An Orthodox marathon man
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An Orthodox marathon man

PASSAIC – He started his morning at the so-called Marathon Minyan on Staten Island, along with about five dozen other hopefuls. He fueled his ‘6-mile, 385-yard run with kosher snacks and drinks.

And though 3′-year-old Martin (Mordechi) Bodek of this city did not win the Nov. 4 New York City Marathon, he completed the grueling race in four hours, 40 minutes, and nine seconds — close to his goal of 4:’4 and with enough time to get to afternoon services.


Martin Bodek approaches the finish line. Brightroom Event Photography

Bodek, an information technology manager for a Manhattan law firm and a 10-time NYC marathoner, estimates that he was one of about ‘0 Orthodox participants this year. He says has never found his religious observance in any way compromised by the requirements of the race.

"Some [fervently Orthodox men] might have an issue with how the women runners are dressed, but that’s completely not a problem for me," says the married father of two preschoolers.

He even put a uniquely Jewish spin on the event. At Shabbat services at Cong. Tifereth Israel the day before the race, Bodek had it announced that he would be running in memory of a good friend.

And since all serious runners build a day of rest into their training regimen, this also presented no religious dilemma for Bodek. He simply took Saturdays off.

"Certainly, it’s a matter of pride that you can stick to your principles," he says. For example, he never runs without wearing the garment with fringes — tzitzit — that is required of observant men during daylight hours if they walk more than a distance of about six feet ("daled amos" in Hebrew).

"I asked my rabbi about it years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, because I was trying to get out of it," Bodek admits with a laugh, "but he said yes, I have to wear them. I’m definitely walking more than daled amos."

His concession to practicality is safety-pinning his tzitzis securely to the underside of his shirt "so they don’t shuffle around." And this is not just any shirt; it’s a Superman T with "Martin" pinned above the S symbol. On his head, also securely pinned, is a black velvet yarmulke.

With his "race" thus obvious during the race, Bodek experienced two incidents he found disturbing. One was a "wallop" on the back from a fellow contestant who then yelled "Greetings from Germany" as he passed Bodek wearing what the Jewish runner thought was a "funny look." Then, as he hit mile ‘5.4 at the corner of Central Park West, three kids screamed "Go Superman!" and a beat later one added, "Hey! He’s a [expletive deleted] Jew!"

Bodek — who drank nothing but water during the 30 days prior to the marathon except for grape juice at kiddush — says he is nevertheless proud of running as a Jew and of maintaining a kosher diet during the run.

"Sometimes I have to get picky," he says. "Some people along the route hand out fruit and that’s great, but others hand out candy."

Tempting as that may be, Bodek declines any treat unless he knows it’s certified kosher. This year, a bystander in Williamsburg held out Twizzlers with a sign saying "kosher" in Hebrew. Bodek was happy to take some — in part because it was the first junk food he’d allowed himself in months.

But he also planned in advance. From experience, he knew that the sports drink Gatorade is proffered at every mile, so he arranged for family members to be stationed along the way with a kosher-certified alternative, PowerAde.

"My mom was at mile 4.7, my dad at mile 10, my brother-in-law at mile 17.7, and my wife, Naomi, and our kids at mile ”.5," he recalls with perfect precision. Yet he does not remember which flavor of PowerAde he guzzled.

"The taste of anything doesn’t matter at a marathon," he explains. "If it’s in front of you, you will eat it. You see things only as potential energy."

His mother took her duty a step further, as he reported in a post-race e-mail to friends: "My mom hands me an orange, peeled and wedged, and a sesame bagel with salt on it. She had asked the bagel shop if they had salt bagels. They didn’t. So she asked them to pluck a sesame one from the batch about to go into the oven and dump some salt on it. They obliged. Is that a yiddishe mama or what?"

Post-race, the Bodek family indulged in a meal at midtown’s Kosher Delight. Bodek downed two burgers, onion rings, fries, and a Snapple. "It was my unhealthiest meal in a year!" he exclaims.

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