‘Splitters!’ The saga of the stolen marathon continues

Runners, distance runners especially, are a stiff-necked bunch. You have to be to grind out 30+ kilometers at a time. So it’s not really a surprise that after the petty bureaucrats in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality decided first to delay and then cancel this year’s full marathon, people decided to run anyway.

The first pirate marathon, organized via Facebook, set off at 4am on Friday, March 15 from the original starting point at Charles Clore Park in south Tel Aviv. A group of some 30 runners set off on loop that led up the oceanfront path and through Park HaYarkon, ending back where they started in time to start running again with the second official half-marathon wave for a total marathon distance.

Some of us were more naïve and preferred to wait for the “official” marathon we had trained and planned for over the course of so many months. (For readers unfamiliar with the world of distance running, most marathon training programs run between 18 and 21 weeks. In the US the maximum distance run before the event is 32 kilometers – 20 miles – whereas in Israel, at least some coaches prefer to take their runners up to a distance of 38 kilometers – about 23.5 miles, or 90% of a marathon distance.)

We wanted a properly measured route, water stations, and official timing. I’m sure that at least some of us took comfort in the knowledge that first aid would be available if anyone go into trouble. But it was all for naught. The city caved in the face of media-driven public outcry following the death of a runner in the half marathon on March 15 and decided to cancel the event entirely.

Well, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of isotonic drink! The marathoners weren’t going to take that lying down. Within minutes after the official announcement that the city had once again stolen their race, the original pirates launched plans for an ad-hoc marathon, part II.

It soon became clear that everyone was thinking along the same lines. Another Facebook group, calling itself Plan B, was up and running. To their credit, the pirate marathoners got in touch with one another and decided to join forces. One way or another, a marathon was going to happen this Friday in Tel Aviv. Negotiations about water, first aid, and photography were in full swing.

But Jews, and Israelis in particular, have a remarkable talent for ruining important projects through infighting and backbiting. This afternoon, we received what at first seemed a welcome announcement – a professionally organized marathon was in the works, including logistic support, official timed results, and prizes. However…

Due to the weather, the organizers said, they intended to hold the marathon on Saturday.

For this writer in particular, the news was disappointing. I have no objection to running on Shabbat, but this Saturday I’m flying to the US and have to be at the airport by 7am. However, I am well aware that the running community in Israel includes many people who do keep Shabbat and only participate in events on weekdays or Friday mornings. Why leave them out? Especially this weekend, when 2000 of us have already been left out and left behind by “official entities,” when we most need to band together and show that we won’t let bureaucratic cowardice take away something we trained so long and so hard for, why schedule an event that makes it impossible for some dedicated runners, who would be more than happy to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning on Friday, to take part?

Things might still change, but for now it looks like this weekend will see two hastily organized marathons in Tel Aviv. One on Saturday, with as many bells and whistles as can be thrown together in so short a time. And one on Friday, a true pirate marathon, for those who weren’t allowed to run anywhere else.

About the Author
Noga Martin has worked for The Jerusalem Post,, and Ynetnews and is now an editor at a publishing company. She lives in south Tel Aviv and has been blogging for the Times of Israel on a myriad of topics since July 2012.