Run, Peretz, run!
That might be one of the chants heard at the upcoming San Francisco Marathon, when Rabbi Peretz Mochkin swaps his black coat — but not his tallit and tzitzit — for running gear and attempts to conquer the 13.1-mile half-marathon course.
Mochkin, 29, has been training for six months, and while that amounts to a good chunk of time and a lot of hard work, he knew trying to run the full 26.2-mile course on Sunday, July 31 might knock him off his Nikes.
“I never ran a [half] marathon before,” said the rabbi, who together with his wife, Miryum, runs Friendship Circle S.F. “For me it’s a huge achievement. It’s a great step [for Friendship Circle]. Families will show up to cheer me on.”
Friendship Circle is a Chabad-sponsored national organization that pairs Jewish teen volunteers with Jewish children with special needs. The aim is to cultivate friendships and give children who are challenged a leg up. In addition to the Mochkins’ program, Rabbi Ezzy Schusterman and his wife, Nechama, operate a Friendship Circle in Palo Alto.
Mochkin is asking the community to help him raise money by pledging online at www.crowdrise.com/teamfriendship.
“Friendship Circle is about teens giving of their time beyond themselves,” Mochkin said. “I thought the marathon was a perfect parallel. It turns out there are thousands doing it. It became a platform of what charities are all about.”
Fundraising is the goal, but Mochkin does have to cross the finish line.
He hadn’t run in many years, but got the idea to enter the marathon a few months ago when he attended a lecture given by Tim Borland, who ran 63 marathons in 63 days in 2007.
“We didn’t see this as a great way to raise awareness,” he recalled. “I was out of shape. But at that [lecture] he was very encouraging.”
Once he decided to train, he needed a trainer. Many people offered him advice, but Mochkin said the people he trusted most were “slightly overweight men. That was closer to what I need. I found a lot of inspiration for closet runners.”
He started out with 20-minute runs, then 30 minutes until he could make five miles at a clip. He ran the recent 7.46-mile Bay to Breakers as a serious race warm-up.
His longest stretch so far: eight miles. Which is still five miles shy of the half-marathon distance.
“I feel mentally as good as I’ve ever felt,” he said of the mind-body-spirit connection. “I started swimming in the bay. Every time I say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ”
Of course, he knows why.
The San Francisco Marathon has become a high-profile platform for charity fundraising. Runners this year will raise money for the Nature Conservancy, the American Red Cross and the American Institute for Cancer, among others. San Francisco organizers say their marathon is the nation’s 13th largest, having pumped more than $42 million into the city’s economy last year.
Friendship Circle fans will have a cheer station at which to spur Mochkin on. It will be located at 10th Avenue and JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park during Mochkin’s race, which starts at about 8:30 a.m. at Spreckels Lake in the park. His route will cover the second half of the marathon course, passing through Haight-Ashbury, the Mission District and Mission Bay before finishing near the Ferry Building.
The Mochkins moved to San Francisco in 2007, and are now in their fourth year operating Friendship Circle S.F. They are in that enterprise for the long haul.
But will there be any wind sprints in Mochkin’s future after this race?
“So far the support of the community has been amazing,” he says. “There’s so much good energy, it’s hard to think about stopping.”