I’m finding it very difficult to articulate and illustrate the magic of my trip to Isreal earlier this month. It’s funny how that works out. One thing I can say for sure; Israel has a lot going on, much to see, and too much to learn. It’s nearly impossible to let it all sink in when you are there physically. You can imagine the challenge to trim down stories and pictures so not to overwhelm and dilute the special points, but still capture what matters most. I’m doing my best, and here is the second of three posts to summarize the journey:
- Part I: The People, The Places, The Food
- Part II: 2015 Jerusalem Marathon Race Summary
- Part III: The Non-Political, Non-Religious, Non-Historical Things I Learned
I’ve run 12 marathons in the last 14 years, so some of this was familiar ground. But I can tell you, a few things about this trip were quite literally foreign territory. Prior to this adventure, I’d never:
- Been a part of a press trip (or guided tour for that matter)
- Run a marathon in a foreign country (not to mention one that is literally on the opposite side of the planet)
- Raced in +9 hour timezone battling jet lag (essentially the race was 10pm – 1am PST)
- Not been in control of my daily schedule prior to a race (meal times and sleep)
- Enjoyed unfamiliar food and wine with every meal up until lunch prior to the race
So you can see, this marathon was set to be an adventure for me in more than the traditional sense. I had set out to clearly violate the golden marathon rule of never doing anything new on race day. Oh well, when opportunity strikes — you take it! So let me unfold the events to you as they came to me…we had some pretty cook perks on this trip.
The 2015 Jerusalem Marathon Press Conference
As “members of the press” we were given the inside scoop to cover this event. We weren’t just runners, we were also reporters representing North America. We had press passes – ha! The event kicked off on Thursday with a VIP Press Conference and special briefing from the Mayor, other influential speakers and even some of the elite athletes. The event was hosted at the Mamilla Hotel and opened with an amazing breakfast buffet (that had fresh Apple, Beet, Carrot Juice – ABC, my fav and awesome pre-race fuel!). This was particularly fun because I had the chance to enjoy breakfast with the Brazilian press team this morning.
After breakfast we were escorted to the rooftop terrace where we were seated to hear more exciting details about the race. The mayor is quite the runner himself and incredibly proud of the event. He was also planning to run the half marathon. All speakers made it very clear that the Jerusalem marathon is unique for many reasons, but nothing was as heavily cautioned as the “unique topography” and how “athletically challenging” the course was due to its ridiculously hilly nature.
“The International Jerusalem Marathon is the greatest, most exciting marathon in the country, which over the past five years has become a central destination, among the top marathon locations around the world. This year 26,000 runners from 60 countries had an amazing experience running through the sites of Jerusalem. See you at the sixth International Jerusalem Marathon which will be held on March 18th, 2016
— Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat
After the press conference there was a little meet and greet and this is when we met Mordecai the kind man in charge of all of I Travel Jerusalem’s social media. He himself is a runner and has run the marathon in the past. He gave us a little VIP briefing of the course and the major hills. He said there were 4 to look out for. Humm…I’m pretty sure there were more than 4, something more like 20+.
The 2015 Jerusalem Marathon Expo
After a bus tour of the key points of the marathon course, another gigantic meal, and a segway tour (which it turns out, I hate) we hit the expo. All the unfamiliarity of Israel and Jerusalem washed away the moment we stepped into the expo hall at the ICC (International Convention Center). My friend Sheri had said to be before I left, “running is the same in every language” and she was right. We walked in, got our bibs, race packs and shirts. Meandered around, I bought nothing (like always), took few token pre-race pics with our bibs, grazed the pre-race pasta fest and hit the road.
Final Marathon Preparation Details
I wrapped up Thursday night with a nice view of some peaceful demonstration outside my hotel window, which thankfully kept right on marching and did not disrupt much at all (including my sleep). This was a perk of having a hotel directly across the street from the Prime Minister’s residence.
I had all my race gear laid out and it felt just like any run-of-the-mill race. After all the unfamiliar and non-traditional events that preceded the marathon, this felt like I was right at home. Only a matter of hours would tell if the 5 weeks of training, foreign food, excessive wine, slightly disrupted sleep and ferocious hills would all roll in my favor by the grace of “race day magic.”
Race Morning: Getting to the Start Line
Friday morning I was up at 4:30 like clock work. The race did not start until 7 and we were but a 15 min walk from the start line. We didn’t even need to think about leaving until 6:15. I had a very leisurely morning in my room and was able to chat with Jimmy before he went to bed. I ate my breakfast, chugged my Starbucks, preyed I could go to the bathroom while still at my hotel, checked the weather and the course elevation one more time. Just like any regular marathon morning.
Most of the crew had taken the bus down to the start because the half marathon started a bit earlier than the full. Dax, Adam, Beth and I met in the lobby and walked to the start line together. We ended up with standard half hour or so to take a few final pre-race pics and go! I was so proud to run for Gals Who Run all the way in Jerusalem! The race started promptly at 7:03 and we were off…up a hill. Ha!
