Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My 23rd Marathon Run – this Year in Jerusalem!

My 23rd Marathon Run – this Year in Jerusalem!
Martin Bodek
My running of the 5th edition of the Jerusalem Marathon was filled with the expected (1,970 feet of elevation, gosh!; amazing views; the thrill of running up to Jaffa Gate), and the unexpected (Israelis don’t hold up motivational signs; the dearth of women; post-race conveniences), but was also so easygoing, so relaxed, so quiet and calm, that the pre- and post-race narrative might be more entertaining than the actual race itself. Start reading from any section you prefer and feel free to judge for yourself. If you want to only read about the run itself, start with the section entitled “Showtime.” Please note that there will be two references to a certain son of God. If this offends you in any way, you may exit here.

How I Came to be There

I remember, five years ago, when the inaugural Jerusalem Marathon was first announced. At that point in my running life, my annual marathoning adventure was limited to one per year (with my wife’s accommodations and grace, I have graduated to two per year, plus an ultra of my making), and I really wanted to run this one. I honestly thought I’d have to wait till we had an empty nest to even entertain the possibility of making a 6,000-mile trip just so I could run 26.2 miles – or in this case, 42.2 kilometers. I didn’t voice my desire to participate in the new race, but kept it to myself, and dreamed about one day joining.

Enter Reb Chayim

Reb Chayim of Yerushalayim developed a very close relationship with my wife, and I grew to trust him with all my heart (if you know me on a personal level, you know that’s not quite that easy for members of the clergy to achieve). One of his gifts was to serve as a walking, talking Make-A-Wish foundation. One day he asked me what I wanted. I said my life is filled with blessings. I need nothing but what I have, though – and this is not news to anybody – I would love to make a living as a writer, and it is a dream of mine to run the Jerusalem Marathon, but it is cost prohibitive.

He did what he could to make both things happen for me. There were varying degrees of success, but there was no lack of trying on his part.

Then he died.

It was an awful day, and an awful time.

Out of the ashes of his loss, something grew. Another person who was close to him decided to put a team together, to run the Jerusalem Marathon - and its attendant smaller races - in his memory, and to fundraise for the family he left behind. We had to partake. What was an empty-nest pipedream suddenly was invested with the urgency of now. I was tapped to be the official coach of Team L’chaim L’Chayim Running on Love in the Jerusalem Marathon. I started training, my wife started on the Couch-to-5k program, and we booked the tickets. We were going to Israel.


My training was intense, the most intense of my running career. I logged the most miles ever in preparation for a single race. I ran my miliest December, January, and February ever. I logged my miliest month ever. I piled all this up by a) fully participating in the training program I had preached to the team, plus b) participating in a 2,015 in 2015 mileage challenge with a teammate, providing me with high motivation, plus c) partaking in a Streakers Challenge staged by my JRunners club (I ran for 62 straight days, smashing my old record by ohhhhh, 56?). With all that in place, the miles built up fast.

I also tackled hills, both in reality, and on the treadmill, which I pointed upwards and kept going in that direction for miles on end. By the time I came to taper (which is when my 62-day streak stopped), I had put myself in the best possible position for success.


In the days leading up to the marathon, I continued making good decisions. First, I tapered properly. Second, I allowed my diet to relax a little bit, so I could build reserves for race day (I had lost 10 lbs, largely due to all my running, but I was allowed liberties at this point). Third, during my taper runs in Israel, I wore warmer clothing than usual so I could acclimate to the warmer temperature. Fourth, I made a key decision during the marathon expo: a water bottle vest purchase, which proved to be a life-saver for me (I cannot drink Israel’s mineral water, which is also the only kind that’s sold in bottles) because it fit perfectly, was comfortable, and could hold everything I needed. Fifth, we slept in the day before (my wife didn’t stir me, figuring I needed the rest, and knowing I would have had trouble sleeping the night before a big race; perfect thinking), saving up lots of energy. Sixth, I had a perfect pre-race dinner of excellent fish, rice, and potatoes. Seventh, and last but not least, I found a nice, inexpensive hotel within walking distance of start and finish.

