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Blog XIX – Racing November 18, 2013

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I got into running races whenever I could. In the 1990s, I traveled all over the region to race. For example, in 1992 in Maryland, I ran a marathon in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a 10 miler in Annapolis and a Metric Marathon (26.2 Km) in Columbia. I also ran a marathon in the Philippines. Plus a few 10 Km races in Virginia.

I will always remember the Fritzbie’s 10 kilometer race in Reston, sponsored by a popular local restaurant that provided an abundance of free belly-busting post-run food and drink. I was seriously dating a woman — so I invited her to root for me at the race – and to enjoy the food and bloody mary’s afterward.

All runners crowded to jog forward when the start gun went off. The person behind me stepped on the back of my shoe, stumbled and pushed into my back. I fell down into a pack of runners who skipped around or jumped over me. I got to my knees, which were bloodied, looked back and saw the oncoming horde of runners bearing down on me (like a cattle stampede in the cowboy movies). I got up, adrenaline flowing, and ran like hell.

My friend didn’t then know much about running so I covered up my embarrassing fall with a lame excuse. I explained that the Reston Runners always handicap the fastest runners so I was obliged to perform a 45-second duck-walk at the start of a race in order to give the others in my age division a chance to catch me. She would have bought that story – if it wasn’t for my bloodied knee.

My organization, ACDI, was a sponsor of the Cooperative Development 5K Race that was run annually at Hain’s Point, in East Potomac Park, south of the Tidal Basin. Several of the executives at ACDI felt obliged to run the race. I of course felt compelled to race – and to win.

I urged my friend to enter the race. She reluctantly agreed – and ran/walked, winning first place in her age division and a $50 gift certificate to a DC restaurant. I came in second in my division and didn’t win anything.

She joined me in one other race, in Adams Morgan. Also a 5K race, it was sponsored by Ayuda, the non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to immigrants. She won a prize for being the oldest woman to participate. After that win, she retired from running races and rested on her laurels.

24-Hour Relay Race

Reston Runner Tom Conrad was the main promoter for the 1993 “24-Hour Relay Race” run on the 7th and 8th of August, the peak of summer. It was the Eastern Region Championship race. Tom had previously organized several of those relay races and had been soliciting Reston Runners to join the 10-person team.

I had recently joined Reston Runners. All summer-long Tom announced the upcoming race before the start of the weekend club run. He needed participants. I considered myself a long-distance runner but I agreed to compete on his 10-man relay team in 1993. It would be an experience.

Each team member had to run four laps around the high school track, equal to one mile, and pass the baton to a team member at the conclusion of the 4th lap. It took roughly seven minutes to run a mile. That meant each team member had to run his mile every hour or so.

We set up a large colored tent provided by a friend who had worked in the Middle East and shipped his Bedouin tent home to Reston. Each of us brought our own food, drinks and chairs.

After completing a mile lap and catching our breath, we would sit or lie down on our lounge chairs under the tent, relax and cheer on our team mates and sometimes try to nap. Every hour or so, our turn would come. We’d warm up for a few minutes, step out on the track and prepare for our teammate to pass the baton.

We ran and ran. Sunset came and we continued running our laps under the track lights. During the wee hours of the night, a thunderstorm and cold torrential rain drove away two teams that didn’t have tents. On and on it went and we eventually enjoyed a beautiful post-rain sunrise.

After 24 hours of waiting, racing, cheering, resting, eating, drinking and rarely napping, our relay team won second place.

My Slowest Marathon

I was never so sick that I had to stay overnight in a hospital until 1993 or 1994 when I experienced serious chest pain and great difficulty breathing. I thought I was a goner.

The hospital emergency room doctor’s quick diagnosis was pericarditis, a condition where the sac-like covering around the heart gets inflamed, liquid collects under the membrane and causes pain because the membrane doesn’t expand. Medicine was prescribed to treat the infection and the severe pain went away in a day or so. But full recuperation took longer.

I had already registered and paid for my entry in the Marine Corps Marathon months before my illness. It was too late to get a refund or have the entry transferred to someone else. I decided to run the marathon although I was still recuperating from pericarditis.

I struggled to keep up my training runs and ran them super-slow. When it came to the actual marathon, I slugged through it. It wasn’t smart to run a marathon in my weakened condition – but I didn’t want to drop out of the marathon. Runners are like that. I finished the marathon in 5:02:20, my all-time slowest marathon.

Bizarre Ailment

I got a fever after a two-hour bike trip from Vienna to Old Town Alexandria. That fever persisted for several weeks during which time I maintained a running schedule of sorts.

I was hosting one of my post-Saturday run breakfasts for Reston Runners. Afterward my girlfriend and my son, Steve, helped me clean up after the crowd had left. I suddenly got severe chills and was shaking so hard that I had to stay warm under three blankets. I was rushed to the emergency room when my temperature reached 105. With two heavy dose Tylenol pills, the fever eventually went down. The doctor couldn’t come up with a diagnosis. I went home with a prescription and took the medicine that day and night.

The next morning, Sunday, I awoke with leg pains so intense, I had to roll off my bed onto the floor and then crawl to the bathroom to use the toilet. It was almost as if I was partially paralyzed. That freakish condition lasted for two days. My doctor referred me to a top tropical medicine specialist in Washington. After examinations and tests, again doctors had no explanation. One guessed I had experienced an untypical reaction to the prescribed drug. Another thought I had picked up an exotic bug while traveling overseas. I had no recurrence of the problem. But I got something out of that experience.  I now had an exotic story to relate at cocktail parties or an “organ recital” whenever conversation about medical problems arises.

“Organ Recital?” You old timers know what I’m talking about.

Chapter XVIII – The Manila, Philippines Marathon – Running Like An Animal – October 24, 2013

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Training to run a 26.2 mile marathon is an exact science. One increases weekly running mileage gradually to build capacity to better prepare for the arduous distance, never exceeding a 20-mile distance on any one training run. The peak mileage of about 50 miles a week comes in the last three to six weeks before the race. The last three weeks are to taper, greatly reducing mileage. The strategy is that in the last three weeks there’s nothing much you can do to improve your capacity or speed – but you have much greater risk of injury. Strategy on distances to run has changed over the years but the advice to taper running in the last few weeks is still good advice.

Advice on that subject that I pass on to new marathoners: Don’t train enough and you won’t reach the finish line! Train too much and you won’t reach the start line!

I was on a long around-the-world business trip before a marathon. I was doing training runs wherever I was – and maintaining an ultra-high volume schedule. I was averaging over 50 miles a week for three weeks, including 20-mile runs and the taper period was a couple of weeks away.

By the time I reached Manila, Philippines I had already run four straight days. On Saturday, the fifth running day in a row, I ran 10 miles and returned to my hotel to relax before showering and heading to the pool.

In my room, I read the newspaper. The Manila Marathon would be run the next day. The article mentioned Jose Castro, Jr. was the marathon organizer. I knew Jose well when I worked for CARE in the Philippines a decade earlier. He was just starting organized racing in the late 1970s. He had introduced a marathon training program then based the Honolulu method – and although no marathon was ever thought of in those days, he started the Philippine Marathon Association and I was one of the board members. At that time, I was a brand new runner and had only run one or two 10K races he had organized. Jose was then hard up for runners to be board members.

