As it is said in Bava Metzia 107b: 'Sixty runners speed along, but cannot overtake him who breaks bread in the morning', and best eaten in a municipal succah.

 “Run, run, as fast as you can.

You can’t catch me!

I’m the Gingerbread Man!”

And they couldn’t catch him.

(from a folk tale).


Last Friday, an intermediate day of Succot, was race day in Nahariya.

I was psyched, and maybe as some justifiably believe: certifiable.

I finished reading a terrific book last week entitled “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Quoting from a blog: It is a book “full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration”. The book climaxes with a grueling 50 mile race in the wilds of the Sierra Madre where a half dozen superb American ultrarunners are pitted against incredibly amazing Mexican Indians who belong to an obscure tribe, and who are the fastest and the best long distance runners in the entire world.

These reclusive Indians belong to a tribe called the Tarahurama who live in Mexico’s Copper Canyon region, a most desolate and unforgiving maze of steep mountains with sheer drop-offs into rock-filled valleys.  They have a most peculiar style of running characterized as “Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast”, their backs ramrod straight, knees bent, arms held at rib height, taking itty-bitty bird-like steps.  And forget about your fancy running shoes, the Tarahumara run in sandals that are fashioned from rubber tires.  For this race I ran in my oldest, least supportive pair that I found in the bottom of a closet.  It worked out just fine.  Maybe next time I’ll run barefoot.

In no way does Nahariya resemble Mexico’s Copper Canyon.  Nahariya is flat; it is beautiful.  Not so Copper Canyon: Several years ago I had occasion to fly over the area in a single engine Cessna air taxi out of Chihuahua City, all the time saying tehillim (psalms), praying that the pilot/owner had properly maintained his aircraft, that the quality of aviation fuel was not substandard, and that engine problems were not very likely to happen.  The terrain was so foreboding that if we went down, we would not have a chance in hell of anyone ever finding us or what remained of us.

Being overly optimistic I had signed up to run a 10K, but that wasn’t going to happen.  About six months ago I fractured to my ankle and despite the not so tender ministrations of Basal, the physical therapist, I was not yet good to go, so it was going to be a 5K, 3 and 1/8th miles, for me.  Basal, who in a previous life must have trained under Torquemada of Spanish Inquisition fame, started me off by jogging in sand. I graduated from jogging in sand to running on grass, but had not yet taken myself out for a spin on hard pavement.  I was saving the best for last or maybe I was just plain afraid to do a test drive.

I planned to incorporate the Tarhumara methodology into my racing strategy, alternating running Easy for two minutes then Fast for another two throwing Light and Smooth out the window until a more propitious time, if ever.  I hoped to average one kilometer every eight minutes for a total of 40 minutes.  However, I averaged 7.5 minutes per kilometer for a total time of 37.35 minutes.  Thank you Tarahumara.

Let’s gather some prospective here.  Nahariya is flat and unlike Copper Canyon there are no steep gorges.  At 7:30 AM, the temperature in Nahariya was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and in Copper Canyon the temperature approached 100 degrees and dehydration was a realistic concern.  I expected to complete the flat 3+ mile course in way under an hour, not too shabby for a 76 year old schlepper with a bum foot.  The leading ultrarunners in McDougall’s book ran the tortious 50 mile race in under six hours, fantastic.

I have a peculiar "racing" custom, a minhag if you will. 

Using gematria, a form of numerology, I look for some positive personal meaning in the race number assigned to me.  This tends to bolster my confidence.  Gematria assigns a numerical value to each letter comprising a word.

It could be as simple as in חי, which has the numerical value of 18 and means life. In this instance the letter ” ח” is the 8th letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and the letter “י” is the 10th letter; 8+10 = 18.  However gematria can be maybe something more subtle.  My race number for 174.  A gematria for this number is מסעד, "support".

מסעד is found in 1Kings 10:12:

וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-עֲצֵי הָאַלְמֻגִּים מִסְעָד לְבֵית-יְהוָה

And the king made of the sandal-wood support pillars for the house of the LORD, 

 To be a supporter of the house of the Lord is certainly fine and dandy.  I really like that, and am really into it.

 But מסעד just might mean that I should have followed last week’s advice from my Physician and get a "support" sock for my weakened ankle.  And of course, just as real men are not in the habit of eating quiche, a support sock was certainly out of the question.  In any event having some friends at the starting line was all the support I needed.

 I sent the gematria interpretation to Rabbi Yitzchak Seltzer, Reb Yitz, a first time runner and a super guy.

Reb Yitz wrote me: "my number is 1212”.

 He went on to say:

“Besides representing the 12 שבטים [tribes] it is the gematria of והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ which means "and I have brought you to the Land (of Israel)" for all the olim out there."

 I wrote him back:

"You got a winner.

My number 174 = 1+7+4 = 12.

So I'll piggyback on your interpretation. Thanks".

 There I was at the starting line armed with the Tarahurama technique (far from mastered) and positive Torah feedback (also far from mastered), all primed and rearing to go.  There was no firing of a starting pistol; that sort of thing can be misinterpreted here with everyone scattering for cover.  The Race Manager just said “GO”, and off we went, probably 1,500 of us, including a contingent of Nahariya English speakers.

 One more thing: One of the best parts of the race was before it actually began, when I had a drink of water and some dates and did the blessing "לישב בסוכה" in the municipal succah.  A municipal succah, would you believe?  Israel sure is an incredible place.

I was happy to cross the finish line, but admittedly feeling a little empty. The race had ended a bit too soon for me, at least in my head.  My brain was saying that I could have gone further or maybe I could have gone faster.  Of course my body was countering with “Please Sir may I have some  more Motrin, please”.  Yeah, it was going to be a four or more Motrin day.  But just you wait till next year.