Race Morning

I woke up at 4 AM in a well-rested, well-nourished, well-hydrated, positive-energied, good-feelinged, fit-as-a-fiddle state of body and mind. During my morning prayers, I thanked the Good Lord for all this, and requested more (the legacy teaching of Reb Chayim). Indeed, I got more. After eating lightly, animating our golems, packing up, checking out, and loading the car with our luggage, we headed out for a leisurely stroll to Sacher Park, sipping on spring water bottles from the U.S. and A.

We then saw two hilarious sights, which then commingled hilariously.

First, we saw a delivery guy – with his car loaded up with food – desperately try to navigate around the cordoning-off ropes (do they not have sawhorses in Israel?), only to run into one volunteer/security guard/mishtara or another at every turn, his arguments falling on deaf ears.

Next, we saw a drunkard lollygagging all over the street, which is always a funny sight, but we nevertheless crossed the street, to leave him to his own devices.

Then, the delivery guy – following multiple frustrations – pulls over to the curb to bemoan his fate, and yell at random people about his plight. Meanwhile, the drunk discovers what he thinks is a car service, and begins yanking on the passenger door handle, trying to get in. The driver realizes the drunk’s faux pas, and peels off to the left. Newton’s Third Law comes into play, and the tipsy fellow stumbles off to the right. The driver then finally succeeds in convincing a volunteer to let him through. A chink in the armor.

My wife and I continued on the way, converging with the divergent masses on the sun-dappled park. Our spirits and moods were high, as evidenced by the photo we had taken of us in the meadow that, in my humble opinion, shows us at our best photogenic selves.

I then broke a rule. The Bodeks, for several good reasons, generally do not engage in social media while on vacation. We save it for afterwards. We agreed to make an exception to post this: “I am here. I am ready to start the Jerusalem Marathon. I dreamed it and it came true - but then again, I willed it, so it was no dream.” I got exactly 56 bajillion likes.

We navigated easily to the start - pit-stopping at a short bathroom line, and bumping into Yehoshua, a fellow Facebook running acquaintance whom (did I use that right?) I had hoped I could bump into during my stay - and after parting with my wife and wishing her luck in her race, I was in the starting corral with 10 minutes to go to:


I set the game plan: I was going to run relaxed, not going for any PR whatsoever; I was going to walk the nose-to-concrete sections (a handy phrase a friend recently introduced me to); I was going to take my time and enjoy myself, allowing time to gather it all in, take pics, selfies, vids, and time to appreciate that I was here; I was going to maintain the tried-and-true hydration and nourishment program that’s worked for me over the years; I was going to perform my necessary human functions in appropriate and designates place only (even as far as expectoration [a common runner experience] goes, there was just no way I was going to do that on the ground of the Holy City); I was going to be in communication with my wife; I was going to high-five every hand of every child that was held out to me. In summary, I was going to take it easy, but I was going to be focused.

Before we begin, let me tell you how I was dressed up, so you have the proper image of your humble narrator as I tackle the streets of Jerusalem.

Feet: Vibram KSOs.

Shins: Superman socks (a gift from a friend).

Lower body: red pocketed shorts, loaded up with facial tissue, auxiliary smartphone power, and gloves, should I need them.

Torso: my Superjew shirt, with the Superman symbol retrofitted into a star of David (I have never been prouder to wear that!), RoadID necklace, neatzit, phone, and my new water bottle vest, loaded up with four water bottles, jelly beans, GUs all over the place, Balance+ bars, salt packets, electrolyte powder packs, and cash, in the event that I blow through my water supply.

Arms: blue arm sleeves (to polish that Superman look), GPS watch, RoadID, Running on Love bracelet.

Head: JRunners cap, game-face shades, big goofy grin because I was so happy to be there.

Got it? Can you see me?

One last thing: I’ll be telling the story kilometer by kilometer, instead of mile by mile, because when in Rome…

Okay, right! Without further ado, it’s time to start running!  (two points if you know from which film this verbatim quote is).

The Holiest, Wonderfulest, Memorablest, Easygoingest Marathon Run of My Life

Kilometer -0.003: I’m lined up in the “B” corral, taking pictures, when the “A” corral takes off with no fanfare whatsoever. No Hatikvah, no anything. Just some blabbity-boo encouragements in Hebrew, and they’re off. Suddenly I realize that the “C” corral is already hurrying over the start line, which means I’m the only person in the “B” corral who hasn’t taken off! What just happened here? What immediately comes to mind is my ’99 Philadelphia Marathon adventure, where – because of an ill-timed response to nature’s call – I was the very last person over the start line. The very last one.

