Putting Yourself in Danger

Posted on January 11th, 2010

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By the comments I received – both written and in person – I feel the need to follow up on my post about the Tiveria Marathon. I would not want anyone to think that I believed for one second that finishing the race was more important than preserving my life and health. Besides being against Torah law, it is common sense that you do not place yourself in a dangerous situation.

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So isn’t running 42 kilometers by definition dangerous? Actually, not as much as you would believe. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world run marathons and the vast majority are fine except for some temporary aches. (If you are interested, here is an article on the subject: Are Marathons Dangerous? )

Serious medical issues during marathons are rare. With the right preparation, a marathon should be an event that you can look back on all your life with pride and a fond memory. I encourage people to set this goal and then take the time to learn about what it takes. Please don’t take my description of the 2010 Tiveria Marathon as a universal account of what will happen to you.

I believe that G-d gave us bodies that can be vastly improved. Just like the fact that the world is imperfect, our bodies are also. Making our bodies healthier to me is the same as making the world a better place. It should be a goal in life. I do not feel at all that my activities abuse my body, I feel quite the opposite. Richard is right (see last post‘s comments). Our bodies are temples. That’s actually why I do what I do.

So with all that, why was I lying on the ground barely conscious in Tiveria? In simple terms, I was dumb. I could have avoided all the unpleasantness by running a bit slower and drinking a lot more right from the start. As Chaim – the coach and top runner of the club – put it:

So much work had already been done, so much sweat had already been spilled.  All that stood between us and our long awaited goal was one solitary, herculean effort.

Yes, we knew that prudence directed that we modify our goals. However, we had spent too much time carefully planning “marathon pace,” too many workouts carefully running at that precise pace to change our carefully laid plans on the fly.  Yes, we paid lip service to the need to adjust our pace in deference to the weather and run conservatively but we also knew that when the gun went off,  that we would put it all on the line and toss caution to the cruel Eastern winds in a do or die attempt at marathon glory.

Our exuberance and the sheer joy of being out there obscured the fact that it was hot as hell without a shade tree in sight.

Sounds really dumb, I know. Of course do not take “do or die”  literally. I know of no one who would seriously say that running anything was more important than life. But standing on the starting line, it honestly did not feel that hot. For those of us who have never run in this kind of weather, we had no idea just what an impact it can have.

Running a marathon is as much mental as it is physical. You simply must run smart. I did not. However, when I felt really bad, I still had an awareness of my surroundings. There were medics and race officials all around, and they were keeping an eye on us. I knew that I was suffering, but so was every other person running those last ten kilometers.

I believed that if the situation was going to become life threatening, the race officials would step in and cancel the rest of the run. I was very determined to finish, that is true. But I simply did not believe that I was putting myself in grave danger. Perhaps in hindsight I was wrong. Yes I did take a risk. But how great was that risk?

The fact of the matter is every day we place ourselves in danger. Every time we get into a car we take a chance. Those who smoke, eat poorly, and neglect any type of exercise are taking a big risk. By comparison, running a marathon – and especially all the training that you do to get ready – makes you much healthier and lowers your risk of dying tremendously.

To all my friends who moved to Israel from America and elsewhere, did we all not take on a greater risk to our lives? Would we not be safer in suburban America than in a “West Bank Settlement?” Did you ever carry a gun on your way to the mall before moving here? Did your house have a bomb shelter?

Did we not “place ourselves in danger” by moving here? I live within a few kilometers of Arab villages where terrorism is considered “heroic.” Yet I am taking chances by running around the Kinneret?

Let’s be honest here. Accepting some level of risk is a part of all of our lives. That doesn’t mean that we should be reckless and skip a water station while running a marathon. But it also doesn’t mean that we should shy away from our dreams. Simply saying that a big challenge (that hundreds of thousands complete) is too dangerous is a cop-out.

You can take Burgers Bar, I’ll take running marathons.

A few more answers to questions I received:

Was the crockodile real?Yes. I have no idea why he was there but there is a crocodile farm not that far away (Hamat Gedar).   The theory is that he escaped. I am sure he was just as confused to see thousands of people running down the road in the heat as we were to see him.

What was with the salt? Sweat contains lots of salt. When it evaporates, you are left with salt deposits. When you have been sweating seriously for a few hours, you look like the coast of the Dead Sea. You need to eat electrolytes during the race to replace the salt (stuff like Gatorade).

Why is your time in the picture different than your finishing time? Unless you are one of the elite runners, you do not start as soon as the gun goes off. You start when the computer chip you have attached to your shoe passes over the start line. The clock at the finish is the time since the first runners started. Your race ends when your shoe crosses the finish line.

Are you nuts? No. I think that people who watch life go by sharing the couch with a bowl of potato chips are nuts.

Are you trying to die? No, I’m trying to live.

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  1. Chaim Sherman says:

    Please note that the Chaim referred to above is not Chaim Sherman

  2. Doron Becker says:

    One question seems not to have been addressed: Given the weather, should the organizers have postponed the race due to the possible deleterious effects of running in hot weather? I believe this came up during the Athens Olympics. Although I certainly admire those who prepare for, and subsequently finish, marathons, I do wonder whether, halachically or otherwise, the race organizers need to consider the possibility that some runners will not take proper precautions such as adjusting pace or drinking adequate amounts of electrolytes during the race.

  3. Joshua Frankl says:

    Kol HaKavode!! Personally, I will take the potato chips!