When Shakespeare penned the lines “Bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible” centuries ago, he most likely did not have in mind a middle-aged mother of five children running marathons across the tumultuous country of Israel. To be clear, I am not using the word “marathon” interchangeably with any distance ranging from 1km to over 100km, but as the first definition in the dictionary and its foot-hold in an ancient Greek run from Marathon to Athens, to describe a race measuring about 42.2 km.
Looking back over this past year beginning in Tishrei, I can count the ways in which I have connected and affirmed my relationship to this small piece of land through long distance running, step by running step, from the Golan Heights in the North to Mitzpe Rimon in the South. Like many others, I feel bidden to run. But what exactly determines that line between “im” and “possible”? I can relate to John Hanc’s answer: “I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement; it’s a state of mind, a state of mind that says anything is possible.”
Let me share with you what I am learning about myself and my beautiful country from these experiences of possibilities.
I began the Jewish year with the appropriately named “Tanach (Bible) Marathon”. During one morning of Chol HaMoed Sukkot just before sunrise, I passed the starting line in Rosh HaAyin and ran eastward, finishing about four hours later in Ancient Shiloh, in the heart of the Shomron, with a total elevation gain of over 1000 meters. I tried to be mindful of the magnificent scenery and historical significance along the way, especially during those time-to-slow-down, up-the-endless-hill moments, of which there were more than a handful.
The following description of this unique race is found on the official site, where you can already register for the October, 2017 ancient running challenge: http://www.biblemarathon.co.il/en/
“Then a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line the same day, and came to Shiloh with his clothes torn…” One of the first runs recorded in human history—long before the “marathon” told of in Greek mythology—is mentioned in the Bible, in the beginning of the book of Samuel. At the end of the war between the Israelites and the Philistines, the “man of Benjamin” runs from the battlefield at Eben Ezer (modern day Rosh Ha’ayin) to Shiloh, city of the Tabernacle. Many centuries later, the founder of the Maccabiah games, Yosef Yekutieli, set out to measure the length of the course from Rosh Ha’ayin to Shiloh, in the Benjamin region. He was amazed to find that the length of this historic path precisely matched that of the modern marathon – 42 kilometers.
Less than three months later, I had the chance to run along the scenic southern shore of the Kinneret in the 40th Sea of Galilee–Tiberias International Winner Marathon. You, too can participate in the 41st Tiberias marathon on January 5, 2018 by registering here: http://www.tiberiasmarathon.com.
My primary motive for running this particular marathon was to encourage a friend to finish her first marathon – not just to check off another item from her bucket list, but to separate the “im” from “possible”. We trained together as part of a supportive local running group – hours upon hours of trail and road running through the Gush Etzion and Beit Shemesh areas, peppered with strides and tempo runs. We learned some simple Arabic to greet the local Arab farmers tending to their vineyards. They always returned our greetings.
Early January 2017 was a most beautiful time for that long run. We noted the white-capped waves of the Kinneret beneath the white-capped top of snowy Mount Hermon in the distance, bordered by lush green foothills and fields. Gale winds threatened to push us towards the sea, but we kept to our pace and route. We reached our goal of finishing a bit over four hours, high on runner’s achievement, because as famous marathoner, Hal Higdon says: “You succeed in any marathon you finish.”
Between Purim and Pesach, I stepped up to the starting line with over a thousand other excited runners in the incomparable Jerusalem Marathon, escorted by spirit and live music on the side lines. Proudly wearing my Tzevet Daniel shirt, a charity memorializing a fallen soldier and son of a neighbor, instilled me with even more incentive to run strong as I finished 3:37, my personal best. I came against more than one wall, but kept going after convincing myself that all the walls were in my mind. When my legs and motivation begin to wither after the 30km mark, I reminded myself that the journey was at least as important as crossing the finish line, mindful of my breathing and how every step connected me to our Holy city. All those cheers along the way fueled me as much as those caramel-flavored energy gels.