Kilometer -0.002: Okay, so we’re moving. I do a last-minute supplies check. I’m all in order. I’m ready.

Kilometer -0.001: I spot my missus on the sidelines, taking a video of me. I blow a kiss and…

Kilometer 0: …I touch the start line with my right foot, as my mother always tells me, and my grandmother always told me. I feel like a million bucks – or, at the current exchange rate, 4.2 million shekels.

Kilometer .1: I take stock of who I’m surrounded by. These might be my running buddies for the rest of this lovely morning; might as well get to know ‘em visually (because I already do not understand a word that is coming out of anyone’s mouth!). So let’s see: I’m surrounded by Israelis, Germans, Hungarians, Christians, old fellas, and almost no women whatsoever (more on all this as we go along).

Kilometer .2: Our first hill. Well that didn’t take very long. I see where this is going.

Kilometer .8: I bump into The Warrior Queen Ruth Liebowitz. Why do I call her that? Because at any random point in time when I run into her back home, she’s done something on the order of six or thirteen marathons in the last half year. And here she is! We have the following dialogue as I pass her:

Me: “It’s good to see you, Ruthie!”
She: “It’s good to see you!”

Kilometer 1.1: My GPS watch finally kicks in. Great, now I have to do some mental calisthenics to figure out where I am mile-wise on the course. Road signs are in three languages in this country, but measurement systems? Just one. I’m .68 miles into the race. No wait, I forget to carry the 1. Oh, this is going to be fun.

Kilometer 1.2: I note that I’m far from the only one wearing a water bottle vest. Many are also as prepared. Good to know I’m not the only boy scout.

Kilometer 2.2: I fall in with what is obviously an Israeli military troop. This could be fun. Maybe I’ll understand some of their cadence and I could mumble along. I smile, thinking there are a few lines from Full Metal Jacket that are absolutely perfect for this moment. To wit:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Up in the morning to the rising sun.
Recruits: Up in the morning to the rising sun.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Gotta run all day till the running’s done!
Recruits: Gotta run all day till the running’s done!

Thing is, I don’t understand a word coming out of their mouths. Oh well, woulda been fun, so I move on up ahead, where I zip past the 5:00 pace team, then the 4:45 pace team. That’s pretty good. I’m looking at slotting myself right between those two, if everything goes well today.

Kilometer 3.5: We complete a circuit through back roads around Hebrew University, pass the first water stop (Mei Eden mini-water bottles; no thank you, got my own), enter the city proper, and arrive at a large intersection. Ah, maybe here I’ll start seeing some people with some signs, hollering encouragements. Nope. I then realize, oh, it’s 7:20 AM. Give everybody a few minutes to turn out.

Kilometer 4.2: We make a right turn onto Sderot Yitshak Rabin and start to see some people, offering polite encouragements like this was a golf course. Most of the other people on the sidelines are wearing race t-shirts. Aha, they’re walking towards Sacher Park – where we’re looping back to – to run their respective races, and they politely nod. I hear somebody say “Kol hakavod!” (loose translation: all due respect). This is the equivalent of the American “Looking good!” (I have no idea what they say elsewhere; I need to travel more). A bystander spots my outfit and says, “Soo-pehr-men? Ai wai wai. Chaval!” I’mmmmmm not so sure all three phrases belong together.

Kilometer 4.8: We reach a point in the course where we go through a long tunnel. At the NYC Marathon, this is always the point at which the runners will whoop-whoop, cheer themselves on, and pump each other up. No such thing here. I get ready to hoot and holler, but apparently nobody will be joining me. Interesting cultural differences that are coming to light.