I threw on a pair of pants and taxi-ed to the Sports Stadium, met Jose and got registered for the next day’s race. The marathon started in Luneta Park at 6 AM the next morning, and the course ran along Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay and up and back to Makati.

 By 9 AM the sun was high and it was a scorcher. Water hydrants were supplying city water to runners. Incredibly, I ran the race in 3:54: 59 – a sub four-hour marathon.

 What a running animal!

 When I got back home, I rushed to my doctor for stool tests and medicine telling her I had been drinking city water in Manila and probably caught all kinds of Asian bugs. The doctor said, “If you didn’t get sick the next day, you’re ok now.”

I tapered my running schedule for the next two weeks to get ready for the race I had been long training for. And ran the “Last Train to Boston” Marathon at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland in 3:40:38.

As I look back at what I did then, I shake my head in disbelief. How could I run a marathon without tapering and complete it in intense heat and humidity? How could I run two marathons within two months?

 I was young and foolish then. That’s how. That was when I was only a 59-year old running animal.

Blog XVII – Reston Runners Changed My Life June 21, 2013

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Reston Runners Changed My Life

I was an empty nester in 1992, alone in my four-bedroom town house in Newbridge Court in Reston – following my separation and a messy divorce.

After 25 years of marriage and three grown children out of the house, I needed to change my lifestyle and I wanted to do new and different things.

When I traveled overseas for work, I ran alone for exercise. I had run two marathons since I got to Washington in 1984 – but I trained alone for those races on the Reston streets and paths. I was a solitary runner.

Reston Runners

During my lonely weekend runs in Reston, I saw packs of runners on the streets and  noticed, strangely, one petite blond woman usually ran in the middle of the street straddling the lane line. (I never learned why.) Talking and laughing as they ran, they were obviously having fun. I caught up with the group one day and learned how to join the club. Twenty years ago, a phone recording by Sam at “437-FOOT” described where the runs would start each Saturday and Sunday. Now it’s all online.

Joining the running group made an immediate change in my life. I now had an organized activity every weekend. I liked the group. Members were of all ages and all backgrounds.

After running by myself all week, I looked forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings when I would meet and run with interesting and fun-loving people. I soon became a regular at the after-run gatherings. Post-run breakfast table talk was always lively with lots of joking and laughter.

I enjoyed the camaraderie and friendships that developed within the Reston Runners. And I was soon participating and car-pooling to races with other club members around Reston, Herndon, Leesburg, Rockville and Washington and some as far away as the Annapolis 10 miler, Last Train to Boston Marathon at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD, Metric Marathon in Colombia and the Shamrock race in Virginia Beach.

I religiously followed the club’s unchanging Sunday morning Marine Corps training schedule. It was the only marathon most of us ran in those early days. And Connie S faithfully hosted a post-Marine Corps Marathon party. Each year after I reached the finish line at the frigging top of that miserable Marine Corps Memorial hill, I swore I’d never go through that pain again. But at home I soaked my weary body in an epson salts bath and soon couldn’t wait to put on my race tee-shirt and finisher’s medal and rush to Connie’s to brag or give alibis about my run that morning and predict my time for next year’s marathon.

Usually weekend post-run breakfasts were at MacDonald’s, Roy Rogers or Lake Anne Pharmacy luncheonette, depending where the scheduled run was held. Reston Runners usually shared the drug store counter with the local AA group as their meeting broke on Saturday morning just as we runners arrived. Service was deadly slow – but it was the only breakfast action in that part of town.

After a couple of months, I was surprised when the scheduled run was to be at Newbridge Court, where I live. I volunteered to host a breakfast at my home when the next Newbridge Court run was scheduled. My offer was accepted. I was told no one had ever done that before.

Before the start of the next Saturday Newbridge run, I invited everyone there to breakfast at my home. Bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, coffee and more. A hungry crowd of sweaty runners and walkers squeezed in my town house that day. It was a success. They ate everything I put out. And I continued to host breakfast every time a five-mile Newbridge run was scheduled. It became a tradition. The crowd seemed to grow larger with each breakfast. Some club members didn’t run, they just showed up to eat.

“Jerry’s Fabulous Breakfast,” as it came to be called, became ‘an event” for the Reston Runners. I hosted about four or five breakfasts a year. As the tradition continued, I added other foods – trail mixes, dried fruit, cupcakes and delicacies. Once I tried to handle making waffles, by myself, on two machines. Between pouring batter and making fresh pots of coffee, refilling juice pitchers, it got too complicated for me. Batter overflowed,  waffles stuck and burned – and it was a tough cleanup. I never did waffles again.

I always set out a dozen or two “Little Miss Debbie’s Swiss Cake Rolls”. It became my trademark. Not only were three pounds of smoked salmon stacked up next to five dozen bagels, three boxes of Philadelphia cream cheese, six different jams and preserves and four types of juices – but the 79 cents box of Miss Debbie’s Rolls[1] were my staple treat. When anyone said, “Uggh!”I explained, “You gotta get your trans fats somewhere!”

[1]    They cost $1.79 a box now.

On one Saturday morning post-run breakfast, I heard one of our runners, Dennis Hays, was about to depart in a few days to begin his assignment as Ambassador to Suriname. I quickly made a hand drawn letter-size bon voyage sign, scotch taped it on the wall, blew up some balloons to make my place festive – and we toasted him.

For my next runners’ breakfast, I drew a six-foot welcome banner to put on my front fence so Reston Runners could find my house when they came from the pool parking lot after the run. I added some lettering to the banner below,”Welcome Reston Runners,” and drew, “Dennis Hays Commemorative Post Run Breakfast.” From then on, I numbered each “commemorative run”.

I left Reston in 2000 for a three-year assignment in Egypt. I understand that in my absence the runners missed the odor of perking coffee at the Newbridge runs but still banged on my door to get in. My son, Steve, never answered the door.

Upon my return in 2004, Newbridge breakfasts resumed with my life partner, Ann B, now assisting and enhancing the offerings. Her specialty is cooking up batches of hot pancakes – with and without chocolate chips – to all comers. A welcome addition to the menu.

And the breakfasts will continue.

Welcome Banner

Welcome Banner

Welcome Banner

                                                    Runner’s Breakfast at Newbridge

No Shoes Inside

No Shoes Inside

runners breakfast



Blog XVI – Running Ultramarathons November 13, 2012

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I’m an ultramarathoner. That means I’ve run races longer than the regular 26.2 mile marathon. Actually I’ve only run the JFK 50-miler race – but I did it twice. After I ran it the first time when I was 66 years old – in a couple of minutes over 10 hours, I said, “Never again!” Then at age 73, I ran my second JFK – in just under 11 hours.

The JFK 50-miler race is one of America’s largest and most challenging ultramarathons – over Maryland’s rocky Appalachian Trail and the clay and broken stone flat towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Next weekend on November 17, 2012, is the 50th running with 1,200 runners from around the world. About 10,000 applied for a slot in the race.

