Jewish Mud Runs?

Chai Lifeline has probably done more for the health of the Jewish community than any (non-existent?) health awareness drives. Granted, we still eat too much chulent Thursday night. (Any chulent Thursday night is too much, imho.) But many people are choosing to pair their charitable efforts with a push at fitness, raising money and racing at the same time.

Right now would-be contributors have a choice between running a marathon and a Lake Tahoe bicycle century.  This is not, I think, enough options. I mean, it’s all lower body! It’s great for a Jew to be able to leave an area fast, but honestly. Maybe we’re a stiff-necked people because we don’t exercise our shoulders enough?

Which is why mud runs are such a great idea. Yes, you’re running. But only between obstacles. Mud runs require a well-rounded fitness level, so you can crawl through tunnels, climb ropes, nets, and walls, scramble over hills of straw or tires, swing across monkey bars, and swim under buoys.  Sounds like fun, right?

Alas, few of them are on Sunday.

Which got me thinking: wouldn’t this make the most amazing chol Hamoed event?

You know, a thematic mud run: Escape from Egypt!

Participants would start out scrambling over a field of straw. They have to haul an oversized brick up a mountain, slide down into a pit of cement, and scramble out via cargo net over bullrushes. (Yes, I’m mixing things. Don’t quibble.)

From here maybe you’ll have to climb a pyramid, dodge Egyptians trying to hit you with (padded) sticks (the children of runners can take this part), and swing hand-over-hand across a row of staffs. (That one needs work.)

Maybe from here you’ll have to duck into a dark tent and scrabble in the sand for some gold. (Find a token and you’re eligible for four cups of win at the finish! Okay, maybe that’s not such a great idea. You come up with a better one.)

You should probably have to catch a goat at some point, but to keep PETA away, we may have to go with a lasso/ring toss type of thing.  Then: can you get through Egypt’s border defenses without breaking your matzah? Think tunnels, cliffs, barbed wire, moats… If you have issues with gebrokts, maybe you’ll want to wrap your matzah in a garbage bag.

Demonstrate your emunah by wading into the Red Sea — and if it splits for you, consider that an automatic win.  For the rest, consider swimming.

Think you’re done? Uh uh. You have to do a little dance with tambourines first while singing Az Yashir. Then off you go, dashing across the hot desert to a water station… which is salty. (Hey, complain to God, not me. …wait, I sounded like Moshe there, didn’t I?)

Dash up a flaming mountain to retrieve your stone tablets, and please don’t comment that it looks like the brick you hauled up there earlier in the race. This is all metaphor, and we don’t have any other slaves to haul things up and down hills for us.

But whoever is playing God up there isn’t giving you your tablets unless you first recite what’s supposed to be written on it. (Go on: can you? Can you? Okay, just sing the Mah Nishtana and get out of here you shameful Jew.)

Anyway, if you make it back to your encampment, you can get your crowns. All finishers receive complementary sticks of marror.

It needs a little work, but I think there’s something there.

Anyone want to produce it, please, please?



As a former English major, I firmly believe that one could describe the experience of a marathon in words with clarity. However, this would take time and effort and I am currently too tired to bother with either. So I’m just going to pull some excerpts from the 1,500 word description I typed up for myself, and let your imagination fill in the rest.

This morning started very early, with us going to sleep around 1. Or anyway, going to bed. We mostly tossed and turned. I gazed in utter despair at the clock at 1:34 and 2:17. At 2:48 I took a stroll around the room. At 3:00 I took a bathroom break. Then the alarm rang at 3:50 waking me up, so I must have got about 45 minutes of shut-eye all told. Bas Melech wasn’t in any better condition.

[We get ready and go downstairs, are herded onto buses, off of buses, and to the starting line.]

It was still dark and cool, but the circle of corrals was alive with energy and warm with bodies. Team Lifeline milled around the starting line pumping our fists and shouting “Yeah!” and posing for photos and doing such things as people are wont to do under such circumstances. We took a group shot, and then dispersed to our starting corrals.