Kilometer 8.3: We wind our way through the neighborhood of Gonen/Katamon (boy, there are so many twists and turns here that running the tangents is impossible), and arrive at Jabotinsky Street, having encountered hills aplenty. For a mental approach to conquering these, I tuck in behind a runner any time a large hill looms on the horizon. I don’t need my eyes to know about all these hills. It’s good enough for my feet to know. At this moment, the half marathoners (who started at 6:45 AM), are coming up the road towards their finish line as the marathoners go down. Now I easily understand how we’re going down, but I don’t understand how you can run up this road. All I think to myself is: oh gosh, I hope this course doesn’t come up this way at the end (it does, hooboy!).

Kilometer 9.2: We hit the bottom of the mountain. That was nuts. Later, I would run the numbers. The road grade is 8.996% for .2 miles. If you’re uninitiated, that can be summed up, and explained to you, as follows: ouch.

Kilometer 9.3: As a reward for the effort and/or as a freshen up spot for those on the return path to Jabotinsky, the organizers have placed a misting tent on the side of the road in front of the Inbal Hotel. It’s big, blue, wet, and very inviting. It comes up upon me so suddenly, that I don’t have time to make a cost/benefit analysis: is it worth getting my phone a bit wet – and my Vibrams very wet – for a few seconds of cooling comfort? My answer is yes if other misting tents are on the course.

Kilometer 9.4: We pass Bardak Pizza Bar & Beer, where we had delicious, well, pizza and beer, during our last visit to Israel in August. I can feel my salivary glands explode, and my body begins gravitating towards the restaurant, but then I realize it’s not even 8 AM yet, and I’d be something of a lunatic if I was to buy myself pizza & beer in the middle of a marathon. Full disclosure though: I’ve had plenty of pizza and beer mid-marathon, but later in the day. Ya know, like, 10:30 AM, because that’s much more normal.

Kilometer 10.0: It’s almost 8 AM, which is when my wife starts her 5k. I’m focused, so I remember this detail. I text her encouragement. She officially graduates the Couch-to-5k program today, and I am really proud of her.

Kilometer 10.7: Right past our hotel. Bathroom stop? Nah. Keep on truckin’.

Kilometer 11.0: We hit Jaffa Road (online maps say it’s Jaffa Street, but I don’t think anyone calls it that), where light rail trains run nowadays. They shut down the trolleys for this race? That’s a little insane! Also, running in middle of trolley tracks is a bit odd. Since this is a major shopping area, there are more people out, but they’re still mostly silent, very polite with their “Kol hakavod”s, and I still haven’t seen anyone with any motivational signs.

Kilometer 11:4: The road bends a bit, and the sidewalks rise above the train bed, which, coupled with the silence of onlookers, gives me a fish-in-a-fishbowl feeling. Holler, people, holler! We’re workin’ here!

Kilometer 11.6: Ooh, Naomi should be about done with mile 1. I text her that she’s got this.

Kilometer 11.7: We turn left off of Jaffa and onto Shlomo Hamelech, at the northwestern corner of The Old City. Somebody yells “Go Superman!” I wave, then realize the cheerer was hollering for a guy in a Superman outfit who has pulled up next to me. I hang with him for a bit. Hey buddy. My name’s Kal-El, son of Jor-El. You too?

Kilometer 12.0: With Damascus Gate just to the right of us and behind us, we place our feet at the bottom of Route 60, which bifurcates (I just heard R. Berel Wein use that word in a Shabbos Hagadol speech, so I figured I’d work it in) the neighborhood, placing Jews on one side, and Arabs on the other (I’m sure this happens a lot in this country, but it’s so stark here because there’s no physical barrier to signify a demarcation, just a road. Everything is so different with just a swivel of the head). I look up towards Mount Scopus. Oh my gosh, from here until the top, it’s 6k straight uphill. I trained for this though; I pointed that treadmill up; I’m ready; here I’ll see the fruits of my labors.

Kilometer 12.1: The lead men! They’re coming down from the mountain, on the other side of the road! So cool! They’re a group of three, in tight formation, and they are burning up tarmac (Dabi Tadesse Yae, of Ethiopia, would go on to win in 2:18:20).

Kilometer 12.2: The first yarmulkaed runner! How about that! He’s wearing a green srugie, he’s real fast, and I have no idea who he is, but I’m awful proud of him (I would later learn that he’s Seth Fischer, from Israel. He would place 10th in 2:53:23).

