Culture, Global, Religion

Matzah marathon

This year’s Boston Marathon, traditionally held on Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April), will be on the second day of Pesach. The Associated Press reports on Rabbi Jonah Pesner and other Pesach-observant marathon runners, and how they are reconciling the Pesach diet and the marathon diet.

Passover begins just two days before the April 21 marathon, and the holiday’s strict dietary rules mean Jewish runners can’t eat bread and pasta, the normal staples in the days before the big race.
Besides matzoh, which is unleavened bread, Pesner plans to pound down foods such as potatoes during a rare “carb-load seder” the night before the race.
Pesner never considered breaking the dietary rules for the sake of the race, which he is running with his wife for an autism charity.
“For me, running the marathon is a very spiritual quest,” he said.

Since I have a one-track mind, I immediately fixated on how the article handles the one-day vs. two-day yom tov issue. The AP has a chronic problem of placing different forms of Jewish practice on a hierarchy of “levels of observance”. And in this case, it not only violates journalistic objectivity as usual, but is also ignorant. They treat one day of yom tov as if it’s a leniency allowed by that lax permissive Reform movement, and apparently have no idea that every black-hat Jew in Benei Berak (whom I assume they would think of as having a high “level of observance”) observes one day of yom tov.
For someone (Reform, Religious Zionist, Neturei Karta, whatever) who observes one day of yom tov, one day of yom tov isn’t a leniency (such that a “more observant” person would observe two); it’s just the way the holiday is. In this worldview, the second day of Pesach is chol hamo’eid, period. And running a marathon on chol hamo’eid is itself no more problematic than going to Great Adventure. So I think the yom tov issue is a red herring. (And as for the Conservative rabbi who said 1 day was ok, there is in fact a little-known Conservative teshuva saying that individual rabbis can choose 1 or 2 days for their congregations, so this rabbi was exercising his/her prerogative.)
Still, it’s an interesting read for all the food questions. Do we have any Boston Marathon runners out there who are grappling with these issues? How are you preparing for the marathon?
I am reminded of two personal stories about athletic events during Pesach:
1) One time during college, I was at a very serious student group meeting where people were attempting the Saltine Challenge: eat 6 saltines in 60 seconds. (Try it – it’s harder than it sounds.) Since I wasn’t eating saltines that week, I broke 6 saltine-sized pieces of matzah to use as a substitute. I gave up after about 20 seconds — it was just impossible.
2) A few years ago, the New York City Five Boro Bike Tour was on the 22nd of Nisan (the day that some people know as the 8th day of Pesach). That wasn’t an issue for me, so I participated fully in the bike ride, having been fully leavened since the night before. When I got to the very last borough, if I recall correctly, Hazon had a table set up with matzah and other Pesach food for anyone who wanted. (And don’t be shocked. There are probably millions of American Jews who observe 8 days of Pesach in regard to food restrictions, and don’t treat the 7th and 8th days as different from the 5th and 6th days. So Hazon was operating within reality.) So this Boston marathon story certainly isn’t unprecedented.

3 thoughts on “Matzah marathon

  1. A good friend of mine ran the Boston marathon during chol hamoed (for everyone) two years ago. I remember her saying that there were stations of KfP snacks or drinks set up along the race at some point or another.

  2. A friend of mine who has done such things during pesach makes her own kosher l’pesach powerbars mostly out of dates, nuts, and honey.

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