This coming year you can sign up here — https://jerusalem-marathon.com/default.aspx — for a variety of distances, including the full Jerusalem marathon, which will be held March 9, 2018.
After finishing my third marathon in five months, I kept on running, connecting to this Jesse Owen running quote: “I always loved running; it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”
I went seeking out new sites, this time even more north than Tiberias…
My next race brought me to the volcanic bloc in the Golan Heights for the aptly named Volcano Run, about a week after Pesach. While “only” 30km, the challenge was in running up and down five (dormant) volcanos, such as Tel Yosipon, Har Avital, and Har Bental. Trails winding through countryside covered in deep green and colorful flowers connected each of these towering volcanic remnants. As I crested the peak of the taller ones, I breathed in the spectacular view of Syria, the Kuneitra Valley, the Hermon and Golan slopes, then turned to admire the view on the other side of the Galilee and the western Golan Heights. Beyond the scenery and new areas of Israel on which to tread, this race marked the 50th (jubilee) year that the Golan Heights was liberated by Israel, along with Gush Etzion and half of Jerusalem during the ’67 war. I flowed over layers of frozen lava, feeling grateful to the dedicated soldiers whose continual service allows us to freely move and run around the Golan Heights and appreciate all of its beauty. The trophy I won at the end was just the means to such an incredible running journey. One of my own soldier sons met me by the finish and drove us home in time for Shabbat.
Then it was time to seek out another new site, another unexplored area of Israel to race, to experience. I headed south and chose a unique summer race between Beer Sheva and Eilat – the 21km desert (almost) full moon night run on the outskirts of Mitzpe Ramon. Navigating among trails etched into the stark beauty of a desert landscape felt new and exciting! The hazy, dreamlike quality of the moonlit sand dunes was caused not by dust but by the mist from the cooling air. While I was hoping to match my sesquipedalian introspection with my stride (I like the sound of that word – sesquipedalian – and this seemed a fitting place to slide it in), I chose to be cautious with my footing on the hills after a close call with a twisted ankle. I did lengthen my stride at the end for a top-three (women) finish. As a bonus, my younger daughter joined me in the traveling, adding to the adventure of the road trip there and back again.
I am now training for my last race of the year: another half-marathon (21km) in the southeastern part of Israel: from Arad to Masada. We start at 2:00am on a Friday morning to reach the edge of Masada before sunrise, the edge of a glory you can only see overlooking the Dead Sea.
There is still time to register for this year’s Arad-Masada Run on September 8th at http://www.aradmasadarun.co.il/
I was recently asked if running, for me, is all about the winning. My initial reaction was to feel defensive, glossing over my boxes of medals and shelves of trophies. The metal is not the goal, but a means to motivate my journey through such diverse running experiences. But then I lengthened my introspection on what winning means to me, added that sesquipedalian element, and soon I crested the hill and realized that I feel most like a winner whenever I silence that internal voice that tells me I am merely a grasshopper in a land of giants, that the forces of difficult weather, limited time, aches and pains are more powerful than my goal of starting and finishing a marathon anywhere in Israel.
We are all winners whenever we choose to ignore the snooze button, leave our warm snuggly beds – especially on cold mornings – lace our shoes and head out, one foot in front of the other, because running takes us where we want to go – anywhere in our glorious land.
King David understood the importance of running when he wrote: “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.”(Psalm 119:32)
I belong to the camp that believes there are many levels involved in the individual’s part of the commandment of settling Eretz Yisrael. Unlike most other mitzvot, the fulfillment of settling our land doesn’t involve the performance of any specific act, such as guarding one’s tongue, giving tzedakah or keeping Kashrut. Just day to day Jewish living. So, why not running? Let my sneakered feet and enlarged heart soar over any wall of impossibility and take me to places in Israel where those past desert “Spies” have refused to go. The higher, longer, more challenging the hill, the more my heart enlarges. The literal and metaphor cleave to each heartbeat.
Bid me run and I will live the dream of settling my land.