A marathon is an unusual yet intimate way to get to know a city. As we crossed the first causeway, Miami stood beautifully lit up before us. Huge, glowing ocean cruise ships dwarfed us as we passed. At times, all was quiet except the slap of rubber on cement, breathing, and an occasional exchange of words between runners. At others, police and tug boats flashed their lights and blew their foghorns. Volunteers blared music from speakers on corners. It seemed like the city paid an admiring tribute to the runners. At other times, as we ran down streets empty but for a few people with signs, it was clear that Miami had yet to take its marathon as seriously as New York and Boston do.

Miles 1-4: easy. Am impressed with self because I never did more than 4 miles in training.

T-shirt sighted: “13.1 or bust”

Sign sighted: “Run like you stole something”

[The neighborhoods they chose for the route were exceedingly beautiful.]

Over Shobbos, one of the guys was making fun of the assembly. “To be here,” he said, “You can’t admit to having trained, and you have to be recovering from an injury. So, I haven’t gotten off the couch in two months, and I have two broken ankles!”

What’s the surprise? We were here because we wanted to support Chai Lifeline. Running was secondary.

But I had to laugh, because I hadn’t run in over a month due to a hip strain. It kicked in during the 6th and 7th mile.

Mile 6-7: getting harder. Miles 8-9: getting longer. 10-minute mile becomes 12.

T-shirt sighted: “Failure is not an option”

Sign sighted: “You are all Kenyan inside”

Team Lifeline Powerade station and cheering squad passed.
“Chai Lifeline is a Jewish organization isn’t it?” asked a man coming up behind me, reading my shirt. “Is it orthodox?” he asked. I said it was non-denominational, serving all those who need. “But the runners are all orthodox?” he pressed. “Mostly,” I panted. He ran faster than me, and I was having difficulty keeping up.

“I’m very impressed with the women runners’ dress,” he explained. “You know, so they can run, but they’re still modest.”

I grunt.

“Is there an orthodox shul around here?” he continued.

“I don’t know, I’m from New York.”

“Really? Where in New York?”


“What do the rabbis in Brooklyn think about Obama?”

“I guess about what everyone everywhere thinks,” I gasped, wondering where that one came from.

“Are most of the runners from New York?”

“No—we’ve even got someone from Australia.”

He explained that he heard that at the New York marathon there was always a minyan after, but he hadn’t been able to find one in Miami last year when it was his father’s yartzeit. I found that surprising, but couldn’t quite vocalize it. I told him I couldn’t keep up the pace and wished him luck, falling back to a walk.

Cheering squad painted all orange does dance routine on the side.

Mile 10-11: am visualizing myself with my right leg torn off at the hip, like a mutilated Barbie doll. Oddly, it feels better when I run than when I walk, but my lungs can’t sustain the pace. My body has become a house divided against itself.

Sign spotted: “Finishing=beer”

There are hydration stations every mile. The ground is slick with Gatorade and water, and littered with paper cups that rattle as we run over them.

I should take this moment to thank all the people who came out to cheer for Team Lifeline. When we saw you guys shouting and waving ahead, we got a burst of energy we didn’t know we had to move faster, with more style, so we could pass you waving and cheering, united in our support of Chai Lifeline. When you had a camera, we really drew on unknown reserves to posture heroically as we passed. And when we did, we realized we had the strength, and could go farther for longer. Thank you.

Mile 12-13: I don’t remember these at all, except that I was doing about a 14-minute mile.

Mile 13.1: Staggering along, wondering when it would be over. Heard a man say “Only a quarter of a mile left!”

“Only a quarter of a mile?” I ask in disbelief.

“Only a quarter of a mile!” he calls with a grin.

I smile back and pick up the pace.

I couldn’t believe it. I was done! People dressed up in armor knighted us with the medals. I wandered through the jubilant atmosphere of celebration, wanting to jump and dance with elation, but, like everyone else, weighed down with the miles I’d ran. I wandered slowly over to the Team Lifeline tent, taking water, a banana, a mini-Starbucks latte, as they were offered. [I sign in, I stretch, I grab a sign and a friend and head out to do some cheerleading.]

