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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!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Legs and Lungs

I registered and will be running in the Maccabiah Half-Marathon this Tuesday evening.

Considering I have only run more than 16km once (and that was 18km) since the full marathon in January, I realized I am pretty out of shape. But I did not really force myself to train for the Maccabiah Half.

Aside from the challenge of the distance and being prepared, an even greater challenge, possibly, is the heat and humidity. It is hot and it is humid. With a 6:35pm starting time, it is about the worst time of day for the humidity, though not for the heat. And Netanya, the venue for the Half, being right off the Mediterranean, is very humid.

Add to all this, the Maccabiah has a 2 hour limit for the running of the Half. I was not much better than that under normal conditions, fully trained, so this was really setting myself up for a challenge.

The one plus of this is that Netanya is basically flat, and with all my running being in the Bet Shemesh area, running with lots of hills, running flat in a competition does give me a few extra minutes from my normal times, as my run will be flatter than what I am used to.

So I finally realized that I have to start training for the Maccabiah or I wil have no chance at all. With all those challenges, I can see myself collapsing from the heat and exertion and not finishing within 2 hours. I had to come up with a plan.

I called my plan (which I really just named) "Legs and Lungs". Legs and Lungs means I have to get my legs and lungs ready for the race. I basically decided I would cram for the big exam. If I could get my legs and lungs ready for the race, and have my only challenge be the heat, I would probably be ok.

So, "Legs and Lungs" means I had to run a bunch of times enough of a distance that my legs could go the distance and that my lungs could go the distance.

So, in the last 4 days I have run 17+km already 3 times. The first was Wednesday evening. I chose to do that one at the same time as the Half would be - about 6pm. It was so hot and humid, I had a lot of trouble with the run. I ran 19km, but had to stop a couple of times on the way. I overran the first half, and paid for it by having trouble during the second half when it was cooler. I should have gone the other way, taking it easy the first half and then extending myself in the second half of the run.

Friday we ran a 17km trail.

And Saturday night I ran from my house, out to the 38, over to Elah Junction, down (more up) the 375 to Road 10. Across and up to RBS, and down back to my house. Totalling about 18km. It was much cooler, though humid, a lot of ups, and pitch black (I wore a reflective vest and carried a headlight for safety).

I felt much stronger already. And I still plan to run early Monday morning another 18 or so km.

As long as my legs and lungs are ready, and my only real challenge is the heat, I will probably be ok.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nighttime Relay Race

The guys who went up north last month for the 200km relay race had such a good experience that they wanted to replicate it, on a smaller level, for the rest of us who could not go.

They designed a local relay race, using trails in the Bet Shemesh area, for a 50km race to be run during the night, concluding with a BBQ dinner.

We split into four teams of 4-5 runners per team. We began the run at 8pm, and it was estimated to take us until about 1am, at which time we would have the BBQ.

The various legs of the race were split into an average of about 8km per leg. The legs differed mostly in terrain and difficulty.

The first leg was about 9+km from Nofei Aviv up to Beit Natif and down to the entrance of RBS. The second half of each team waited at the ending point to begin the next leg. While each leg was being run, the other runners would drive to the next meeting point. The Beit Natif run was the longest of all the legs. From there, the second leg began, running back to nofei Aviv and up to the beginning of the Yishi trail.

The first runners then took over for the third leg, running the whole 8km length of the Yishi trail. The drivers met them at the other end of the trail, driving all the way around to get to Tal Shachar. The runners switched and ran back the whole 8km to the beginning of the Yishi trail.

Leg 5 was from the Yishi trail up to Tzora, to the Retorno complex on the top of the hill, and back down to Derech Ha'Psalim. The sixth, and final, leg of the run was from Derech Ha'Psalim until Presidents Forest. This was the only leg that was run completely on the road.

the run was great, an exciting and interesting adventure. Running in the dark, with almost complete silence, is a completely different experience. The moon was not yet full, so while it provided some light, as did the distant lights of various cities (like Bet Shemesh and other small villages), it was still mostly dark. At times you could hear animals rustling in the bushes nearby, as we disturbed their habitat. Jackals could be heard nearby on parts of the run. We heard owls hooting. Perhaps the most exciting part was when Daniel, my running partner, and I enjoyed a military escort for part of our run back on the Yishi trail (leg #4).

Part of the Yishi trail is up against the edge of a large army base. At certain points along the trail, the fence of the base is practically right up against the trail. We must have looked a bit suspicious running in the dark alongside an army base with headlights on our head. They must have thought we were either spies or infiltrators looking for a good point to cut through the fence.

So as we were running, we noticed an army jeep following us for a bit (on their side of the fence). At a certain point, the trail was right up by the fence - just a few meters away. The jeep stopped and a soldier called out to us to ask what we were doing there. He told us we need to get moving and get out of there. We told him we were in the middle of a race and were trying to get out of there as fast as we could! He followed us for a few more minutes, and then disappeared.

The last leg of the run was probably the most difficult. First of all, we were all stretched to our limits already. It was already after midnight when we began the last leg. We were tired, hungry, sore, etc. Second, it was all highway running, and all uphill, including the last 2km being an extremely difficult uphill to Presidents Forest next to Highway 44.

We finished it just before 1am, exactly as expected. I felt bad for our A&B runners that they had us on their team. they are good runners and did not deserve to end in last place just because of us (the C&D runners), but those are the breaks.

When we made it to Presidents Forest, we collapsed into the BBQ that was just getting under way. We had salads and meats coming non-stop for the next hour and a half, along with shooting the breeze and chilling.

It was really a great experience, and if we do it again, I am signing up!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Runners Guide to Israel #3: Martyr's Forest

Last Friday we ran the trail called "Martyr's Forest".

Martyr's Forest is just off the Highway 38. It is a beautiful trail leading out towards Nachal Keisalon, adjacent to Moshav Keisalon.

The plan was to run 8 or so km out, and then back, totalling about 16km.

While at first it seemed like an easy and flat trail, after just a short while the run seemed very difficult. The run out was really uphill - just a slight incline, but over time and distance you really start to feel it. I could not understand why after increasing my running so much in the past few weeks suddenly such an easy run has me running slower and feeling more tiredness in my legs.

Only after a while did I realize I felt that way because of the slight but steady incline in the run. I plugged away and made it the full 8km, even though it took me slightly longer than planned. After turning, I ran much faster and finished in more or less the time I had expected originally to finish in, completing the full 16km.

The run itself is a beautiful trail, enclosed by the woods. There were plenty of biker groups enjoying the beautiful woods as well. At points you could hear a babbling brook, but on closer inspection it seems like I could only find storm drains and no babbling brook.