The ground that I pound is my muse.
Autumn 2005, Paramus, New Jersey: 49 minutes. 12 years, 11,000 running miles and 20 pounds ago. Before I even dreamed of this Zionist adventure.
Most of my life is planned with one New Balance in the air. Mornings, I return home from the park and present new ideas to the boss. Occasionally, I get approval.
I was drifting off to sleep on my second night in Israel when Alyssa texted me: “TLV marathon is Friday. You can register until midnight tonight if you want to do the 10k”; “don’t have the strength right now, half asleep. oy.” “don’t have the strength to run, or to register?” “to register” (melatonin and Benadryl kicking in) “want me to register you?” (A good daughter will do that for you.) In my fugue state , I send her my Israeli identity card with the necessary demographics as well as my T-shirt size.
Two days later, on the way to see Don Giovanni at the Tel Aviv Opera, Debbie and I stop at Rabin Square (“At this spot, the prime minister of Israel was murdered on Motzei Shabbat, November 4, 1995”) to pick up the race kit and RF tag. I navigate a maze of promo booths, then wait in two lines, only to learn that my kit won’t be ready until the next day because I registered late. I should have read the whole e-mail. Chalk it up to jetlag.
Another two days later, I leave Shaare Zedek Hospital in the late afternoon. It turns into a three-hour schlep from Jerusalem to Rabin Square, then home to Modi’in. After I pick up my kit, I inhale a few perfectly sweet and notably large fresh dates from a local produce stand . Dates are one of the seven holy species mentioned in the bible, possessing special medical and spiritual properties.
I open the race kit. The 10K race is billed as the “Urban Run.” Translation: no view of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s only for the marathoners. I used to be one of those.
Thankfully, it’s “last-in, last-out.” Late registrants don’t start until the fourth wave, 9:30. To allow weekend track maintenance, the train from Modi’in to Tel Aviv isn’t running on Fridays this month, so I drive to the Ramat Gan Stadium. I photograph my car’s location in the huge lot, expecting some memory erasure during the race. I follow others on the two-kilometer walk through Park Yarkon, then wait in line for the dreaded porta-potty experience.
My last competition was the NY Marathon nine years ago. Since then, age and complacency have slowed my daily pace to a knee-preserving 13-minute mile. Listening to Malcolm Gladwell podcasts doesn’t help, either. Today, I hope to be dragged at a faster clip by the surrounding tide of youthful speed and catecholamines.
Turning back the clock to 1970s “New Wave,” I choose Blondie Live as a soundtrack. Good choice. Deborah Harry singing Dreaming gives a dopaminergic boost to my start.
The 10K entrants are an ethnically homogeneous group of Israeli teenagers, soldiers, thirty-somethings, kerchiefed Orthodox mothers ,and pot-bellied middle-aged fathers (including your self-indulged correspondent). Add to that a nice sprinkling of kippot (but no tzitzit or peyot) and a heavy helping of tattoos. I assume the marathon has a more diverse field.
We start down the highway, past the high-rises of Ramat Aviv, entering the city at the old port/ new mall. Down the storied Dizengoff, (the first Israeli street I had heard of in childhood), where we are cheered by onlookers, a live band, and a DJ playing Outkast’s Hey Ya. (Half the tetragrammaton!) My watch tells me that I’m off to a good start.
Blondie cuts out after the (metaphorical?) left on Ben-Gurion. Journalistic inspiration seizes my brain for the first time since my aliyah 12 months ago, and I begin to mentally pen these words. The ground that I pound is my muse. I lose track of time. I muse. How privileged I am to run the streets Tel Aviv on a whim. Stripped of some Western formalities, life in Israel can be so spontaneous…. I lose track of space. After the turn back up Ibn Gvirol, a fellow runner updates me on the kilometer count.
Back on the highway for the last two kilometers. Once more, I boot up Dreaming. I cross the finish at 65 minutes, thrilled with my performance. After accepting the customary free banana and protein bar, I walk through the crowd of finishers. Alyssa tells me that TV coverage showed a beer stand at the marathon finish.
Even in this celebratory moment, there is a reminder of Israel’s existential struggle. Two runners walking in front of me are wearing T-shirts in memory of three members of their army unit who were killed in action over the last 10 years. They are reticent to give me details, but agree to be photographed from behind.
Back in Modi’in, Eitan and Ezra (8 and 6) are amazed to hear that runners are permitted to toss their empty water bottles on to the street.
I call my mother in Queens before Shabbat. “Oh ,Howie! You promised me you wouldn’t race anymore. It’s dangerous! You’re almost 60!”