The post race seemed so anticlimactic. Months of training and fund-raising culminated in an intense event that took less than six hours before noon. Back in the hotel, we clung to fragments of those moments of glory, trying to stretch the great event into something longer lasting. People wore their medals, discussed their timing, compared their injuries, and weighed “cure-alls” for sore muscles while sitting around the pool.

Conclusion: There’s an energy that builds in this kind of event. It starts with the gathering of the team, when you meet with people who have the same goal as you, and share your training stories with people who think it’s just as important as you do. It builds with the renewed awareness of the importance of the cause. It expands on the marathon morning, surrounded by people attempting the same feat you are, and with bystanders and cheering squads who call you “hero” and “amazing.” And it culminates when you sprint across the finish line, victorious, arms aloft. Nor does it immediately subside. You are immediately surrounded by revelers, intoxicated with the impressiveness of what so many have achieved, and you are one of them, for now that you’ve done it yourself, you truly understand how awe-inspiring a feat it truly is.

Throughout the Shobbos, whenever we’d think of something we could have done better, we’d say, “Oh well, next year.” Then we’d look at each other and ask, “Next year?” Why should there be a next year? Will we want a next year? Could we do a next year? In the final mile of the half-marathon, “next year” and “possible” were the most unlikely word pair in our minds. But crossing the finish line and being swept up in the exhilaration, we begin to wonder, “Why not a next year?” after all, it was doable. And it can only get easier.

Will I do it again? I don’t know. There are too many factors to consider, and I still haven’t attempted to get out of bed tomorrow.But, injury or not, it’s not an experience I regret in the slightest. And for anyone looking to pair an invigorating goal with a meaningful one, I would recommend this as an experience you should try once.

No Escape

Here I am, vacationing in Miami, resting up before the marathon, hanging on the beach, building a sandcastle. Two other runners are all the way out (it’s awfully shallow for a long way, ‘round here) looking like they’re having fun. I wave and go join them. I paddle up, tasting sea salt for the first time in… oh gosh, loads of years. We float on our backs, exchanging vital stats: who are you, where are you from, what do you do, how far are you running, have you done this before?

When I finish answering their questions, runner A turns to runner B and says, “I’m thinking David, what do you think?”

Add “150 feet into the Atlantic” to the list of strange places I’ve been asked about shidduchim.
Can’t a girl ever get away from it all?

Bas4: Team Shabbos

Well, it was a close call, but Bas Melech did get up before noon, and we hit the beach. It was warm, the water was blue, the sand was coarse, but not hopeless for the task of building a sandcastle. Build a sandcastle, you ask, but with what? Well, we had no buckets, but we had other things. Ma, if you’re reading this and thinking “Those towers are shaped remarkably like my pareve green plastic container,” it is totally coincidental. Trust me – don’t check the cabinets.

Behind Casa Lifeline you can see the start of a crenelated wall that wasn’t completed due to budgetary shortages. The flag is a Team Lifeline luggage tag. The engineering was done by Bad4, the architecture and design by Bas Melech. Overall, I think we did a fine job.

We tried to make a time-stop film of it being washed away by the sea, but Shobbos intruded and we had to run.
~ Bad4

Boy, have I got an idea for the next hit reality show/sitcom: Put an engineer and an artist together in a hotel room for a weekend. Seriously, I’ve been looking for the hidden cameras since I got here. Whose idea was this, anyway? (Oh, right. Mine.)

Unfortunately, I STILL haven’t found the hidden cameras so I don’t have a record of everything that happened. All I know is that Shabbos was AWESOME. Mainly because Bad4 gave me the perfect opportunity to return her jibes about sleepiness by skipping out before dessert… to sleep. 😀 (Bad4’s note: to read, then sleep. 😛 ) While I enjoyed my vacation with some rousing games, meeting new people, the Misanthropes Club convened upstairs. (Bad4’s note: I adore people… when I can hear what they’re saying. Usually. OK, sometimes.)

Other than that, our excitement consisted mostly of helpful hotel personnel turning on the lights we left off, turning off the lights we left on, and opening and closing our refrigerator.

