Running the Marathon – Israeli Style

by Brian on March 24, 2010

in Just For Fun,Only in Israel

My wife Jody and I ran the 10K in the Jerusalem Half Marathon last week. I’ve been running 3-4 times a week for over a decade already, but never in a competitive race. We didn’t come in first, but we were satisfied with a respectable time of an hour and six minutes.

We arrived at the athletic stadium at Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus at 9:00 AM, picked up our number plates (see my picture), our plastic shoe dongles (to electronically read our finishing time) and a couple of free granola bars, before sitting back to survey the scene.

There must have been close to 3,000 participants for both the 10K and the full half marathon (26 kilometers). Some were practicing loops around the track, others milling around in their spandex shorts and tops. There was a preponderance of good looks and buffed bodies.

I imagine this must be what the pre-race environment looks like at any competition around the world. But there were a few uniquely Israeli elements, too.

The first was a group of runners for charity, raising money for Shalva, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel. The fundraisers, decked out in white t-shirts with the Shalva insignia, were surrounded by kids from the program, some of whom played percussion in a small band crooning Israeli pop songs.

Music was another reminder of where we were. It seems that every event or ceremony in Israel is infused by Shlomo Artzi classics. At our son’s swearing in ceremony for the army last year, it was “Uf Gozal” – “Fly Little One” (see my post here). Today, “Kmo Az (“Like Then” – lyrics here).

Then there were the soldiers: hundreds of them, many decked out in full uniform which they peeled off prior to running, laying their rifles carefully next to their kitbags on the bleachers.

At just before 10:00 AM, we lined up at the starting line, adrenaline pumping. I had been warned not to run too fast at the start, despite the excitement of the crowd. Jody and I were about two-thirds of the way back and, when the countdown reached one, we were quickly overtaken by speedier competitors from behind.

I kept to the recommendation though, gliding down the hill towards Nayot without overexerting myself. As the route neared the Gan Sacher park, I heard a loud whooping noise coming from behind me. A sea of red was approaching.

It was a group of hundreds of army paratroopers running, playing, kibitzing. They had bottles of water, which they rained on their compatriots. I had no choice but to stand aside and let them pass. As they did, I saw the words on the backs of their t’s – “Achrei” – “Follow Me.”

At about the halfway mark I decided this slow and steady approach was not serving me well. Jody was already way ahead. We were headed up a hill from the park to the Israel Museum. I do particularly well on hills. I ratcheted up my speed and started passing runners who were temporarily walking as they trudged along. It felt good.

Before long, I could see Jody up ahead. I ran faster, reaching her, giving her a grin before sprinting forward. But my energy wasn’t endless, and we eventually ran side-by-side, actually holding hands as we crossed the finish line some 20 minutes later.

Sweat dripping on this warm spring morning, we felt a profound sense of accomplishment as we picked up our complementary popsicles and commemorative medals. Nearby, the parachutists were on the ground, doing push ups, still whooping and having a grand time.

For me, the marathon has a special significance. A year ago, I was in California for my father’s funeral while the race was taking place back home. He had died very quickly after being diagnosed with lymphoma less than three weeks earlier. I had still been training for the race only days before I hopped on the plane.

My father had polio as a child and was confined to a wheelchair in his later years. As I ran the 10K, I imagined he would have been proud of me for taking on such a challenge. It was nevertheless a bittersweet triumph, a sad reminder of a painful milestone.

Will we be back at the Jerusalem marathon next year? We certainly hope so. Or maybe even before that. The Tel Aviv Marathon is coming up May 14. See you there?

(I posted about the marathon first last week on the Israelity blog.)

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