Monday, April 25, 2011

Race: Jerusalem Marathon
Date: Friday, March 25, 2010
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Division: 45-49 yo
Time: 5:38 - PR!

Race Report:

Pre-Race: There is so much I can talk about in my "pre-race" notes. Everything from the bus delay going from DC to NYC, the security "escort" from the terminal to the gate with El Al employees, the "back story" with the ladies I traveled with, meeting the Mayor of Jerusalem, being interviewed by both TV and newspaper, etc. But, I'll be as brief as I can!

I arrived in Israel three days before the race and hoped to have plenty of time to recover from jet lag. Thankfully it worked otherwise my body would have felt as if the marathon start time was 1 AM! On the other hand, this being my first time to Israel and only having five days total to see the country, I spent a lot of time on my feet for days before the race doing tourist stuff. I can definitely say I was not well rested for the race.

Upon arriving to Tel Aviv, my friend Anna and I found out about a bombing that occurred in Jerusalem only an hour or so before we landed. She, of course, didn't tell me about the bombing until we were on our way to Jerusalem. I don't know if she thought I might turn around and get a flight out back to the USA or what. Thankfully I didn't let the bombing stop me from running the race and thankfully the race director and the Mayor of Jerusalem felt the same way!

This race was only the second time I had raced for charity (first was the Marine Corps Marathon for Jill's House) and this time I was racing for Shalva - The Association of Physically and Mentally Challenged Children in Israel. It was fabulous to meet some of my teammates, Shalva children and the founder of Shalva the night before the race. It was a boost of emotional energy that would help sustain me throughout the race. 

The Start Line:

Initial reports were that 10,000 people were registered for this race. But, what I came to learn was those 10,000 people were not just marathon runners but also half marathon, 10K, and 4.2K. So, when I got to the start line I could actually SEE the start line! Apparently there were only about 500 people running the first EVER Jerusalem marathon. What a privilege to be one of those 500 people!

The picture below was taken about 15 minutes before the race began!

The Race:
This is only the fifth marathon I've run (and 3 of those were MCM) so I can't compare it much to other marathons. But, talking with other racers they all agreed this is one of the most scenic races they have ever run. You begin the race right by the Israeli Parliament (The Kneset) and around the 10k mark you get to run THROUGH the Old City of Jerusalem. This was such a special part of the race and, of course, lots of crowd support. This was also the site of what I knew would be many hills to come...although I didn't think they could get much worse. I.WAS.WRONG!

 In front of the Old City of Jerusalem 

Going up the hill into the Old City of Jerusalem

Running through the Old City of Jerusalem

Coming out of the Old City we had a slight downhill...very slight. At this point I started to become somewhat distracted by a lady who was racing/talking to me and I missed some of the beauty of the race thanks to her. She was one of those runners whose arm bumps into you every five seconds and who pees in public every mile or so. Unfortunately, I'm not a very fast runner. So, even though I tried to "run away" from her several times she still caught up to me! I finally "ditched" her in the last 10 miles of the race...I did NOT want to cross the finish line with her. I mean, when the Israeli Police tell you (not once...not twice...but SEVERAL TIMES) not to pee in public...YOU LISTEN!! I was afraid this woman was well on her way to jail! And, let me tell you...little small "new" trees in the middle of a median with runners on BOTH sides of the road won't hide even the smallest of people. "Discreet" was not a word in this woman's dictionary!

When I finally ditched "Ms. Peebody" we had just passed the finish line of the half marathon. The course was kinda odd at this point because we had to run behind the crowd that was cheering on the half finishers. They barely even recognized we were there...and we still had about 10 miles to go! Anyway, we made a right turn and started going up this hill below. The picture doesn't show just how steep the hill was but it was a hill I ended up turning around and walking backwards to get up! When I turned around I noticed this couple in the picture. On the right was a lady I ended up finishing the race with - Lisa Jackson - a journalist from London. By the time the race was over, Lisa and I had become good friends and she invited me to visit her in London to race the Loc Ness marathon (because getting in the London marathon is about as crazy as NY and Loc Ness is apparently way more scenic). The guy on the left wasn't familiar to me at the time. I mean, who thinks you'll be running next to someone "famous" during a marathon. What I learned was the gentleman I ran with was Bart Yasso - Editor at Large for "Runner's World" magazine. I mean, how cool is that? 

The weather had been nice for most of our race but it was also a pretty overcast day. I wish it had been a little clearer (or that I could have run with my 35 mm camera) so I could show you some amazing shots of the race course and Israel. The one below is a picture of me at the top of Mount Scopus. On a clear day you can actually see the Dead Sea from this location. Mount Scopus is where Hebrew University is located and was the highest elevation of the race. The hill to get there wasn't too steep - just a long steady climb.

From Mount Scopus, we had about 7 miles left in the race. We kept thinking we had seen the last of the hills. Surely there couldn't be MORE...we were wrong. Below is a picture of one of the last big hills we had to climb.

Finally, when the finish line was near I thought I would go all out and do a little sprint at the end. I mean, at least it was level ground! But, the day before the race it had rained considerably and the ground was VERY muddy. They laid some sort of AstroTurf type of material over the mud but all that did was keep you from getting dirty. It was one lump after another and there was no way to get your footing to actually get a sprint finish! Oh well, I did what I could and Lisa said I was just flying to the finish line. In my opinion I was running as fast I could as to not get injured in the last yards of the race! I could have very easily twisted my ankle on that stuff.


I finished the race in 5:38. I was pretty sure that wasn't a PR but I couldn't remember my other race finish times. Besides, I wasn't out to get a PR at this race. I knew the hills would kill me, I knew the jet lag might be an issue and I knew I would be stopping to take pictures all along the race course. So, I wasn't too concerned about the time. After I got home I realized that I DID have a PR - by about 5 minutes. What made it even more special was that the winner of the marathon (and just about everyone I talked to after the race) finished about 1/2 hour slower than their typical race pace. So, if I count that half hour plus all the time I stopped to take pictures I could have had a sub 5:00 marathon! Wow, what training does for a body! My first marathon time (including vomiting 9 times on the race course) was 6:13! Now you know what I've got to do, right? another marathon!

The Jerusalem Marathon is not the most organized race in the world and there isn't a lot of crowd support for the full. However, given this is the first time they have hosted a marathon I feel things will change. If you want to run a beautiful, challenging course then this is the marathon for you!

Lessons Learned:
  • There is no way you can ever properly train for a marathon in Jerusalem on the "hills" of Virginia.
  • If you are going to leave the country to race, plan for more than a 5-day stay!
  • If someone is bothering you early in the race...find a way, at all costs, to ditch them!

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