Overall, it looks like this is going to be one of those happy-ending shows. At least, if Bad4 stops leaning on the back of my chair and making it swivel, there’s still a chance. But she’s reading this and looking for drama.
~ Bas~Melech

Some stats from the Motzai Shobbos Pasta Party:

  • There are 230 runners.
  • They range from 12-70. (There are two 12-year-olds. One is a Camp Simcha Special camper. The other is the tweenager I saw on Friday. Dunno ‘bout the 70-year-old.)
  • One runner came all the way from Australia. (The runner sitting next to me came from Israel.)
  • In total, we raised over $1,034,000.
  • The top fundraiser raised $24,000. He’s a former camper.
  • The total miles we will run tomorrow are equivalent to the distance between Miami and Anchorage.
  • We drank about a zillion liters of water and ate a fagillion pounds of pasta.
  • We are going to wake up before 4 am tomorrow in order to make it to the start line in time. I’m not sure how Sleeping Beauty is going to manage that…

Bad4: Killing Friday Morning in Miami

Woke at 7, and tried to stay in bed as long as possible for two reasons:

  • 1. Bas Melech thought it was sacrilegious to get up before 10 and
  • 2. between the hospital-cornered sheets, the inches-thick bedspread, and the numerous pillows, staying in was simpler than getting out

However, I had to get up eventually. I’m not very good at lolling in bed doing nothing. And it was already 7:30!!! I got up, showered, dressed, and davened on our veranda. We did have a view of the beach, it turned out, it was just behind a few parking lots.

I stood there, the sun glinting off the water warm on my skin, the light breeze caressing my face, the low, white city spread before me, and suddenly I felt like it was a crime, not a kindness, to let Bas Melech keep sleeping. I’ve never understood the point in going to a new location with many attractions just to sleep. So I gave her a ten-second warning that I was going to crash-land on her bed and that I am no Captain Chesley Sullenberger, and then I did it. She was entirely unimpressed with my attempt at chesed. I couldn’t budge her, even with a beautiful rendition of “modeh ani.”

With a sigh, I went out without her.

I discovered that a line is not the shortest distance between two points when there are parking lots involved. At one point, getting to the beach would have involved diving over a parking lot wall and into another hotel’s swimming pool (occupied by two old ladies gently stirring the water like soup), and then over the pool wall into the sand. I decided to go around.

The beach was deserted. Clearly, most of the world goes on vacation to sleep. I took off my sneakers and socks, left them on the sand, and walked along the surf.

The water here is a beautiful translucent blue. It rushes up the heavy, grainy sand, touching as high as it can with its lacy edges, and then retreats back.

“In New York,” I explained to the fisherman who looked puzzled when I asked him if he’d eat what he caught, “The water is murky and green and I’d never eat anything that came out of it.” He waxed lyrical on the fish he caught and how delicious they tasted.

I could have stayed there all day. But I thought it would be nice to share with my friend, so I headed back to the hotel, sneakers in hand. It seemed easier than trying to brush sand off my toes, but somehow, walking around barefoot looks less natural when you’re standing at the edge of a highway waiting for a chance to cross, with a gaggle of young men in blue shirts carrying tefillin bags on the other side studiously ignoring you.

I briefly wonder if I should have packed for a singles event, instead of cramming my junkiest stuff into a knapsack.

As we waited for the light to change, a female running posse exited and started jogging up the block. It was a mother, teenage daughter, and tweenager, all running together. How cute! But how on earth did they manage to raise all that money?!

“Hey Bas Melech! Let’s go skinny dipping motzai Shobbos! Nobody will be on the beach and there’s no lights! It’s 100% kosher!” I said as I burst into the room.

A groan from her bed.

“So can we go?” I asked. Her head turned left, then right, eyes firmly shut.

“Aw…” There are some distinct disadvantages to vacationing with a Bas Melech. I am avenging my disappointment by putting up yet another post without her. Take that, sleepyhead.

