I’ve never been exceptionally good at anything. I’m not a good singer. I’m a terrible artist. A decent cook. Slightly above-average intelligence. I’m just ordinary, your average Jane. I’ve always enjoyed playing sports, but never really excelled at them. In middle school, I made the basketball team, but was a constant bench-warmer. And though I’ve always enjoyed running, I have never been a fast runner. I won’t be winning any races. Ever. Not even against my 6-year-old son. But I’m OK with that. I run anyway. And I run far. Last year, I set out to run my very first half-marathon. I trained for months, running in the rain, when I was tired, hungry, cranky and just wanted a nap instead. I even hired a professional trainer to help me with my stride, breathing, and posture, because apparently all of those things are important if you want to run efficiently and avoid injury. Mostly, I hired a trainer for accountability. To keep me in check: to make sure I actually did my running homework, and to make me feel guilty when I didn’t. But I did! I ran 21.1 kilometers in the 2018 Tel Aviv Half Marathon. I ran it in just under two and a half hours. And I was OK with that.
Tel Aviv hosted its annual marathon just last week. On marathon day, the whole city shuts down; roads close, busses are re-routed or cancelled, cars are forced to park in non-existent parking spots. And runners brave out of their homes in the cold February morning. And I am one of them. As I ride my bike to the starting point, so gather the other runners who have been waiting for this very day, training for months, running kilometer after kilometer, just to get to this starting line.
The sky is still dark and much of the city remains in a tranquil slumber. Running through the streets of Tel Aviv, before the sun has even had a chance to rise on the Bauhaus buildings of Rothschild and Dizengoff, emerges in me a new sense of appreciation of this city. Throughout the run, the sun rises higher and higher casting brightening shades of dawning blue and orange across the city streets. As one foot methodically steps one in front of the other, I remind myself to keep my shoulders down, arms loose, breathe through the mouth, not through the nose. I curse the uphills and cherish the downhills, smiling for the strategically placed photographers along the descending roads. And the only noise I hear is my own breath, and the beats of my carefully chosen playlist. I mouth the words to my favorite songs, hoping that I don’t look like a crazy person talking to herself. Doesn’t everyone sing along to their favorite songs while they run?
As I near my own Tel Aviv neighborhood, it’s not just my music that I hear. I hear the cheers from friends and family that fill my heart with explosive joy as I pass them waving, high-fiving, and blowing kisses. With each familiar face, with each step, every breath, I own the trail. The love in those moments encourages me from one kilometer to the next. Only six more kilometers to go. I keep a steady pace. Only three more. My body aches. Blisters on my toes. Food. I think of food — the enormous meal I’m going to eat when this is done. And ice cream, because I freaking deserve it. One last big hill, a kilometer and a half before the end, muttering every expletive I can think of as I go up. I see the finish line, glistening oh-so-brightly in the morning sun. That glorious arch, calling my name. I try to speed up. Keyword: try. I cross the finish line, check my time, and catch my breath. This year, in my second half-marathon, I ran a whole seven minutes slower than last year. I could come up with a bunch of excuses, or maybe I’m just getting old. But it’s not the time that matters. In those moments mixed with elation, strength, and pain, I am anything but ordinary. It’s running that distance, that makes me feel extraordinary.