It had been a rough month: the dryer died, a shaky crown on a critical-to-my-appearance tooth fell off, the rent was due, and a few of those recently shed kilos were beginning to reappear. Challenging the heavens to show me what else is in store, I unwittingly answered the phone only to hear my oldest son shout, “Guess what, Mom! You’re going to run the Jerusalem Marathon!”
Thus said, by the time this essay appears on the newsstand, I will have either triumphed or met defeat in the running – no, walking – of my first marathon. Candidly, I must admit that I am very, very frightened. New challenges are scary, and to be more than honest, I’m a little challenged-out from the life events of this past decade.
Although I’ve been living in Jerusalem for the past 15 years, the metric system still isn’t clear to me, and ten kilometers might be three blocks or thirty miles for all I know. How did it happen that my picture ended up on a page called “Mitzvah Milers”? It was my children who thought that I’d be great since I take an occasional power walk and have recently shed approximately 15 pounds.
“Mom, you’ll be great! How many 54-year-olds can say that they began running in the second half of life?”
Not many, I bet.
But I digress. It seems that they submitted my name, supplied the required information, created an on-line profile that made me look like a cross between Dorothy Hamill and Hulk Hogan, and paid the required registration fee. By the time I learned about it, three pledges in support of my efforts had arrived, and I couldn’t drop out. And so I began to train.
Beginning with a thirty-minute neighborhood trek, I soon discovered myriad creative ways to cover the distance from my Katamon home to the not-so-friendly-to-female-joggers neighborhood of Har Nof where my office is located. Mapping out strategic pit-stops for frequent, age-related bathroom breaks, eventually I learned to avoid routes that were part of the busy bus lines. Because more than once I justified hopping on the #33 with the lame excuse that “If I get to work earlier, I can leave earlier and take a power walk in the evening!” Like, huh? Who am I kidding? Walk where? To the local falafel joint and friendly ice cream parlor?
In the end, the most beneficial route seems to be the most agonizingly boring – at least for a long stretch. Walking from my home past the Botanical Gardens, I quickly arrive at the beginning of a seemingly interminable stretch that spans two sides of the city in a perceptively uphill manner. The first week found me weeping from the relentless burning in both my calf muscles and shamefully underused hamstrings, but now I’m barely feeling it. This nightmarish section of the morning trek has shortened itself to 32 minutes from the original 45, and for this alone I’m proud. What makes Part A of the walk so tedious is that there are no stores, no trees, and no people along the route. And unless one deems that yeshiva parking lots are, indeed, bucolic and enjoys the music of sandblasting that accompanies highway expansion, this crack-of-dawn hike is a drag.
But wait! Hark! Rising like a three-headed Phoenix are the stunning furnaces of Shaare Tzedek Hospital. Wailing ambulances make crossing tricky, but I’ve learned to strategically cross over the six-lane road and beat the ER bustle. Here the road becomes perilously steep, and I fight the urge to hail a cab for the rest of the walk. My backpack has grown far heavier along the way, stuffed with the requisite laptop, prayer book, dress shoes, and makeup case.
My reward, however, looms ahead. Now that I’ve hit level ground, I grin at the welcoming site of Yad Sarah, the largest volunteer organization in Israel. And although I’m always moved by its good deeds, I feel even more emotional by virtue of the fact that it sports a pristine public restroom on the entrance floor. Waving “hello” to the Russian security guard, I scurry down the hallway to use the lavatory, wash my face, readjust the bag I’m wearing and, giddily, enter the Jerusalem Forest for the best part of my day.
Every day something wonderful happens in the forest and, perhaps because I’m a writer, my imagination runs free. To what can I attribute this morning muse? I used to believe that pine needles and moss-veined boulders were the catalysts for creative thought, but I’ve come to rethink this. No, I now believe it is the blend of those fragrances which first assail me as I enter this pristine oasis. I’m immediately transported to long, long-ago summers in different forests called White Mountain, Catskills, Black Kettle and Pike. My size 41 Reeboks traverse the branches that have fallen from a recent, blessed rainfall and accidentally my heart’s memory recalls the musky scent of salmon-hued salamanders (non-existent in Israel) and the cleaning and cooking of a bass I’d caught in a frigid lake, and later cooked on a fire built from fallen kindling and rotted logs.
Could I do it today? Slipping out of this reverie for only a moment, I call my fifteen-year-old to ask if she wants to go camping with me at the end of August. Barely stifling a yawn, she answers, “Yeah. Whatever.” I continue walking.
I have forgotten the ominous, upcoming marathon. My eye catches an unusual white object off to the side, and even from a distance it seems odd and important. Squinting, I kneel down and lift what appears to be a large section of bone from the mouth of a long-jawed animal. And although it is ‘bone dry,’ there are several teeth still deeply embedded in the sockets.
What a find! I’m truly excited but, sadly, have no one to call. Nearly skipping as I exit the forest, I’m intoxicated by the thought that I may have solved the mystery of the Missing Link. I don’t really remember what the mystery is, but I can already see my profile and personal story splattered across the pages of Newsweek, Science Today, and both Hebrew and English editions of National Geographic.
Enough. Fifty-five minutes and (I now know) six kilometers into the walk, I walk out onto the last stretch of road that rises at a near-45-degree angle to the building that houses my office. Trying to regulate my breathing, I put out my thumb and hop into the first car that stops.
“Good morning,” says the lovely woman behind the wheel. “Are you a ‘runner’?”
I hesitate for only a moment, the word “yes” sitting just at the tip of my tongue. Nevertheless, something far more accurate slips out before I have a chance to exercise censorship.
“I don’t think so,” I sheepishly answer. “Last time I looked, I was a writer.”