It’s interesting to observe runners when they decide to increase their race distance to an ultramarathon. I’ve gone through that escalation. I was a 48-year old non-athletic coach potato when I first started jogging and soon was competing in 10 kilometer races. I thought you had to be demented to run further, such as races of 10 miles and over. But soon I got used to running 5 or 10 kilometer short races. I wanted new challenges.

After I had a couple of 10 milers and half marathons under my belt, I felt running shorter races was no big deal. But still believed that only the unbalanced in my running club would race in marathons. And so, I advanced along the runners’ continuum, successfully taking on longer and longer race distances – and even a metric marathon (26.2 kilometers). I still saw only brain sick runners ahead of me on the continuum (doing longer distances) – and those behind me were running the easier short races.

That’s the way I felt when I got to the start line of my first ultramarathon. I had already run over two dozen marathons and had some fast race times. But for years I shook my head in disbelief at those 50-miler masochists in my Reston Runners Club who willingly chose to punish themselves in that grueling race. It’s nuts to run a race that’s almost two marathons long. I truly felt that way until I was persuaded by Anna B, our club president, that 50 miles was a do-able distance. She runs ultramarathons ever year.

She said, “Consider the Marine Corps Marathon in October to be your long training run for the 50-miler. That means you have peaked for the JFK race that is exactly four weeks later. You need a week or so to recover from the marathon – so you only have to do a few short runs of five to eight miles over the next couple of weeks before the 50-miler. Don’t worry, she said, you will be peaked, fully trained and ready to run 50 miles. Over 90% of our club members that started the race finished within the 14-hour time limit.”

After I ran my second JFK, I wrote about my experience for the Washington Post.  See:


And below is a course map and elevation chart from the Wellness Section in last week’s Washington Post.

JFK 50 Miler – Course Map – From Washington Post

XV – I FEEL GOOD September 16, 2012

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I won the last race I ever ran.

I raced Washington, DC’s National Half Marathon as a tune-up for the 2010 Milan Marathon that I planned to run in Italy three weeks later. Groin pain put me off my usual pace but I placed first in my age group despite it. Later an orthopedic surgeon read my x-ray and said my hip cartilage was wearing out from arthritis – and from almost three decades of running and pounding the streets. I was a candidate for a hip replacement.  And I had to give up running forever.

That news hit me hard.  I had achieved a lot in my racing career and was having fantastic success winning races in my 70s. I had set age group course records that still stand in two 10-kilometer and one 20-kilometer Virginia races and I was the USATF 8-kilometer National Cross Country Champion in 2009. I ran 31 marathons and my personal best marathon time is three hours and 28 minutes – which I accomplished at the age of 66.

I went through a long bout of depression. I started running when I was 48 years old – and in my opinion it was the only thing that I had excelled in. I was mediocre in everything else. Running was such a big part of my life – and my identity. How could I give it up? I was a ranked runner in the Washington tri-state region, a top competitor.  Younger members in my running club said I inspired them.

Others listened carefully when I offered running tips.  Friends introduced me as “Jerry the marathon runner” and club members called me “a racing legend”. In my 70s, I won first place in my last four consecutive marathons. (Some joked that all others in my age group were in wheelchairs.) I was training and hoping to win my fifth straight in Milan when my hip gave out.

I was going to miss running – and racing to win.

It was more than trophies I had to give up when I stopped running. It’s difficult to convey (or for the reader to understand) how I could miss enduring months of training to prepare for each marathon, getting up before dawn to run alone for hours in rain, snow, cold and heat, running boring interval laps on a high school track, running lung-busting quarter mile repeats up and down a steep hill, the wonderful feeling of physical prowess when I reached the peak of my strength and capacity after three and a half months of intense aerobic training (and then began a luxurious taper for the remaining three weeks before a marathon), the camaraderie of meeting and joking with my age group competitors at race start lines and then racing to beat them, waking up in the wee morning hours and driving with Ann to distant races every couple of weeks in race season – and finding her in the crowd cheering me at the finish line and at the awards ceremony.

My mental slump continued for some months.  Three visits to a psychotherapist and reading a recommended book, “Feeling Good”, by David Burns, helped get me through my crisis.  The exercises in the book showed me how to identify and place a value on the blessings in my life. I got over my funk. But I will never get back the endorphins I got from running.

Just like rock and roller James Brown said in his signature song, “I Feel Good Now”, three recent events validated my feeling of “feeling good”.

Recently, Al, a competitive racer in our Reston Runners club, was searching for a race that he could win and set a Virginia state age division record for himself. He checked all Virginia road races in our region – and found a 10-mile race in Fredericksburg that had a course record he felt he could beat and set a state record.

He told me his plan; I checked my finish time for that race and mentioned it to him. “Your time is faster than the existing state record – and I can’t beat it”, he said. Then he proceeded to successfully present and document my finish time to the Virginia racing authority – which established me as the fastest 10-mile runner in Virginia – in my 70 to 75-year age division.

This recognition came three years after I stopped running – and the record still stands. That news came as a great surprise – and made me feel good.  Thank you, Al.

I lived and worked in Egypt for three years, ran with the Cairo Maadi Runners club and joined them to run a marathon in a different European city each spring.  I passed on lots of running tips and advice to the expatriate and Egyptian club members while we trained  in Cairo.

I returned to the U.S. in 2004 but still joined the Maadi Runners each spring in Europe to race the marathon. Since 2010 I haven’t been able to run with my friends anymore but I still went to Europe each year to support and cheer them on.

For the past few years, I have been helping to arrange hotel accommodations for club members in the annual spring race in Europe. The marathon in 2012 was in Marseilles. Two lady Egyptian Maadi Runners club members had difficulty obtaining their visas for France and were delayed in making a hotel reservation until the last week before the race.

I had arranged an unbelievably low group rate for 20 rooms with a hotel near the start line. When the hotel did not respond to the women’s request for room confirmation, I intervened and helped them get a reservation.  I never gave it another thought.

When I met the two women in Marseilles, whom I had never met before, they gave me a velvet-covered box that contained a handsome silver bookmark to thank me for helping them get a room at the last minute.  On it was engraved, “Pain, Pain, Go Away – Come Again Another Day —- Jerry Lewis”.

Silver Bookmark

That was a mantra, one of many tips I advised runners to repeat when they experienced pain during a marathon. I had told it to the club members when I lived in Egypt eight years before. I choked up, tears welled and I couldn’t speak. I was touched that people I didn’t even know were still talking about me in Cairo and repeating my advice and tips.  Words I said so long ago were remembered, repeated and respected.

And that too made me feel good.

When I had to give up running, I took up swimming for aerobic exercise. I wasn’t a good swimmer. At the YMCA pool I observed Reston Senior Swimmers club members practicing for races.  As I tediously schlepped away doing laps in the pool, I imagined that I could become a good swimmer and re-invent myself as a competitive swimmer.  After all I was in my late 70s and probably wouldn’t have much competition in my age group.

I took two series of swimming lessons to improve my technique and thus my speed, studied videos and practiced the Total Immersion “swim-like-a-fish” method – but never got “it.” I couldn’t kick my feet, couldn’t swim fast or easy and couldn’t – for all my efforts – overcome decades of bad swimming habits. So I forgot that dream of becoming a champion swimmer.

