Jenny Zelcer: Fresh Air Freedom and the Tiberius Marathon

I’ve always taken the opportunity to run outdoors for granted, treasuring the time to breath fresh air, soak up sunshine and see the sights. That’s why the note from Jenny Zelcer caught my attention and brought tears to my eyes:

“I have plans to run the Tiberius Marathon on January 6, 2011.  It will be my first marathon — I am 49 years old.

I am a religious Jewish woman living in Israel and have been a closet runner for the past 15 years.  While modesty has kept me running indoors and on a treadmill my entire career, it wasn’t until this past year when I was able to reconcile the clothing requirements and finally take my first steps outdoors.

It was liberating.  It was freedom.  I could breathe.

I ran my first half marathon this past March (2:15) achieving the first of my running goals, and now want to tackle the full marathon.”

Rather than a formal interview, I decided to display in full a recap she wrote to her running club in Israel. If you want to read more about Jenny and her running adventures, visit her blog @ Running Bubby. May you continue to offer a breath of fresh air to all.

After running for 15 years on a treadmill and never participating in a race, I finally made the leap to the great outdoors last January.  I then thought that I would just be an outdoors runner.  But, I got bitten by the racing bug… First it was my first Half Marathon in Jerusalem and, wow, I thought that was a monumental feat!  I couldn’t believe I ran 21.1 km!  WooHoo!   I was so proud of that moment – and then, someone said the word marathon…. Unfortunately, just after Pesach, a stress fracture in my ankle set me back and I could do nothing but dream about running.  As the weeks went by, and June turned into July, I took up deep water running. But eh, it didn’t work for me.  Biking and laps would be my cross training.  After 20 weeks, and a month before regular marathon training would begin, I was finally able to start running.  I was worried. How on earth would I be ready in one month to start training? I remember my first long run of 15 km.  Randy picked me up on the Lamed Hey road, and I was a mess.  Physically and emotionally.  How on earth was I going to do a long run of 32 km if I could barely scrape out a 15 km?  I thought that my chance to run a marathon was surely past.  My goal to run a marathon before my 50th birthday perhaps was not going to be realized. However, I stuck with it and my marathon plan pretty much followed the Club’s plan, but with slightly less mileage.  While I didn’t run with the Club, I read all Chaim’s emails with self-absorbed interest, and kept them to refer back to time and time again.  We all passed each other out there on the Lamed Hey road, and every single time, you all encouraged me and gave me the determination to keep going. I will admit, going into this marathon that I was pretty confident about my ability to run it.  You know the saying, “If you think you can, you can; if you think you can’t, you can’t?”  I wanted to be so positive going in and did a lot of visualization – you know, running without concern, taking in the view, chatting it up with running neighbors, cruising into the finish line – no – blazing across the finish line!! (LOL.)  My plan was to run with the 4:30 (km) pacer.  But as you have heard, there wasn’t one.  Okay.  I wasn’t so concerned because I did every single long run by myself – and I knew that I would be mentally strong enough, at least until 32 km. I noticed that pretty much the same people were running together.  Some interesting characters, and some I just couldn’t stand to run beside.  And until the half way point, it was a great run.  Beautiful scenery, incredible weather, so many water breaks, children lining the route and of course the loud blasts of music that would compete with my own much loved playlist!

At the half, I called Randy and said I’m half way there!  My time at the half was @ 2:16 and while it could have been better, I was pleased with it. The cruise home was not as pleasant…  At 27 km we seemed to be going slightly uphill.  And I started to feel a bit less energetic.  I originally planned to walk through the water breaks, but until then, I had not.  I felt so great on the way out.  So, a quick walk-through was the new plan. From there on out, with every step I took, it seemed to add another brick to that wall that was eventually going to try and block my way home.  I kept remembering that it would take me a few kilometers to get through my walls, and I knew that I had it in me at least until 32 km. This much is true.  I got to 32 km and I was spent.  I called Randy and cried that I had 10 km to go, and while I knew I could do it, it was just too hard.  I think I blathered on for about 30 seconds, but Randy refocused me – I refocused my mind, and off I went. 

The biggest battle was now in play, and I had to continuously slap down that inner evil voice that said to just walk it out – and force myself to keep going.  Eventually, I would just disconnect.  I lowered my head slightly and just plodded forward.  I was very disappointed in my pace that sometimes crept up close to 7:00 – but I figured that by now, I just wanted to finish. I also had some terrible nausea, but since I didn’t eat anything except gels along the way, I couldn’t understand where it came from.  That slowed me down significantly as I had to keep going off to the side of the road, just in case. I can’t express how fantastic it was to see the runners who had already completed their race, line the road on the way in.  Cheering, giving praise and support.  This really kept me going.  Stopping was not an option – and their clapping pushed me on.  Seeing the marker for 200 meters was like a life raft.  At that point, all the emotion inside of me let go, and the tears were streaming down my face.  I was chanting to myself all the way in, “I’ll never do this again, I’ll never do this again!”  I searched the crowd for my family – and my tears turned into a huge smile as I saw how proud they were of me crossing that line.  You did it!  You did it!  They screamed.  Time 4:40:17  It was 10 minutes longer that I had anticipated, but WooHoo!  A great time to me! I can’t express the depth of pride I have in myself for completing this race.  I think that you all understand. 

I really knew that I could do this – that the price, in pain, would be huge – but I also knew it would be worth it. 

Will I run another?  As a woman, I can say that this experience is likened to childbirth.  If we weren’t able to forget the pain of the experience, we would never do it again!  So, yes, I will run another.  But like that baby, I think I’ll wait at least nine months!

Melinda Hinson