 8 kilometers. It was hot, but was a nice experience, we were running along the coastline for much of that section, and was a nice experience.

After that I started to suffer. I had started out slow, but I guess not slow enough. After about kilometer #9, it was getting difficult to breathe. The stretches of running were becoming more monotonous, as we would run 3 or so kilometers out on a long empty road, and then run the same stretch back, then go up another road and back, etc.

I was pouring sweat. At each water station I would drink nearly the whole bottle of water, but just a few minutes later would have sweat the whole bottle out into my shirt and shorts. It was like running with an extra 10 pounds, considering how wet my shirt and shorts were. There was no relief.

At about 15km or so, it got extremely difficult. There were sections in which I could hardly draw in air to breathe. The humidity was so bad, along with (I think) being surrounded by buildings in those areas (unlike the more open roads the earlier kilometers had spanned) made it very difficult to find air. I had to stop and walk a few times from the 15km marker and on.

The humidity was wreaking carnage on the streets of Netanya. people were gasping for air, runners were walking, etc. Nobody was having a good run. Everybody was running slower, and more painfully, than what they had expected.

I completed the run at 2:08:51, which was about 15 minutes slower than I expected. I came in just after a few of our better runners, which was surprising to find out., Had I known I was so close to them I would have pushed myself a bit more to beat them, just so I could chide them about it afterwards.

One thing was interesting - I had just read earlier in the day on Seth Godin's blog about working the uphills. he used cycling as an example to teach a lesson about business. His idea was that there is very little room for improvement on the downhills. On the downhills everything is fine and you are flying. How much can you improve? The real improvement is possible on the uphills. When everything is a challenge. There you can work to improve and cycle better, more efficiently, harder, etc. His comparison is to business about working harder when business is bad. the same is true with running. You can't improve much on the downhills, but if you work on performing better on the uphills you have lots of room for improvement.

Anyways, back to the half, the humidity was so bad that the news the next day said 7 people had been hospitalized from running the half-marathon. All I know is that I completed the run and was not one of those 7. So now I am a Maccabean. hear me roar!


Elias said...

Hello Rafi:

My name is Elias Harari from Mexico City. I attended the Maccabiah games with my family as my son Joseph was part of the young Maccabiah baseball team competing for Mexico.
As a runner myself I decided to sign up for the half marathon.
I share the same experience as you describe for the run. I also came about 10 to 15 minutes later to what I've expected because of heat and humidity conditions, and after a hard day in Tel Aviv. My son injured in a game the day before and we spend the evening at the ER in Ichilov. Tuesday morning we have to attend the last baseball game of the team under Tel Aviv's sun and from there make it to the half marathon.
Although all this difficulties I finished the run very happy for the accomplishment.
So kol hakavod to you and all the runners.

Rafi G. said...

good for you Elias, and thanks for commenting.

I hope your son enjoyed the experience of playing in the Maccabiah.