My 2015 Jerusalem Marathon Race Plan
I actually felt a little guilty as we toured the city and I found my mind drifting from the guide’s voice and the critical historic details he had to share and I’d find myself thinking “sh#$%*it – it’s not just hilly in Jerusalem, it’s actually just not flat – at all.” And I really started to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake. I had only a short time to train and had done all my long slow running on the Embarcadero in San Diego – flat as a pancake. I actually had to check the race details to see what the course limit was for fear I may not finish at all.
I had no expectations for this race as far as time. In fact, I’d honestly expected it to be my slowest marathon ever. That would make it a 4:45 so I called it “under 5 hours” to be safe. My long easy running (my flat as a pancake, long easy running) had averaged about a 9:35 pace, so I figured that was a safe bet with the hills, picture stops, jet lag, time change, lack of training, etc.
To my joyful surprise, Beth had the exact same plan! What are the chances? I was so relieved because I knew Dax and Adam were both running the full as well. But they are like super fast, ultra/adventure runner dudes and I was afraid I’d be out on the course all afternoon by myself. It was such a comfort to know Beth would be there and our only mission was to finish with a smile. I think this peace of mind really helped fuel a happy race.
My 2015 Jerusalem Marathon Race Experience
Honestly, in no way what-so-ever, could I have asked for more on race day. The weather was perfect. Despite my odd eating and sleeping schedule, my energy was just fine. Despite my lack of hill training, I did not need to walk any of them. And true to form, I picked it up at mile 18 and finished strong with a 12 min negative split on the back half of the course. I am actually shocked it went as well as it did! Specifically, it looked a little like this:
After this, we ran back into the old city and Beth has some great pics and even a video in her race report. However, these are the last pictures from my phone because shortly after, at about mile 16, things changed a bit. This is my “make it or break it” portion of any marathon and when this goes well, it’s when I know I was built to run marathons. There is nothing better than putting the pedal to the metal for the final 10 miles, having energy to burn, picking up the pace and finishing strong. It takes discipline to hold back the first 2/3 of the race, but nothing beats the feeling of a strong finish.
This is also when I started to realize 4:30 was so in the bag and in fact, I was chasing a 4:20. I wasn’t exactly sure how far away I was because I’m really not that good with the KM to mile converter, my watch is in miles, and I had lost my signal under a tunnel earlier. Essentially, the exact distance to the finish was kind of an unknown. It’s funny how you can run for 4 hours, that’s 240 minutes, but an extra 2 at the end can be murderous.
So I kept running and running, smiling, cheering, slapping out high fives and ran until I finally saw a finish line. It was slightly uphill to the finish but the final shoot was long, flat and lined with spectators on both sides. And sure enough, there was my final finish time of 4:20:45. This race wasn’t about the time, so essentially, it’s irrelevant. But I won’t lie, it feels great to be proud of a finish time. This race was run right by all my standards and there is not one thing I wish I could have a do-over on. It was simply perfect.
2015 Jerusalem Marathon Fun Facts and Stats
- Over 26,000 Runners Participated in one of the 7 races that made up the Fifth International Jerusalem Marathon
- 1134 runners are listed in the final results of the marathon, of which only 158 (14%) were women. This means I ended up in an age group bracket that was literally 20-39, ha!
- Over 2500 runners came from 60 countries with the US contributing the largest foreign population (1219).
- Dabi Tadesse Yae, 26 from Ethiopia won the Marathon at a time of 02:18:20. He was followed by Raymond Kimutai Bett, 31 from Kenya who finished at a time of 2:18:27 and John Kipkorir Mutai, 27 from Kenya at 2:18:31 (tight race)!
- Award money was $5000 for first place, $3000 for second and $2000 for third. In this case each of these seconds is worth $273-$285. Talk about perspective.
- Joan Jepchirchir Kijen, 38 from Kenya took first place for the women with a finish time of 2:45:55. Followed by Tigist Worku Neri, 31 from Ethiopia at 2:46:52 and Gelane Bulbula Senbet, 25 from Ethiopia at 2:49:09. It still amazes me that over a minute per mile separates the elite men and women.
- For other great marathon recaps from my traveling buddies, be sure to check out Beth’s from Shut Up + Run, Adam from Run Haven, and Dax from Dirty Running.
Final Thoughts on the 2015 Jerusalem Marathon
It’s a long way to travel, depending on where you live. But the Jerusalem Marathon is most certainly something to consider adding to your proverbial race list. I wouldn’t suggest planning to run a PR, but you can expect a race you will never forget. It’s challenge and rewarding. The city is beautiful and welcoming. The views and hills are both breathtaking.
Of all the money I spent on souvenirs and most favorite possessions I packed for this trip that were tucked away in my checked baggage, I had to put my medal in my carry-on. I simply couldn’t stomach the thought of not bringing it home. It’s not the largest medal and it’s not the fanciest. But it’s one of my most memorable and it means more to me than I can express with words.
Have you run an international marathon? Which race is on your bucket list?