Kilometer 12.3: Ooh, fifth man. He’s not looking so good. Clearly limping. Hope his day gets better from here.

Kilometer 12.4: The lead women! Another tight pack of three! One is long and lean, another is short and lean, and another is medium and lean. I’m noticing a trend here (Joan Jepchirchir Kigen would win in 2:45:55).

Kilometer 13.0: Ooh! Another misting tent! I wrap my hand around my phone and ginger-step through. Ahhhhhhh.

Kilometer 13.6: Naomi should have completed her second mile right about now. I text her that she has just one mile to go!

Kilometer 15.0: Ooh! Free gels! Yum! I grab a million, load up on one, and file away the rest in my badrillion pockets, without breaking stride. There’s a food table on the other side of the road. I’m going to enjoy some on the return trip.

Kilometer 15.2: Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh no, I’ve got to keep on moving. Well, unless I voluntarily do so because I’ve been climbing uphill for miles, and I’ve had enough already. I come to my first full stop, to preserve my strength, take stock, have some water, and text my wife congratulations on finishing her race – when she beats me to it! In Hebrew she texts “Gamarti!” (I’m done!), and I text back “Yofi!” (Splendid!). After this nice interlude, I continue on the way towards the Hebrew University, situated atop Mount Scopus.

Kilometer 16.1: I pop my first salt packet, right at the 10-mile mark, as my plan dictates. I’m very pleased that I’m fully focused, totally engaged, and hitting my planned objectives. I also wonder how my wife will spend the next few hours; probably watching all the runners come in and hollering her head off. She’s an enthusiastic cheerleader.

Kilometer 16.2: Whoa, I have to stop here. There’s a gorgeous view of the Old City, and I presume I’m at the tippy-top of Mount Scopus. I look down towards Damascus Gate, and wow, I think to myself, I came from all the way down there? I turn around and take some selfies, capturing the scene behind me. Nice. Others have the same exact idea. Onwards.

Kilometer 16.6: Oh wow, I have to stop here too. I can see the mountain ranges in Jordan! A quick selfie and I’m on my way again.

Kilometer 17.3: I come around the back end of the campus, and I see another hill looming in front of me? How is this possible? What goes up, must come down, no? This is like the Escher staircase (“Klimmen en Dalen,” or “Ascending and Descending,” AKA Penrose Stairs) that goes up forever.

Kilometer 18.1: Finally, we begin the 6k downhill descent. Man, that was brutal. Also, that trick I’ve been employing by hiding behind runners isn’t working anymore. My feet know when we’re going up or down. As a matter of fact, I now realize that there’s very little flat ground on this course. Everything is generally up or down, which means enormous loads are placed on the runners’ ankles.

Kilometer 18.2: Food table! Oh yes! Let’s see what we have here! Ooh, pickles, tomatoes, and rice cakes? Ah, gimme some! I think I just created my new favorite sandwich. Oh, so good! So good!

Kilometer 19.0: My wife texts me thanking me for my encouragement, and she asks how I’m doing. I text the following: “Never better. Totally relaxed. This water vest is perfect. 19k.” Yes, even when running a marathon and texting (TWR?), I obsess over proper capitalization and punctuation.

Kilometer 19.7: Ruthie again! On the other side! Bringing up the rear! (no, literally. She would go on to be the very last person officially timed on the course: 6:48:54) We have another quick dialogue:

Me: “It’s good to see you again, Ruthie!”
She: “How much longer does this go up?”
Me: “It comes down eventually!”
She: “It better!”

Kilometer 20.0: I complete the freefall from Mount Scopus and immediately begin a new hill that goes up 90 feet in .2 miles (8.5% grade). When I say there’s no flat ground, I mean it. The hill is so high in front of me, that all I see on the horizon is the top of the road and above that, nothing but sky. Time for some of my homemade electrolyte drink, which is on my back. I unhook the vest, pluck the water bottle with ease, drink up, and reposition everything smoothly. This vest is awesome (but I think I should now put my Boderade on my chest). I crest the hill and The Old City is in front me. Okay, here we go.