Bas Melech Live from Hollywood, FL

This post is by Bas~Melech. She’s kind of tired and not particularly coherent, so keep that in mind. ~ Bad4

As Bad4 already revealed, she had plenty of time to trash our room before I arrived. My trip was not as eventful as hers; ever unathletic, I chose instead to gracefully pirouette through airport security. My excitement came later: As I sought company for my sojourn to the hotel, a dude approached. After ascertaining that we were both headed the same way, he asked why I was running, but before I could launch into my stirring motivation as explained here, he volunteered his own deepest interests. They number two: Running and math. I still held out hope of finding a young gentleman here. There was another dude with us, too; he offered to share his opera tracks with those of us looking to update our itunes before the race. Nice.

He redeemed himself, though, by helpfully offering to arrange a group ride for the Team Lifeline participants on board our flight. After strolling around Miami International (“Airport taxis always overcharge.” Well, what other kind is there at the airport?!) he found us a very recent immigrant indeed who calmly assured us that he knew exactly where our hotel was. For some reason (maybe it was the 30-second pause before his response?) we felt neither assured nor calm about riding with the fellow, but he had already taken our bags hostage in his trunk.

Let’s just say I got to the hotel… eventually. By that time, as you’ve already learned, Bad4 had ample opportunity to trash our beautiful room. She’d even had time to get in the first two marathon posts AND take a decent nap, rendering her annoyingly perky for one who has just been woken from a sound stupor by a traumatized and drained roommate falling in. Literally.

After admiring the toilet paper origami and water bottles and ascertaining that the refrigerator was not, in fact, monitoring our usage to bill us later, and that the internet would not, in fact, work from the comfort of our big, cushy beds, I was ready to explore (albeit quickly losing consciousness).

More to come, but first I need to get an edge on Bad4 with a few z’s.

Arrival in Miami

I stepped out of the terminal and braced myself against the cold. It didn’t come. I breathed out slowly, so I could watch my breath puff. It didn’t puff. “I don’t think we’re in New York anymore…” I thought. I wandered over to the taxi stand and signed myself up for a shared ride to the hotel. Then I stood there idly, waiting. I realized I wasn’t feeling terribly excited. You’d think I walked out of airport terminals surrounded by palm trees all the time. Heck – you’d think I walked out of airport terminals all the time! I was in Miami! Slowly I started smiling.

People claim that between Starbucks and McDonalds, you can’t tell American cities apart these days. So untrue. I would recognize Miami in a moment. It looks just like in those car racing games. Unlike in New York, where we build things tall and dark, Miami likes them low and white. Or at least light. And their trees are less shady.

I struck up a conversation with the lone guy sharing my ride in the 16-seater van. He was from Haiti, returning from post-op surgery in NY. He was glad to be out of the cold again.

I haven’t been in many hotels, so maybe my judgment is off, but I thought this place was classy. Waterfall in front, loads of marble and mirrors, and the room looked like a picture from Architectural Digest. Or it did, before I made it look lived in. Bas Melech never got to see it like that. When I first saw the shower my immediate thought was, “It would be a pity to use that and mess it up.” The toilet paper was pointed at the end. The beds bounce nicely. The patio had a table and chairs and a view—of the parking lot, but nonetheless, a view.

My favorite part? This notice near the towels:

“Dear guest, Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. You make the choice: A towel on the rack means “I will use again.” A towel on the floor means, “Please replace.” Thank you for helping us conserve the Earth’s vital resources.”

Imagine if I tried that at home!

I immediately set about ruining the picture-perfect room by throwing my stuff around. Food went into the fridge. Jacket over the chair. Crocs on the floor.

There were two liter bottles of Evian behind the sink. “How nice!” I thought, really impressed now. Then I leaned forward and peered at the label around their neck. The credit card I’d given them downstairs would be charged $5 for each bottle violated. “How cheap!” I was indignant now. It seemed crude. I went back and checked that there was no price tag on the toilet paper. There wasn’t. Well, time to explore now. The woman behind the desk said something about a 24-hour fitness center and recreation room. And what about that gorgeous swimming pool I saw in the pictures?