Meanwhile I continued my art classes and found I was excelling at painting and ceramics and won a few awards in local art competitions. I had a one-man show of 60 of my paintings in September 2011. And I even sold several.

A couple of months ago, our community center had its annual art show that was judged by two experts. Participants were about 40 or so senior artists who could display no more than two paintings each. Both my paintings were honored. I won best watercolor and one of the judge’s special awards.

I feel good.

Awards for Times Square & Milan Galeria

XIV – My First Race Medal – 1979 June 6, 2012

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I came to Venezuela from Philippines to scout out the possibility of resigning from CARE after 20 years and settling in Valencia to work with my brother on a pig farm. I ran a race that first weekend – and won a 5th place medal. It was my first trophy ever.  I took the golden medal back to Manila and still treasure it. I loved competitive racing and that medal created a thirst for more.

It didn’t take me long after I arrived in Valencia in 1980 to get on the racing circuit. The weekend newspapers listed races all over the country.  I usually searched the listings to find those closest to home.

Running wasn’t an expensive sport so races were popular with Venezuelans. Entry fees were a couple of dollars. Only a T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes were required. Many runners put straps on plastic flip-flops, tied them around their ankles and raced with them.  Others ran barefoot. I got to know Clemente Morillo, a fast runner in my age group. 

He spoke no English so we conversed in very basic Spanish.  We competed many times.  He often raced barefoot and usually won a major trophy.  Once when we raced in his town, I drove him to his house. 

Clemente lived with his family in a very small, shanty house in a run down  neighborhood. He wasn’t ashamed to take me to his home; he obviously was a poor working man – but was rich in race trophies that were lined up and in every nook and cranny in his tiny living room.

He wanted to show me his awards. It was a form of comradeship among fellow runners. I don’t recall what work he did but his main joy was competitive racing. He was a high achiever and proudly showed his running trophies.  He was a humble man. 

I was also proud – and I think I was also humble. And as in the case of my fellow runner, Clemente, I wanted to show others my trophies – not to brag but to demonstrate my wonder and surprise that I had discovered a new ability at this late stage in my life. 

My most common inner feeling about winning races was disbelief! How was it possible that I could run races and win? Where did my speed ability come from? I was thankful and appreciative of my inherent skill. I never did any sports in high school or college – and was a heavy smoker.  My parents did no sports. I never knew how or why I was so blessed. When I finished a race “in the money,” among the top three runners, I was always surprised and amazed. I couldn’t believe I accomplished so much.   

I was still a smoker.  My co-runners watched me light up a cigarette as we crowded and waited at the starting line. I put it out before the starting gun, ran the race – and then lit up another after I crossed the finish line. It didn’t seem unusual to me but it got stares from others.

Eva and I kept ashtrays in every room of our house. As I walked from room to room, I lit up in one room, stubbed it out in another and then lit up again – filling several ashtrays by the end of each day. At least that is what my daughter Lisa remembers.

Eva and the children came to races to support me. They gave me water at the mid point, cheered as I crossed the finish line and handed me water and dry clothes at the race finish. Every weekend during racing season I drove to races that were up to 50 miles from Valencia.

The drive, the race and then waiting around to see if I won took a lot of time – most of Sunday morning. Eva and the children had other things to do. Eventually, my family mostly stayed at home and I drove to the race by myself – unless it was a special occasion.

I was running lots of 10 kilometer races – never any distances longer than the popular 10K race. I won trophies at some races. But they gave awards to the top five, or sometimes, 10 finishers – so I got several trophies. And I kept them on display on my desk in the living room.

I was quietly proud to win anything. I really couldn’t believe that I could go so fast and that it was happening to me. I tried to be a good loser when I was beaten – and I never showed off or bragged when I won. I was just so happy that I could finish among the leaders. The trophies and award medals were accumulating. I loved to come home from a race with an award and show it to my kids.

At one race, the first 15 finishers received a bag of groceries instead of a medal. For many, it was a treat to get something tangible and utilitarian. The bags contained rice, arepa flour, coffee, cans of deviled ham and other edibles. It probably meant a lot to some of the poorer runners.

XIII – Alexandria (Egypt) Marathon February 26, 2012

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I will never forget my good friend, Ahmed Hamza. He was a member of our running group in Cairo. We ran together each weekend. Many times we met at my house to drive to the runs. We often had breakfast with the group after the run – sometimes at my home.  But we developed a very deep personal bond in October 2003 when we ran together at the inaugural Alexandria, Egypt Marathon. 

l to r – Jerry, Zohra, Andrea, Gordon and Ahmed

I still have a strong and warm memory of supporting and running alongside Ahmed when he completed his first (and only) marathon. And I was there, along with all our friends, to celebrate his victory afterward.

Ahmed exercised regularly at a gym but had little prior road running training before he joined our Maadi Runners group. But he was a natural runner with an excellent running style. Ahmed always ran strong on those Friday training runs. He was remarkable that he could be the front runner most times. And he somehow easily handled the long distances. He made running seem so easy.

We joked that we had wasted so much time training for several months – but Ahmed short-cut it all by joining late and accomplishing all the long training runs in a few weeks. But marathons are never easy. And the Alexandria Marathon was to be no exception.

The start of the marathon was fast.  We have great photos – five of us running easily and happy on the cornichea few miles after the start. We all looked good.  But it was still early in the race.  Shortly after the photo was taken, we each separated and ran at our separate paces. I ran ahead of Ahmed for a few miles. 

I later experienced leg pains and stopped to stretch near the 15-mile marker. Ahmed passed me running strong. I caught up with him and we ran together from then on. We kept talking all the way. Sometime later, Ahmed had pains, stopped running and told me to go on without him. I said I was going to stay with him – and waited for him to stretch. 

 We resumed and ran along slowly. Periodically Ahmed stopped running and asked me to go on alone. I urged him to continue. This was our regular exchange. He would stop and tell me to go on. I would walk along with him and encourage him until he resumed running.  And in this way, we kept going to the end.

I used every way I could to motivate Ahmed to continue. I set easy targets: I urged him to keep running to a tall tree a hundred meters ahead, walk for a while, then resume running, to a building within our sight – and then to walk again.

It was always an achievement for him and he felt good (and often surprised) to reach the point we’d set as our running objective. He always felt it was beyond his ability to run to that point. But it was possible. And that was what surprised him.

To keep him from stopping, I had him repeat with me all the mantras I’ve used to overcome my own pain and to keep me going. We chanted these in unison: 

 “No pain. No gain!” 

“Pain is temporary. Glory is forever!”

“Slow and steady wins the race!”

“Internalize the pain!”

“Don’t quit.  Keep going!” 