Kilometer 21.1: Halfway! I text my wife a progress update, and check my watch: 2:10. Nice! Double that and add 10 minutes, per convention, and I’m looking at 4:30 for the finish. Good, but it’ll be a bit later than that. More serious hills are coming, and I’m going to have to answer nature’s call in a proper manner, and I gotta stop for more selfies. I’m here for the memories; not just the run. I think it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that I did say nothing much happened during the race, didn’t I? I was wrong, wasn’t I?

Kilometer 21.2: Re-arriving at the Northwest corner of the Old City, I notice a group of about 20 young Palestinian children holding up their flags and shouting. A semi-circle of mishtara surrounds them and buffers the runners. They seem to be peaceably assembled. All good. Moving along.

Kilometer 21.3: Food! More food! Oh boy! Different food! Oranges! Bananas! Dates! Dates are great for energy! Ahhhhh, numnumnumnumnunum! Where was I? Ah yes, I was running a race. Let’s get back to that.

Kilometer 21.4: We enter Hatsanhanim Tunnel. Above the entrance, a woman is holding a giant flag, with several flags woven together: Israel, Palestine, a peace symbol, something Christian, and more. High hopes, wow, all good, respect. The tunnel is dark, and I get the same feelings that I get when I climb the Queensboro Bridge during the NYC Marathon: contemplative, and anticipatory. Like the Queensboro, it’s dark, you can see light at the end, the runners slow down, and you can hear the roaring crowd in the distance.

Kilometer 21.6: We emerge from the tunnel into bright sunlight, a thunderous crowd, and booming (American) music. I whip out my camera because this is the moment I wanted for permanent memories. As soon as we hit the bottom of the road that leads up to Jaffa Gate, I begin recording. My hand is shaky, in retrospect, but the energy and excitement is unmistakable. I pass a Superman on the sidelines (on the official promo clip for the race on YouTube, you can see him doing a backflip), and mutter gratitude and appreciations for being here. What a moment. Gosh, I’m so happy to be here.

Kilometer 21.9: As I finish the 1:20 posterity clip (lots of likes!), I hear someone holler my name. It’s Suzie! Her hubby Elie is somewhere on the course behind me. Their son Dov is here too. They have Poland Spring water. Mmm…Poland Spring. She offers me a bottle, and I drain the whole thing in four seconds. I didn’t even ask if I could do that. Whoops! That must have been her expectation though, because she offers to top up my water bottles with more of her supply. This is my lucky day! I peel away, offering profuse thank yous. I’m delighted with my replenished water supply. Great timing!

Kilometer 22.0: Ow, ooh, ouch, oh, why do my feet hurt so much? Oh, I’m in the Old City, aren’t I? These cobblestones aren’t very Vibrams-friendly. I’d want to run in the Old City forever, but uh, I really don’t want to run in the Old City forever.

Kilometer 22.5: Zion Gate! That’s it? It’s over? A half kilometer? Aw shucks, I wanna run in the Old City forever! This flip-flopping shows you how emotional this makes me, but understanding the terrain, I can see why entry and exit into and out of the other gates is very unworkable. I’ll take what I can get. Before we exit, there’s a phalanx of photographers, lined up like paparazzi. Most of the nice pictures taken of me (sponsored by Rexona; might as well give ‘em a plug) are in this spot. There’s a nice, cheerful, cheering group of people right outside the exit, after which we meander through a parking lot to the road outside of the Old City. A parking lot, hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever run a race that featured a jaunt through one. A beginning or an end, sure, but in middle? Never. Interesting.

Kilometer 22.8: As we go down, down, down, all the way down towards the lowest point in Jerusalem (Hinnom Valley), I notice a door open on a small structure, atop a porch that overlooks the sidewalk. Seven kids burst out, with a teacher behind them, and they stick their hands out to the runners for high fives. How adorable! I veer off the road, hop on the sidewalk, and reach up to give each of them five. Fun.

Kilometer 23.4: Rising up from the Hinnom Valley, just past the Sultan’s Pool, just before we pass under the Peace Bridge, with the Begin Center just above us on the right, with The Windmill in view just behind it (have I successfully painted a picture of where I am exactly?), is a very enthusiastic crowd of teenagers giving out water. There’s also a cohort of kids going after the tossed-off water bottles with much gusto, like they’re competing with each other and showing off their stash. There are also kids dressed up as clowns, and one of them decides to run with me for a few yards, which amuses me to no end. I check the memory banks, and yep, this is definitely the first time in my life that I’m running in a race with a clown at my side.

