I have finally arrived home after being out on the streets of Jerusalem in the freezing cold for the last five hours: wallowing in mud at Saker Park and destroying my bright white running shoes, fighting the crowds and braving the extreme weather conditions. Why do we runners do this to ourselves, you may ask? It’s very simple: we’re all crazy! The close second explanation is that it is so damn exciting to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon.
This is my third year running in the Jerusalem Marathon and my second year running for Team Shalva. I was reviewing these details in my mind while basking in the camaraderie of the post-race Shalva victory party. I looked around at all of the tired but happy faces that surrounded me. These runners, many of them tired and limping, had big smiles on their faces — as if they had just won the lottery. The tiredness wasn’t “I can’t move off the couch” exhaustion or “I had a hard day at work” fatigue; it was the look of people who had been outdoors, faced the elements, challenged their bodies and their souls and did what we were created to do: pure unrestrained physical activity.
It felt odd for me to wake up slowly and leisurely Friday morning despite the fact that I knew I was supposed to be running a 10K run. The memory of last year’s run was anything but leisurely. If I remember correctly, the Blackberry system in Israel screwed up and instituted daylight savings time a week early. That meant that many Blackberry owners were woken up an hour early by their phone alarms. That was nothing compared to the big mess that occurred last year when they misled the full-marathon runners to the finish line of the 10K route and thus caused a huge organizational mess and an ongoing debate of who the true winner was. This resulted in the marathon organizers reassessing the different start times, slightly altering the full- and half-marathon routes and spacing everyone out according to their speed in order to ensure that previous errors would not be repeated. For me this basically meant I didn’t need to arrive at the starting line until 10:15 a.m., which really is a leisurely starting time according to anyone’s standards, for a professional run.
I dressed in layers, following the fabulous advice I gave in my last blog post, knowing that the weather was bad and wouldn’t be getting any better as the day progressed. I took my nephew, who would be running in the 4.2K community run, and away we went by foot to the marathon grounds. We arrived around 9:00 a.m. just in time to hear the announcer inform us that the first runners from the full marathon were approaching the finish line. Let me just clarify that these people were running 42K in 2:19 hours, so “close” to the finish line meant that they were at the other end of the city! I watched them on the big screen as they ran; their legs looked like egg beaters, never slowing or changing pace for one second.
In the meanwhile, I took the opportunity to chat with someone in a senior position at the Sports Department in the Jerusalem Municipality. He explained to me that Jerusalem pays for these runners to come and to participate. He reminded me that the first prize is $10,000, second and third are $5000. One thing I didn’t know was that if someone breaks the outstanding record of the Jerusalem Marathon, even if they aren’t first, second or third, they are also entitled to another $5000. Although I felt so happy for the first six finishers who broke last year’s record, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pain for the runner who came in seventh, a few seconds above the record time. He received nothing except a gold cape to keep him warm.
I heard the loudspeaker calling all of the remaining 10K runners, and so I headed to the start line to find a good place to stand. The warmth from the bodies of everyone in the tightly packed crowd helped keep our temperatures up until the race started. The route for the 10K was the same as last year, a definite challenge considering the many uphill stretches, the cobbled roads of the Old City and the steep declines that in good weather are difficult but in rainy wet weather caused many people to slip and fall.
As usual, I ran with my best running pals: enthusiasm and music. I wouldn’t let anything get me down, despite losing an earphone foam piece, not getting water at the first check point and just facing the crazy weather conditions. Even when we hit Liberty Bell Park and it started to hail I put my arms out, palms facing upwards like I was asking for alms, and I started to laugh! Crazy? Maybe. It’s just that the humor of seeing the runners battling uphill for those two kilometers, facing the hail, strong winds and bitter cold just made me realize that we are so damn lucky. I don’t know why, we just are.
We crossed over the finish line with an announcer saying each of our names as if it even mattered to anyone except us. I made it in 59 minutes, not my best time considering that I completed the same route in less time last year. We went to collect our water, medallions and some fruit, but most of all we felt a sense of accomplishment.
I know I will run again next year, all being well, and I hope that the overall participation rate will not decrease even though the Tel Aviv Marathon is planned for the same day as the Jerusalem one next year.
One final marathon observation, if I may, before I let you go: Considering the fact that in almost every sector of society most men walk around with pot-bellies, isn’t it an amazing phenomenon to be in a group of 10,000 people, a large percentage of it male, where most of them don’t have one? I leave you with that thought as I go to take a hot bath and rest.