Race Morning- My mind is a mess. Am I ready? Is it going to be too hot? What effect will the rain have on my time? Can I do it?
I pick up my friend YD from across the street and start driving towards Pennsylvania. It is only 4 A.M. but we need to get there early enough to pray, before getting on the bus to the starting line. We have nine friends meeting us for the prayer service. Do you think Ryan Hall ever had to do this before a race?
After a close call, we make it to the bus right before it leaves. The guys on the bus are locals who know the course backwards and forwards. I ask them why the first half of the course will be different this year. Apparently a church along the old route paid the race organizers $10,000 to move it. You can’t make this stuff up. For the rest of the ride I sit quietly and listen as they discuss whether they would stop to use a porta-potty if they had to go during the race or whether they would just go on the run. Ick.
I have been planning to run at a 7:35 pace, but I decide I will start with the 3:20 pace group that will be running at a 7:38 pace.
Mile 1- The pace group is going too fast. What do I do? Trust him? Trust my training? I try and stick with them.
Mile 3- The pace group has slowed down. I decide to trust my training. They will not get me there. I have to trust the training. More importantly, I have to trust myself.
Mile 4- I don’t like talking during marathons. I want to hold onto every bit of energy that I can. I listen as two runners introduce themselves to each other as Mary and Martin. Suddenly I have an epiphany. I recently heard of a brain study that indicates that people with names like Dennis and Denise are more likely to be dentists, as the brain steers people towards activities that sound like the person’s name. I bet that people with names like Mary, Martin and Marc (my English name) are more likely to run marathons. Note to self, never name a child Feivel. He will not be willing to run more than a 5K with you.
Mile 6- For a small race, the crowd support is great. I pass a woman and her young son cheering on runners. Suddenly the boy opens his umbrella and screams “yeah”. I don’t know what that means but it makes me smile.
I am in the midst of a big downhill stretch where I am going much faster than my race pace. I think of my friend Yitzy who taught me how to run downhills properly. I hope I don’t pay for this pace later on.
Mile 8- Some guy with ponytails in his hair, runs past me and tells me that I am looking great. I don’t know if he means it or is just being nice, but it helps.
Mile 10- My right shoe feels lose. I suddenly remember that even with a double knot, my laces come undone when wet. I have to stop to pull the knot tighter. AHH! For the rest of my race, my left shoe will be loose. No time to fix it.
Mile 12- Not feeling so strong. The doubts are creeping in.
Half way- I have not been looking at my time and am not sure if I am on pace. I look at the clock. 1:39:05. A half marathon PR by two minutes. All I need to do is repeat it and I am golden.
Mile 15- A guy starts making small talk and asks me my goal. I tell him “under 3:20”. He says “I guess you are also between 40 and 45”. (That is the qualifying time for guys in that age group for Boston). We run together for a while, until he falls off the pace.
Mile 16- I see a guy bent over, stretching by the side of the road. It is a friend of mine. He gets up, tries to run with me a bit and says “I’ll see you at the finish”.
I have not run farther than this since November. Can I make it to the finish? Will I hit the wall? Will I suddenly run out of gas?
Mile 18- The hills begin here. The hills that beat me last year on this course. The hills that made me walk. I decide that not only will they not beat me, but I am going to sprint up every hill for the rest of the race.
Mile 21- I remember this hill. This is where I feel apart last year. I sprint to the top and am feeling pretty good about myself. What goes up must come down, right? Not in the Poconos. A block later, there is another killer hill. If I meet the guy who designed this course, G-d help him.
Mile 23- There is a woman running ahead of me who is either the Mayor of Stroudsburg PA, or prom queen or something. I mean the whole place is cheering her on. I try and take in the cheers as if they are mine.
I look at my watch and check the time. I can not believe it. I have a shot. Quickly, I correct myself with some negative talk and tell myself that I will probably miss 3:20 by less than a minute.
Mile 24- I see a runner from my group who is one of faster guys I know. Amazingly I pass him. He calls out “Go get ‘em”. “I am trying” I respond.
I pass a synagogue on the right. Why aren’t they out cheering for me? Didn’t they know I am coming?
Mile 25- Less than 1 ¼ miles to go. I look at my watch. I have more than 10 minutes to make it. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
Someone cheers for the mayor/prom queen and tells her she looks great and to pass me. She does. A block later, I retake the lead. Moohaha.
Mile 26- We pass into the parking lot of the school where the race will finish. I look ahead and there are my wife and two youngest kids cheering for me. I fight back the tears.
Last 300 meters- Less than a lap around the track. My friend YD (2:51 finish and 11th place overall) is cheering for me and tells me to finish strong. I am going as fast as I can, but have no kick left.
3:18:40. 7:35 per mile. My goal on the dot. BQ. Holy cow. I did it. Holy cow.
My wife has a Dropkick Murphys t-shirt with “Shipping Up to Boston” on it. Is it odd for an Orthodox rabbi to like Irish Punk? I am vast. I contain multitudes.
I talk to my brother in Israel. He BQed a few months ago (he is still 33 seconds faster, but I am cool with that). WE are going to Boston. My wife and kids come over. I am in heaven. I am smiling so hard it hurts, in a really good sort of way.
I head home. Home to send out e-mails, FB messages and texts to everyone I ever met. To take my oldest sons to the Red Sox-Yankees game. (The Red Sox will win. It is a Boston sort of day). To celebrate.
My brother, with a small assist from me, sends me a message with one of the cleverest double entendres ever; “You pred because of the beet juice”. (Try and figure it out. It’s VERY funny). So many friends and family members respond with kindness and pretend to understand my insanity.
Come April, G-d willing, I am shipping up to Boston!