Kilometer 24.0: We arrive at First Station (the terminus of Israel’s first railway system, which stretched from Jaffa; renovated after years of neglect into a vibrant cultural center). I’ve been very curious to see the inside of the place, but we haven’t been able to schedule it into our visit. Simultaneously, nature calls me, but it’s not terribly urgent. Happens to be, the course lollipops back here after a few miles, so you know what? On the return trip, I’m going to drop in, have a look around, see to my comforts. Outside of the station, a band is playing a country song, female lead, very John Cougar Mellencamp, and I notice that absolutely all of the music on the course has been American or Brit house stuff. No Israeli music whatsoever. Interesting. I also notice at this point that the city has come alive. It’s 9:30 AM, the people are out, and the “Kol hakavod”s are more frequent, but there still are no signs being held up. None. What an interesting cultural thing to have not crossed over.

Kilometer 24.5: We hit the foot of Jabotinsky Road. I look up. Oh boy. We have .1k of flat ground before the rise begins. We’re back at the Bardak Pizza Bar, which looks even more inviting than before, but nahhh, I got me a hill to climb. I decide to walk it; I can’t ruin myself on this mountain at this point. Things have been going well so far, and I have to stick with the game plan.

Kilometer 25.0: I text my wife: “Jabotinsky is murder. Taking long walk. 25k.” She responds with a picture of the female winner striding towards the finish line with the following text: “First female winner! 2:46. With a negative split for last km!” I recognize her as Ms. Long and Lean from the lead pack I saw. Cool.
Kilometer 25.5: After cresting the hill, a runner, on the other side of the course in a different race, looks at my shins, puts on a smile, her best tut-tut motherly-chiding face, and no-no head-shake, and says “Garbaim” (socks). Heh.

Kilometer 25.6: Oh wow, some flat ground for 10 or 20 feet! How about that! I take advantage of the short break to refill my sports drink supply. I’ve been sipping a bit more in the latter half of the race, and the increasing heat of the day. I take one of my electrolyte packets and begin the transformation of water into precious elixir. Hey, if Jesus can turn water into wine ‘round these parts, then I can do something similar.

Kilometer 26.1: Runner down! Here’s what happens: I’m happily running along, heading up the 578th hill of the race. Another runner is a few feet over, parallel to my right. Runner #3 comes up behind us, and between us. Me and runner #2 both telepathically communicate to let runner #3 through. I move to my left, and runner #2 moves to his right – but runner #3 suddenly stops. Both me and runner #2 look behind us and find that runner #3 is on the ground, holding on to his shin. Uh oh, shinsplints? Muscle pull? Fracture? This guy needs some help. I run towards a security guy, and as I make my way over, I look back and notice that runner #3 is getting lots of help from runners who had come up behind him. I get to the security guy and tell him a runner’s down and needs help. He hurries over. That’s the limit of what I can do here. Gotta move on. I hope he’ll be okay (later, I would learn what the actual nature of his injury was; you will not believe it. I’ll tell you about it after I finish this race. No cheating by reading ahead).

Kilometer 26.5: More free GUs! Yum!

Kilometer 26.7: We hit Emek Refaim , and it’s more vibrant and lively here, much like 1st Avenue at the NYC Marathon, but on a smaller scale, and far fewer drunks hanging off fire escapes. More “Kol hakavod!”s also, but still no signs. No signs whatsoever.

Kilometer 27.2: Focaccia Bar! I had my pre-race meal here last night, and it was perfect, and it is sustaining me thus far.

Kilometer 27.8: We enter a neighborhood called Baka (Arabic for “valley”), and I notice the change immediately. Whereas most of the architecture in Israel is constructed of (Jerusalem) stone, the buildings here are of a decidedly eclectic mix. The houses are also very big. They’re also very colorful. There are also lots more children here than anywhere else on the course thus far. There is also a general, uplifting, tangible happiness in the air. I also hear more American accents. There is a familiarity for me here that I tune in to quickly. It reminds me of the pretty neighborhoods I run through back home, particularly the colorful, affluent, well-curated town of Montclair. My wife has cousins who live here (we dined with them two nights ago). They have chosen well.