  • I made him sing my made-up song based on a nursery rhyme – “Pain, pain: go away!  Come again another day!”  It healed me of many leg pains.
  • I told him one of my past experiences. Near the end of a marathon in America, I mentally decided I was in pain and had to quit – and then found I couldn’t run any more – and stopped in my tracks. I’d convinced myself I couldn’t run.  However, it was only in my mind. An onlooker shouted, “You’re a mile from the finish, get going.” And suddenly I could run – when I decided I could.
  • I urged him to keep up his spirit, to keep moving – one step at a time. “C.F.M. – Constant Forward Movement.”
  • I told him my theory – physical training is only one part of completing a marathon. You must have heart, courage and a positive mental attitude to finish. Your brain has to outwit that part of your body that experiences physical pain. These are very important concepts.  And they work.
  • I preached.  I urged. I kept repeating mantras. 

And Ahmed kept going.  And going. 

The marathon organizers didn’t provide enough water stops. It was hot. At one point, I asked a bowab along the deserted course if there was water inside the house he was guarding. 

We entered the garden, found a sink and I put Ahmed’s head under the tap and let the water run over his head and shoulders. And then refreshed, we continued running –  and also some walking. 

At one point, we had to buy bottled water. One bottle to pour over Ahmed. The other for him to drink. The sun went higher and it got hotter. But he kept going. Occasionally chanting or singing mantras with me. It was a long and terribly hot morning. 

A few miles from the end, we came upon a group of Maadi Runners. There to encourage, they loudly cheered us and gave us water and bananas. That was a big morale boost.  But we still had a considerable distance to go to the finish line. And so we plodded on.  

Finally we neared the end. A steep hill was a few hundred meters from the finish line. Our friends from Cairo were now all running alongside us – shouting and encouraging Ahmed. Remarkably, he suddenly found a reserve deep within himself. His shoulders moved back, he picked up speed and he raced up the hill – leaving me way behind

I shouted to him, “Ahmed. Wait for me!” He was on his own and finished strongly – and alone. He achieved his goal. He became a marathoner

Ahmed had the physical strength to complete the marathon. But he also showed us all he had the courage to overcome his pain. He could keep going. He could suffer and still handle the intense heat. He overcame his long hours of running, his sore knees, cramped calves and pounding his feet on pavement. (He also proved he was a diplomat and could tolerate the howaga (foreigner) alongside blabbing and nagging constantly for two hours). 

Ahmed achieved a great personal victory. He proved he was an athlete and a competitor.  He had joined a very select and small group of people in this world that have completed a full marathon of 26.2 miles.  

I will miss dear friend Ahmed. I regret he did not have the opportunity to run another marathon. I am certain he could have been a champion. He had it in him. I am rewarded by having known him and sharing this experience.

Ahmed drowned in a diving accident in Sharm el Sheik before he was to join the Maadi Runners at the 2004 Madrid Marathon.


Blog XII – A FLORIDA BONANZA January 25, 2012

Posted by anoldrunner in Running.
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Friends call me “A coin collector with a running problem.”

I search for Street Money, coins I find on the street while jogging — and occasionally at bus stops and parking lots. For 25 years I’ve been tossing my morning haul of copper and silver coins into a glass beer mug and stashing it in a cupboard. I love the clatter that loose change makes when it hits the glass. When the jar fills, I change coins for bills and watch the wad thicken.

As a kid in Brooklyn in the 40s, I began street money hunting. My friends and I searched streets for empty beer and soda deposit bottles and fingered coin return slots of public phone booths to find a forgotten nickel or dime. I fished for coins in subway grates by attaching sticky chewing gum to a scrap metal weight tied to the end of a roll of string.

Ann and I were visiting my brother, Richard, in Boyton Beach, Florida in March 2008. I was training for a May marathon. My plan was to run eight miles that morning — four miles out and then turn back. Boynton Beach Boulevard is six lanes wide, flat as a board and straight as an arrow. I was alone on the streets at 6:30 a.m. and ran west on the adjacent bicycle path. No one else was walking, jogging or biking.

As I neared my planned turnaround point, I was distracted by a long building under construction. With towers at both ends, I thought it was a prison building.

While looking up, I stumbled – and fell forward. My arms reflexively flung out in front of me to break my diving fall. I cursed in that mid-air second or two before slamming into the pavement. I crashed hard, banging elbow, forearm, knee, shoulder and both hands. Spread out in the bicycle lane, cars whizzing by, I stayed down to catch my breath. 

Bleeding from wounds on my palm, from two nasty deep scrapes on my knuckles and one on my knee, I also had a three-inch gash that extended along my right forearm to the elbow and an assortment of road rash scrapes on my body and legs. 

I got to one knee, slowly stood and looked back to see what had tripped me. The street was clean, clear and level. I guess I was just clumsy and hadn’t lifted my feet.

Still three miles from home, I felt I could make the run back. My wounds weren’t painful but they were bleeding; a line of wet dark blood ran down my arm and another down my leg. No driver would ever stop to pick me up in my bloody condition.

I needed to find a water spigot to clean my wounds. I crossed the highway to the other side and resumed running. Soon, walking through a large deserted open-air garden nursery, I spotted a long, coiled water hose but no water tap. While searching for it in narrow aisles, among potted tall leafy plants and jungle-like shrubs, a thought suddenly occurred to me. “This is stupid.  If there’s a watch dog here, I’ll be attacked!”  I quickly left the nursery and began to run on the bike path. 

Ah-hah! I spotted a penny in the bike lane, stooped to pick it up, slid it into the tiny change pocket inside my running shorts, and resumed jogging. I thought of the adage, “See a penny, pick it up — and all the day, you’ll have good luck.” But for me it wasn’t only good luck, it was my first Florida street money.

A few minutes later, I saw another penny and stooped to collect it. Every minute or two, I spied more pennies, then a nickel. The coins seemed to be carefully lined up in the center of the bike lane – one after another. This was getting interesting. I continued running and kept finding more coins in the lane. I was running east, facing the rising sun that shone on the copper and silver coins at an angle that made them glitter — and easy to spot. 

More pennies, then a dime! Was someone enticing me along the bike path? The coins hadn’t been accidentally dropped — but had they been intentionally placed in a more or less straight line? “Why?” I wondered.

How could so much change remain in the street without it being picked up? But I saw no one else on the road — as far as I could see.  It was puzzling.

Most coins were old, scarred, weathered and scratched, driven over by thousands of cars – and probably exposed to rain, hurricanes and scorching summers! Why hadn’t bikers and runners before me picked them up?  I pondered this mystery as I jogged.

I kept finding coins and stashed them in my change pocket. When it got full, I began to accumulate the dirty coins in one of my wounded hands. I used the other to pick up more.  

Ahead of me, in an intersection of two six-lane boulevards, I saw a bonanza. Someone had intentionally dumped and scattered a shit-load of coins – all denominations. I saw little mounds of pennies but also many nickels, dimes and a few quarters. Sunlight made the metal discs shine and sparkle.  I had found a pot of gold in the intersection. 

But my change pocket was stuffed with pennies. So was my bloody hand. I had to make room for all the higher value coins temptingly strewn in front of me. I luckily found a discarded, dirty MacDonald’s cardboard coffee cup in the straggly grass near the street corner. I dumped all coins from my hand and change pocket into the cup. I stashed the coffee cup in the tall grass behind a telephone line pole where it wasn’t easily visible. 

I headed across the street to an Exxon gas station to use rest room paper towels, soap and sink water to clean my wounds and remove coagulated blood. I opened the taps and furiously splashed on gobs of water.

