Race report: the NYC Gaza 5(ish)K (March 24, 2018)

gaza 5k 2018

Photo credit: Murray Rosenblith

How can you not love an event that bills itself as a combination 5K and dabke party? I ran this race two years ago, missed it last year, and was thrilled to be running it again. It’s less a race than a community celebration . . . for Brooklyn’s Palestinian-American community, primarily, but also the larger Arab community, the Muslim community, Jewish peace activists and various and sundry other folks. While I was shamefully lax in my fundraising this year (by which I mean, I didn’t fundraise at all), other participants raised thousands of dollars for mental health services for kids in Gaza.

The first indication that this race is going to be a little different is the fact that a “light breakfast” (I’m quoting from the official schedule of events) is served beforehand. The starting time is approximate – hey, it starts when it starts – and so is the distance. Two years ago, we ran a smidgen over 3 miles; this year, we ran a full 3.3 mile loop of the part. There are more walkers than runners, and even among the runners, it was evident from the starting area chatter – “I hope I can finish . . . how will we know how far we’ve gone?” – that many were running their first 5K. (Or better – given the vagueness of the course measurement – their first 5ishK.)

It’s not a competitive event, in short, and that was just fine by me.

As always, though, my resolve to just relax and have fun weakened with the sound of the starting horn. After half a mile of easy running, in which I passed dozens of people, I decided to take this race a little seriously. After the first mile (8:15, more or less), I began to focus on individual women ahead of me – “up there, her, with the long black hair and the Palestinian flag shirt” – and felt almost let down by how easy it was to catch and pass them. After the second mile (8:07), in which I had run down pretty much all of my targets (even the ones who seemed, when I first took note of them, impossibly far ahead), I began to harbor fantasies of a podium finish.

Spurred on by my fantasies, I ran the last 1.327 miles (there was no Mile 3 marker, or if there was, I was too bleary-eyed to see it) at something like a 7:30 pace. I flew down the hill and rounded the southwest curve of the lake, hoping to see the finish line right there (you know, where the 5K mark would be) – only to discover that the finish was the same as the start, by the Grecian pavilion about a quarter mile farther up.

Deflated, I soldiered on, and even managed a decent finishing kick. Official time: 26:26, for an official distance of 3.327 miles.

Alas, I did not place overall. (I was eighth.) I did win the 40-59 age group, which was nice, but what was even nicer was the thanks I received from two much younger male runners who finished just behind me.

“We followed you the whole race!” one told me.

“Yeah, we were catching all these people, and we tried to catch you, but we couldn’t.”

“All we could do,” the first runner continued, still a little out of breath, “was try to keep you the same distance in front of us. You were too fast.”

They were laughing and exhilarated and happy, and it made me happy, too, to think that I’d pulled them along (and given them a nice negative split, to boot).

Other things that made me happy:

  • The team awards, which were not based on performance, but on such factors as “largest crew” and “best name.” The winner of the latter was the “Hi guys!” team, which took its moniker from the standard greeting of the captain’s father, who’d grown up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. To honor him, the emcees paused the awards ceremony for a minute or two so while the “Hi guys!” crew shot an iPhone video of the entire crowd waving and saying, well, “Hi, guys!”
  • The post-race snacks, which included crates of kettle-cooked potato chips and excellent, chocolate-heavy trail mix. Bagels and rugelach made for a nice, ecumenical touch.
  • The music, a mixture of hip hop and Arab pop, that somehow worked. (I didn’t stay around for the dabke party, but I’m sure it was a blast.)

And, finally: knowing that this was an event my dad, in his quiet, non-demonstrative way, would have enjoyed.

. . . 

I mentioned at the outset that I didn’t fundraise this year. It’s too late for me to earn a snazzy UN blue and white Gaza 5K T-shirt (which I could actually use, my shirt from two years ago being stained with coffee on both the front – not unusual – and the back – a demonstration of real skill), but it’s not too late for you to make a contribution to UNRWA USA. In the wake of the Trump administration’s action withholding more than half the U.S.’s scheduled contribution to Palestine refugee aid, grassroots support is more important than ever. You can donate by clicking here.






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