Although he has run more than 70 marathons, including the famous ones in Boston and New York, Steve Polansky never looks back — except, of course, when he is at the starting line of the California International Marathon, which begins on an uphill slope.
“I like to line up and look back at the field,” says the 72-year-old resident of suburban Sacramento. “I can see thousands of runners behind me. It’s awe inspiring and takes my breath away.”
The CIM, an annual race from Folsom to Sacramento, is one marathon that Polansky knows very well, having run it for 35 straight years. In fact, the past president of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento is one of only 12 runners who have participated in every CIM since it began in 1983.
“I signed up and loved the course so much that I contacted [the Sacramento Running Association],” recalls Polansky, a New York native and a retired obstetrician-gynecologist. In turn, he immediately was asked by the association, “Can you be a member of the board?”
It was a response that definitely hit home for the regular synagogue-goer.
“How often in Jewish life do you become president of [a committee or a project] just because you showed an interest?” he says.
This year’s California International Marathon is scheduled to start promptly at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2, with the fastest runners finishing the 26.2-mile course about 135 minutes later — or about seven hours before the first night of Hanukkah begins.
“It would be a Hanukkah miracle if I did hit a certain time,” says Polansky, who last year finished in 5 hours, 41 minutes, about 3½ hours behind the fastest finishers. “I have been known to say a Shehechiyanu [prayer of thanks] at the starting line,” he adds.
It would be a Hanukkah miracle if I did hit a certain time.
When the CIM premiered 36 years ago, 1,600 runners participated (and Polansky finished in 3 hours, 16 minutes). The course from Folsom Dam to the state Capitol has remained unchanged since 1983, and this year, with some 13,000 people signed up, the CIM has become the 10th largest marathon in the country, Polansky says. Its top finishers qualify for the Boston Marathon and the U.S. Olympic trials.
For Polansky, however, a bigger source of pride is that the Sacramento Running Association partners with UC Davis Children’s Hospital to produce a friendly competition for kids who are facing cancer, neurological disorders and other debilitating illnesses.
“One or two days before the marathon, we have a mini-marathon in the hallways of the hospital and give out medals,” Polansky explains.
His running tzedakah includes other causes, too, as he has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Polansky says he fell in love with running when he was in high school, then began taking it seriously after finishing his residency in Rochester, New York, and joining the Air Force.
These days, Polansky, who lives in Carmichael, remains involved with his synagogue, serving as co-chair of Mosaic Law’s life and legacy committee.
The former chief of staff at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento generally runs along the American River bike trail in the mornings, averaging 25 miles a week — and 40 per week in the three months leading up to the CIM.
On Dec. 2, chances are he won’t break the course record in the men’s 70-74-year-old division, but he just might set a new mark for former synagogue presidents. We’ll have to check the record book on that one.