~ from the hotel lobby

Road the the Miami Marathon

It’s been a while since I last negotiated airport security. For those like me who have forgotten how fun and exciting it is (psychologists call this defense mechanism “suppression”), here’s a description. It’s a bit like those relay races we used to play in summer camp. You know – you have to put on a whole pile of clothing and then run to the next person, tag them, and take it all off type. Only in reverse. You take off all your clothes, run through a metal detector, and then put it all back on.

You wait on line, like a racer at the starting block. As soon as you pass the gray bins, you grab three. As soon as you reach the table, you plunk them down, and the race begins. You have mere seconds to remove your shoes, jacket, watch, belt, laptop, wallet, keys, and ziplock of liquids, while concurrently moving your bins down the table toward the machine. I completely forgot the liquids, but luckily, they didn’t make a fuss over it. Probably because by the time I passed through the metal detector, I was a ten-second hero.

See, it was because I was moving too hastily. I threw one sneaker into the bin, and reached for the other. To my horror, the sneaker hit the bin and bounced out—onthe other side of the table. It fell to the floor about two feet into the cordoned off area beyond the table.

Now, the table was about two feet thick, and had a shelf-type of level thing running about two feet off the floor. There were no security personnel inside. I gazed at my shoe in despair. My knapsack and carry-on were already entering the machine. The bin with my laptop was approaching fast. But my sneaker!

The people on line watched with a detached interest. The man behind the machine kept looking up, out of curiosity. How was Bad4 going to get her footgear back?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. There were two feet of wiggle room to duck under. I could do that. I did lower in karate class. It wasn’t exactly dignified, but neither was disrobing for a security check. I took a deep breath, dived under the table, grabbed my sneaker, quickly reversed, and emerged victorious, sneaker held aloft.

Cheers from the line.

“Hey, that was athletic!” the security guy enthused.

“I sure hope they wash the floors,” said the businessman behind me.

I plunked the sneaker in my third bin and accepted congratulations all around. Then I was through, we were all dressing again and dispersing to our various gates. I entered the terminal, completely anonymous.

Ah fame. Such a fleeting thing.

~ from the terminal

Running to Help

Well, I did it.

After almost a week of hemming and hawing, I surfed my way over to and ponied up the registration fee for their Miami marathon. By doing so I have committed to train for the marathon (which takes place January 25), and to raise $3,600 for Camp Simcha, Chai Lifeline’s summer camp for terminally ill children. It’s the only kosher summer camp of its kind in existence, and is an enormous chesed for both the children and their families.

$3,600 is – at least to my tuition-centric, student mind – an enormous sum of money. But I feel confident that people who understand the great work that Chai Lifeline does and appreciate the exertion that us marathon runners are willing to put in for the cause, will help me reach that goal and even surpass it. 

Chai Lifeline’s motto is “Fighting Illness with Love.” They’re fighting illnesses with no cure, so love and compassion are the only ways to battle back the disease and keep despair at bay. They provide support and counseling services, internet hookups to allow kids to keep up with their classes and friends from their hospital beds, meals delivered to home or hospital, and a host of other small services that make a huge difference when your life has been turned upside down.
But Camp Simcha was their first project and a wild success, and it is Camp Simcha that the marathon funds are going to support. It’s tough being a sick kid in a healthy world – Camp Simcha helps these children forget it all and just have fun with people who understand them and what they’re going through. It’s a month of golden relief in an otherwise tumultuous and terrifying year.

A few quotes taken from their website:
“Camp made me forget about all the bad times I had.”
~ Camper at Camp Simcha

“I can shoot a whole roll of film of him at home and never see that smile that I saw in his pictures from Camp Simcha.”
~Vicky Olesky, camper’s mom

“At Camp Simcha, no one asked questions or stared if you didn’t have any hair. I thought it was the greatest place on earth.”
~ Former camper at Camp Simcha
If you’d like to help these children have an awesome summer (and also help me reach my fundraising goal), please follow this link and be generous. You have a whole lifetime to earn back those few extra dollars, but for these kids, every summer has to count. 

All donations are tax and ma’aser deductible. 

Don’t push it off until you forget – donate now and bring a smile to a child’s face.