I dripped water and blood and made a mess — and later mopped up the blood-splattered sink, mirror and floor. Fortunately no one came into the men’s room while I was there. (The bloody scene would have been a scary sight: The Slasher was cleaning up a gory mess after brutally murdering and then hacking the victim into pieces to more easily dispose of its body parts.) 

I got a paper bag from the gas station cashier, crossed the street and swooped into the intersection to harvest the treasure. This time I went for the silver – concentrating on stuffing nickels, dimes and quarters into the paper bag. I recovered my hidden coffee cup, half-full with coins, and emptied it into the bag. The paper bag was now too heavy. It was time to get home and put antiseptic on my open, still seeping and bleeding wounds.

I jogged away leaving behind some silver coins and lots of pennies in the street. I planned to recover them in a couple of days during my next jog – if they would still be there.

I headed back on the bike path. The weight of the bag of coins was bothersome. I frequently shifted the bag from hand-to-hand. It thudded with each step I ran. The sound it made went ka-thump. And soon it sounded to me like a comforting cardiac rhythm – ka-thump … ka-thump … ka-thump.

I started thinking about the coin mystery. How long had the coins been there? How and why were those coins dumped in the road? My first thought made me smile. Hansel and Gretel’s fairy tale described a trail of crumbs to find their path home though the forest. But the biker path was absolutely flat and straight.

Other fanciful explanations entered my mind as I jogged home:

l  A pathological killer wanted to entice a victim into the intersection in hopes that person would be run over while picking up coins. 

l  A sociopath needed to observe a bloody accident to get a sick thrill.

l  Candid Camera’s Allen Funt was secretly filming reactions of unsuspecting persons following a Hansel and Gretel coin trail.

l  A spiteful, cheated wife dumped her husband’s cherished coin jar on the streets.

I jogged on. Ka-thump…ka-thump…ka-thump sounded the bag of coins in my hand. 

When I got home, I brandished my seeping wounds and bloody road rash to Ann and Richard – showing off my Red Badge of Courage. They gasped in disgust. I headed to the shower and medicine chest to clean my wounds, apply Neosporin and bandage myself.

When I came back to the living room, my body decorated in band-aids and bandages, I proudly hefted my bag of coins so it made the ka-thump sound. I plunked it down on the coffee table with a loud metallic thud. Ann announced her count — exactly $5.99. 

Two days later, I jogged back to what I then called, Bonanza Intersection, actually Hagen Ranch Road and Boynton Beach Boulevard. Inexplicably, the street money coins I abandoned the other day were still there – untouched! I collected just about all the coins in a bag and headed home. 

I counted that day’s swag – just short of four dollars in coins. My two-day haul from my lucky bonanza – almost $10. Not a big deal. But somehow I felt good that I would swell the cash in my street money beer mug when I got home.


Posted by anoldrunner in Running.
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Memories of my youth flooded back during a long run in New York City.

We were spending the week at the midtown East Side pied-a-terre apartment of  Washington, D.C. friends. We arrived in New York late afternoon and stocked the refrigerator with goodies from a grocery store around the corner.

I was up early the next day and suited up for a long run. The elevator took me down eight floors and I asked the doorman, “Where’s the best place to run seven miles this beautiful morning?  “Park Avenue is a few blocks west and that’s popular. Also you can go three blocks east and run along the East River.” 

I walked outside. It was 6 a.m., sunny and cool. We’re having “Global Cooling” weather, I thought to myself – high 60s – and it’s the height of the summer!  I looked forward to  wonderful weather and an easy run.  I remembered sweltering in non-air conditioned New York in the July of my youth.

I turned, ran a few steps and waited at a red light on the corner of Third Avenue & 38th.  Across the street was a big sign over a store, “Daniel’s Bagels.”  I crossed and went into the store. “Are your bagels boiled?” I bluntly asked. Any New Yorker knows a real bagel has to be boiled before it’s baked. 

“Of course, said the little man behind the counter. ”Look in back.” Sure enough, bagels were bobbing in a big vat of boiling bubbly water. And a worker was just then removing trays of steaming bagels from the oven. I checked the display cases and sighed with pleasure when I saw only traditional New York bagels – sesame, plain, poppy seed, garlic, salt and sesame and the only boutique bagel was cinnamon raisin.  No yuppie bagels like asiago cheese, chocolate chip, cheddar cheese, blueberry and the like.  That was reassuring.

“I’m just looking now, but I’ll be back,” I said as I left to start my run. “I hope so,” said the little Puerto Rican man with a NY Yankees baseball cap.  Were any Jewish bagel makers left anymore, I wondered?

I ran east on 38th Street for two blocks and saw a long line of fast moving cars exiting the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and whizzing by me. All the traffic signs pointing the way to uptown and downtown streets reminded me of the many car trips my closest friends  made with me coming to “The City” on our way from Far Rockaway where we lived. 

Ira, Aron and I, college fraternity brothers at CCNY Downtown (now Baruch University), picked up our dates in Queens and took the tunnel into New York on our way to Broadway shows, movies or fraternity parties. How many times did we exit the tunnel at this exact point and curve through these same streets making our way to 34th Street to go downtown or uptown?  Too many to count.

I remembered our “cheap dates!” We’d have a dance party at our Phi Alpha fraternity house at 121 East 23rd Street – up two flights to our two-bedroom apartment that was wall-to-wall unmatched sofas, tables and chairs – that all got pushed back to make room for a Friday night party dance.  Afterward we’d take our dates to Chandler’s Restaurant on East 46th Street.

Barry Gray started the “talk radio” format in the 1950s. He hosted a late night WMCA live talk show, seven nights a week, from Chandler’s Restaurant on East 46th Street.  We’d order the cheapest dessert on the menu and listen to Barry Gray’s interviews with authors and actors and others of the high brow New York culture set, from midnight to 3 a.m.  Before we fell asleep at the table, all six of us would pile in my father’s car and drive to Lower Manhattan’s City Hall section where Night Court went on until dawn.

The late 1950s weren’t as violent as they are now. Mostly police hauled in drunks and thieves. Family fights were also common. No drug crimes in those days. We’d consider ourselves lucky if a hooker was being charged. We’d sit in the back rows with our dates for an hour or so, jab elbows in each others ribs and titter when sexual comments or dirty language were made by defendants or witnesses. Those were great memories.

I jogged under the East Side Highway, and saw signs to the bike trail.  I stopped a biker and asked how to get to the runners’ path. She pointed uptown and said, “You can run all the way to the Triborough Bridge. Then changed her mind and said, “Better go downtown. It’s more scenic.” It was beautiful in the post-dawn and I followed a couple of runners ahead of me. 

I had only run about a mile from the apartment when the path dead-ended in a high-rise red brick apartment building complex that extended to the river’s edge. I turned right at the dead end and peered ahead looking for the woman in the pink tee shirt that had been way ahead of me. While looking up, I tripped, stumbled and then, arms outstretched, flew through the air and crashed onto the street.

Spread-eagle on the asphalt pavement, I raised my head and looked back.  I had tripped crossing over a speed bump. 

