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Friday, December 13, 2019

This year, the marathon did not start as it always has. Instead of catching a transport van from the Meadowlands arena parking lot, I caught a ride in a van from a local synagogue. This saved me 30 minutes of extra sleep and my wife several hours of rest.

She is the one who used to have to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to drive me to the Meadowlands Arena parking lot.

(You do realize it’s not called that anymore?)

That’s where I saw Rush in 1987, Metallica in 1988, Guns N Roses in 1990 and…you can stop trying to get me to call it anything else.

So, I’m in a minivan with 10 other Jews, driven by a driver who barely speaks English on the way to a marathon. What could go wrong?

(You could get lost.)

We got lost.

(How? All the traffic was being funneled towards the start line. The race stars in a park at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge.)

We made a wrong turn exiting off 287 in Staten Island. We were two blocks from the race village and we were stuck in traffic.

(Why not get out and walk?)

Have you ever heard the expression, “Two Jews, three opinions?”

(You got out and walked.)

It was like American democracy: If people disagree with you, you work to convince them of your position.

(Didn’t you say that the van was stuck?)

There was that too. We walked up to the NYPD security, emptied all of our metallic objects into bins and passed through metal detectors. Everyone wanted to find food and coffee. Me? I went right for the TV camera.

(It is hard to ignore someone wearing an Ironman costume.)

Right?

(Don’t you ever feel silly?)

All the time. So what? Is it going to get me fired? Run out of town by villagers with torches and pitchforks?

(You are not Frankenstein’s monster.)

You mean Frankenstein?

(No, Frankenstein was the doctor. His creation was referred to as the “monster.”)

I headed to the New York Road Runner’s minyan tent.

(There’s an official New York Road Runner’s minyan?)

There is and they have morning prayers at 7, 8 and 9 a.m. on race day.

(Are you serious?)

The New York Road Runners, who put on the New York Marathon moved the race from the end of October to the first Sunday in November to avoid falling out the Simchat Torah holiday.

As a runner, the best part is they provide siddurim, tallit and tefillin. In the event of it being Rosh Chodesh, they will bring a sefer Torah too. The tent is more than just prayers. It’s a place to eat, drink, charge your phone. It’s where I bump into friends from all over the country.

(It’s just a tent.)

True. I don’t want you to think I’m hanging in a sky box in the Meadowlands.

(You mean the…)

Don’t start with me.

(Speaking of the start….)

Yes. Fifty two thousand runners were organized into four waves and each wave was divided into smaller groups. Over the past five years I had moved up from Wave 4, Group F to Wave 3, Group A. So instead of starting at 11:50 a.m., I was starting at 10:35 a.m.

That meant that we had to start lining up at the correct gate by 10 a.m.

(You were late, weren’t you?)

Yup.

(Talking to too many people?)

Yup, but I made it before the gate closed. Had I missed my wave, I could have entered the next wave, but I had earned this spot, so I ran across the field to make the “closing doors.”

(Nice NYC subway reference.)

Part of what makes this race tricky is that time of year. When I enter the transport van at 5:45 a.m., the air temp was 35 degrees. The air temp was in the 40s when I was hiding in the minyan tent and by the time that I had lined up to start, the air temp was 50. As I walked to the start, I passed plastic dumpers full of donated clothing. Running creates a lot of heat. To deal with this many runners wear an extra layer of “throw away” clothing for the dumpsters. It’s a parade of sweatshirts, bathrobes, Snuggies and onesie pajamas. Have you ever seen adults walking around in onesie pajamas? You’d remember. It’s a sight not quickly forgotten.

There I was, at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge. This is the longest span in NYC and it towers over you when you are standing on it. I mean, literally, standing on the road, at the foot of this bridge. Packed shoulder to shoulder, listening to the Star-Spangled Banner, feeling the wind on your back, the sun on your face, is a moment I look forward to each year.

Growing up I never imagined that I would ever be able to run this race.

With all the planning I put in this year, never did I imagine that I would have to deal with a problem like…


David Roher is a USAT certified marathon and triathlon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and a veteran special education teacher. He can be reached at: [email protected]