That really slowed me down! 

I was hurt. A bloody right knee and elbow, road rash scrapes on right hip and knuckles, and both hand palms. I slowly got to my feet and looked at my wounds. Blood dripped down my forearm and knee. A woman ran past me and in typical runner’s fashion, did not pay the slightest attention to a wounded runner bent over and bleeding. Such runners don’t slow their pace for anyone.

I spent a minute in self-examination before resuming my run. I sped up to follow the uninterested woman runner out of the maze of the buildings and onto a running path that led to a gasoline station under the East Side Highway. What incredible luck! And what a unusual place to locate a gas station. 

A water tap was on the side of the building over a bucket. I opened the tap and let the water run into the bucket while washing off blood from my wounds. The manager came up to me. Wordlessly, I showed him my bloodiest wounds and shrugged off the pain, while continuing to rinse off blood. He left to get a bottle of alcohol from his office and gave me some paper towels so I could clean up. 

While swabbing and drying myself, I noticed his name tag, Ali, and asked where he was from. “Bangladesh,” he said. I used one of my few Bengali words, “Dhanyabaat,” “Thank you.”   “What were you doing there?” he asked surprised. “I worked with CARE and was there before you were born,” not really knowing when he was born.  He gave me another handful of towels that I took to blot my still bleeding wounds while I ran – and I left to complete my morning exercise leaving him to ponder the strange American who spoke some Bengali.

I continued running along the East River and passed under the Manhattan Bridge, opened in 1909, that connects Lower Manhattan at Canal Street with Brooklyn.  I remembered a couple of years ago, one of my oldest friends from summers at Far Rockaway beaches, Irwin, told me about the DUMBO section of New York, “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”  

We were then driving to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is a popular stop on the ‘Big Apple By Night’ bus tour. Buses come regularly for tourists to enjoy the city lights of Manhattan from the Brooklyn side – and then rush to buy huge expensive ice cream cones for the continuing bus ride.

I could see highway signs pointing to a 23rd Street exit. At 23rd and Lexington Avenue was “City College of New York – Downtown”, the business school, now known as Baruch University. It’s my alma mater, and where I spent four and a half years in the early 50s struggling to get my degree. I dropped out the first semester and restarted the next year. Our campus was the sidewalk between Lexington Avenue and the Third Avenue elevated subway line.

I ran under the Williamsburg Bridge, opened in 1901, the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge goes from Delancy Street on the Lower East Side to Williamsburg.  Greenpoint, the section of Brooklyn where I was raised, was across the river. I stopped to peer across the river for any familiar landmarks. “Where’s Greenpoint?” I asked a man stooped over picking up his dog’s poop. He straightened up and pointed to the highest point across the river, a church steeple. 

“Could that be St. Anthony’s,” I asked remembering the name of the church I sneaked into when I was 10 or 11 to see what the inside of a Catholic church looked like, a daring act for a Jewish boy in that Polish neighborhood.  “Yes,” he said.  “I’ve scouted it out on Google Earth. I got his phone number so I could later talk to him after he agreed to double check if he was correct. 

I told him that the Union’s iron warship, the Monitor (of Monitor and Merrimac) was constructed in Greenpoint during the Civil War.  “Google it,” I said.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn is on other side of East River from former E. 15th St. Con Ed power plant



I ran all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge, under it and went as far as the Fulton Fish Market. It was exactly four miles from my apartment. I planned to run seven miles that morning but running to the bridge became irresistible once I saw it looming up ahead and just beyond the Williamsburg Bridge. 

The bridge opened in 1883 and was a wonder of that age, the subject of many books, films and artists’ rendition. Selling the Brooklyn Bridge to the gullible was a popular scam, the test of ultimate salesmanship.

Last Christmas week, I got off the subway at City Hall to go to Irwin and Sue’s Tribeca apartment where we were staying. It was a warm sunny day and I saw hoards of people strolling on the pedestrian walkways of the Brooklyn Bridge 186 feet over the East River. I vowed then to walk back and forth to Brooklyn across the 6,000-foot long bridge, when next I came. It’s the quintessential New York experience and supposedly best on a winter night when Manhattan’s buildings are decorated for the holidays.

Someone told me a riddle about the Brooklyn Bridge.  Where would you be if a plane was flying over you – while you were walking over cars – that were driving above a ship – that was sailing over a train? (Hint: The A-C subway line runs under the East River.)


Brooklyn Bridge from Runners Path Along East River

I turned to run back to the apartment. Four miles to go. The sun was in my eyes.  I thought I’d get clear views of Greenpoint on the way back but that was not possible. As I ran along the River and passed along Lower Manhattan and Downtown, I scanned ahead. I could see the Queensboro Bridge, aka, 59th Street Bridge, opened in 1909.  It was the bridge I crossed going from Long Island, Queens to Midtown and Upper Manhattan during my college days.  

When I passed 23rd Street, the path along the river curved north and I got a clear view of the Empire State Building at 33rd Street and 5th Avenue reaching high above all other buildings and into the sky. Ahead was the United Nations Building at 42nd Street hunkered right up alongside the river against a clear blue sky glistening and reflecting the sun – with a background of the 59th Street Bridge reaching across the river to Queens.  What a great view!  I thought I would come back to this spot to paint that view sometime.

I was getting close to home now and came to the gas station with the Bangladeshi manager that earlier helped me clean my wounds. I stopped again in front of his station and he came out.  He had almost two hours to think about our earlier brief conversation exchange.  Now he had several questions. 

“Why and when was I in Dacca? What did I do?  I told him I was in Pakistan when it was East and West Pakistan and worked with CARE that was helping disaster victims rebuild homes after the Cyclone Tidal wave of 1971.  He said he was born that year – and I told him my daughter, Lisa, was also born in Pakistan the same year when we lived in Islamabad.  He gave me more paper towels to blot my still bleeding elbow and knee – and I headed home.

As I came to the East 30s, (my destination was 38th Street and Third Avenue, I suddenly remembered that CARE headquarters was at 37th & First Avenue.  Turning off the East River path at 37th, I turned right on 1st Avenue. Across the street from the former CARE office at 660 First Avenue used to be the East Side Airlines Terminal – where in 1950s and 60s, airline offices and buses were located to take passengers to LaGuardia and Idlewild Airports (now JFK Airport.)  Now there was a huge open park that fronted an enormous apartment house complex.  Very upscale. 

The office building I visited for 18 years when on home leave hadn’t changed much; only the exterior entrance was modernized with aluminum doors. (CARE moved its World  Headquarters to Atlanta about 10 years ago.)  I came in sweating and looked around. The interior was decorated with large framed mural paintings. But the same elevator was there; now it was slightly gussied up. 

I asked the receptionist if he knew that CARE had its offices in the building for several decades.  “Who?” he asked.  “CARE Packages!” “Worldwide relief after World War II!”  It didn’t seem to register. 

“Did you know this building was a former brewery?”  He knew that.  “Well now you can tell anyone interested that CARE made a lot of history in this old building.”

I stopped by Daniel’s to buy two still very warm bagels to enjoy with Ann for my breakfast.  Yum.  Real New York bagels.

Everyone says it’s the City water that makes the bagels taste so special.

Blog X – Jogging Around Jerusalem’s Walled City November 6, 2011

Posted by anoldrunner in Running.
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My organization, ACDI/VOCA, had a long-term project in West Bank & Gaza for eight years – aiding Palestinian cooperatives. My job was to make two or three supervisory visits each year.

I enjoyed my pre-intifada runs in Jerusalem especially the one that took me 45 minutes to make a  five-mile round of the ancient walled city.

Now American Colony Hotel staff advise tourists of Intifada risks. I always like to push to the edge – but if anyone has reason to warn me about a potential danger, I respect their advice. So in recent visits to Jerusalem, I ran suggested safe routes up Mount Scopus through Hebrew University and over the hill to the Mount of Olives.

That hill route offered an impressive view of the Old City. Also the short straight stretch between the two mounts is an interesting study in contrasts.  Looking over one side of the road, only pure desert is visible. Over the other side, the impressive view of the old walled city of Jerusalem is seen, with tall modern buildings of the Israeli section of West Jerusalem looming up behind it.

The hotel receptionist said “No danger to run around the Old City wall.”

The next morning, I jogged five blocks along Nablus Road to the Damascus Gate entrance, turned right up the hill and around the ancient wall. Soon I came to the Moslem cemetery but found a fence I didn’t remember from my runs in previous months.

I couldn’t enter so I jogged parallel to the fence. Something felt wrong about the path. The wide road petered out and became a narrow path, then it disappeared.

I proceeded precariously along what turned into a steep goat trail. Looking down the steep slope to the highway below, I thought I’d either fall and seriously injure myself – or be shot by an Israeli soldier. No one should be where I was unless he was a goat herder or up to no good. Certainly anyone in running shorts was out of place on this hillside.

I crawled back along the goat trail, tried not to fall off the steep slope and returned to the hotel.

On my next morning run, I turned left at the Damascus Gate and ran downhill.  Not only was it easier than my previous run but I soon came to the Palestinian cemetery. Exactly as I remembered it but completely deserted. I was disappointed. No livestock market.

I ran well, feeling good on familiar and historical ground. Many exposed archaeological excavations were along this route. I had a “runner’s high” on the grass path. The tall stone block walls to my side were impressive.

Old City’s Walls Built by Sultan Suleiman of Ottoman Empire in the 1500s

Running on the path through the cemetery, I stumbled and fell.

“G_d damn it, not again!” I thought as I flew through the air putting my hands out in front of me. I landed hard, slid to a stop – bloodied and lacerated – hand, elbow, knee.

“My ribs and shoulder will hurt tomorrow,” I thought. My bloody elbow and hand were covered in dirt. I looked at the filth in which I was stretched out, certain that it was mostly dried sheep dung accumulated over the past 2,000 years.

I lifted myself slowly. My bones felt intact, I proceeded to walk and then jog slowly.   Perhaps Mohammed smote me for running on the cemetery’s sacred soil.

Now in East Jerusalem, I jogged cautiously. No adrenalin flowing this time. At the end of the cemetery, I saw a major obstacle. A high metal fence and gate. The gate was lower than the wall but had spikes on it. Three rough stone down steps were in front of the gate.

The Palestinian Cemetery Outside the Walled City

gingerly placed my hands on the spikes and slowly lifted one leg over. Then I lifted my body high and extended my leg to get it over. Breathing deeply, stretching as far as I could to reach the pile of stones below on the other side, I was certain my private parts would be impaled on the spikes.

I just cleared the fence.

I continued to jog slowly. Just ahead, dark smoke was billowing high over the hill.  I heard approaching sirens. Bloodied but inquisitive, I jogged towards the smoke.

In front of the Walled City’s Dung Gate, between parked trucks, a small car with Israeli license plates was in flames. Burning Israeli cars was intifada’s latest escalation.  

Thick black smoke was spewing from burning tires. A crowd of Palestinians came through the gate and cautiously approached the area of the burning car which they had to pass to reach the main road and buses to take them to work.

An angry woman in a traditional black floor-length Bedouin dress with red embroidery on the front, said to me in perfect English, “How are we to pass here?”

“Keep your distance. The petrol in the car might explode,” I cautioned.

I watched the scene around the burning car until the Israeli firemen put out the fire. I took stock of my situation.

I was standing beside a burning car in Moslem East Jerusalem, a long way from my hotel, surrounded by Palestinians. I wore running shorts and a red tank top and was bleeding from several cuts and scrapes on my body. The sun was just over the horizon. I reminded myself that I am Jewish.

“What am I doing here?” I wondered.

I jogged back and passed the Lion’s Gate, nearest the Western Wall (Wailing Wall). At this holiest place for Jews, reverent crowds are usually praying all times of the day. On most visits to Jerusalem, I visited this site to observe the praying. This might be my only chance this trip to visit the Western Wall.

Jews Praying at the Wailing Wall

Even though I was bloodied from my fall, I decided to enter and visit the site for a few minutes. To reach it, I had to jog past two armed Israeli security guards manning a tall metal security fence and down to the enclosed area to observe the tallised (shawled) Hasidim early morning crowd bobbing and praying their morning prayer.

Men were separated from women by a low wall. I find it fascinating to watch the men, an anachronism, dressed in 19th century European clothing, diligently and intensely praying.

After a few minutes, I left the praying area and jogged to my hotel. The receptionist gave me the only first aid materials he had – cotton wool and alcohol.

I took it to my room and cleaned the wounds.  Pouring alcohol on the wounds was painful. I cringed with each rub. I scraped and rubbed the dirt off the wounds with the cotton wool to clean up as best as I could.  It burned like hell.

The Wailing Wall

Afterward a shower with soap caused still more stinging.  I hoped I cleaned the wounds well. I didn’t want an infection.

I had no bandages and the pharmacies were closed.  I put on short pants and a tee-shirt so the cuts and road rash scrapes would not be covered.

After breakfast, I walked to a pharmacist to have my wounds cleaned with hydrogen peroxide. After a few wipes, he stopped, said the wounds were too nasty for him to deal with. “Go to a hospital, get your wounds properly cleaned – and a tetanus injection.

He recommended the French Hospital, a Catholic French mission hospital located on French Hill up the road from the hotel.  I expected to wait a long time. Two monks in long brown trappings waited on a bench across from me. A Palestinian woman came out of the emergency room within a few minutes and I was ushered in.

An elderly nun nurse, probably French, swabbed my wounds with an iodine liquid, bandaged them and then gave me a tetanus injection. I had expected my wounds to first be rubbed clean of grit and dirt before dressing my wound – as they did in the U.S. I feared an infection, not trusting that my own earlier wound cleanup was effective.

Instead of cleaning the wound, the Palestinian doctor told the nurse to give me the “usual injection.” I had visions of her using the usual dirty, unsterilized, HIV-infected,  hypodermic needle they “usually” give to Jewish-American tourists. But she used a disposable syringe.

The Palestinian doctor gave me prescriptions for medicines to prevent infection and reduce pain. The entire emergency room process took less than 30 minutes and cost $35.

The wounds healed quickly. And without infection.