Kilometer 27.9: After high-fiving a great cohort of happy children, we turn onto a street called Derech Harakevet, which basically means “Railroad Road.” It’s a park, the likes of which I have not ever seen before: it’s about 25 feet wide and goes for as long as the eye can see. On either side of the meridian is green grass. On the meridian itself is a set of (abandoned) train tracks. Inside the train tracks are planks of wood filling up the space to the top of the trackbed. That’s what we’re running on. Runners here can choose to run on the roads on either side of the greenery, or on the train track. I choose the track, because it’s so lovely. Then, I do something I’ve never done before during a race (and I have run hundreds to this point): I stroll leisurely, simply for the pleasantness of it. I have no idea how long this enjoyable stretch will last, so I want it to last as long as possible while continuing to move forward. This is just so nice.

Kilometer 28.7: Derech Harakevet comes to an end. Aw nuts. That was so fun.

Kilometer 29.4: We re-arrive at First Station. The country band is still rocking hard. We now pause for a, ahem, station, ahem, break. Other runners have the same idea, and a small handful of us walk single file into the place. The interior is what I expected: an event space in the middle, beautiful flora all around, relaxed atmosphere, generous seating, plentiful shops. Very nice. I take advantage of the offering I’m looking for, and emerge refreshed (while there, I inform my wife of my intermission. She replies with “Don’t drop your phone,” which is an excellent inside joke that will cause many of you to smile). Upon exiting, we immediately begin what is now going to be a two-mile climb to East Talpiot. Here we go again.

Kilometer 29.5: We hit Hebron Road, which begins a path towards the wilderness. The neighborhood change is, once again, immediate. It’s much like the Las Vegas Strip. Behind the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Navada” sign is the bustling city; in front: desert. Same here. This is totally different terrain. The people are gone. This area looks iffy. My Spidey-sense tingles.

Kilometer 29.7: True enough, a bit of trouble ensues. Across the road, on a street corner, I notice an assembly of youth, standing around in a circle, smoking, staring at something one of them is holding. One of them is looking around furtively. The body language of them all is: stupid kids, up to no good. I’m not the only one who thinks so, because in a flash, several mishtara on motorcycles converge on the spot and begin questioning. I’ve noticed that’s how it is here, as opposed to how it works in New York. In my humble opinion: in New York, cops get stationed at a post, and generally, they wait for the action to come to them, while bossing people around as their way of showing force. They call for backup if it’s needed. In Israel, the police force is mobile, on the lookout, treat citizens as innocent until proven guilty, and several units converge immediately on a troublespot (I also believe Israel uses tape/rope as opposed to sawhorses, because – like in the military – barriers need to be flexible/adaptable for emergency situations). Again, this is my humble opinion. Don’t kill me. I’ve already ducked. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Kilometer 29.9: With the troublespot behind me contained, I come upon Naomi Street. I’ve been looking for this spot so I can take a selfie under it and send it to my wife. I had a sense this town was shady, and I figured this is my one chance. I cross over the meridian and snap a couple of good ones. Great, got that taken care of.

Kilometer 30.6: After passing through the neighborhood of North Talpiot, we turn the corner and head up a big hill towards East Talpiot. We’ll be back at this intersection before heading further south through Talpiot before turning back. My question is: why isn’t Talpiot called South Talpiot? And what happened to West Talpiot? (I have the same question for the Oranges back home in Jersey: we’ve got East, West, and South Orange. What happened to North?). This hill is a walker, so I take advantage of the break to root around my supplies and swallow down another GU, the greatest of all, the (drumroll) salted (and I say, exalted!) caramel, which is the single tastiest thing ever produced in the history of sports-related nutrition. Oh gosh, it’s so good.

Kilometer 31.0: We’re now traveling on Haas Promenade, which is a wide road, with a wide expanse of grass, and more wide road. Picture Pelham Parkway in The Bronx, minus the trees. The sun is out, and it’s gorgeous, and the runners are all struggling uphill together. I notice my first vomiter, who succumbs after fighting to get over that hill (there will be more vomiters today, but I will only cite one more, who deserves an honorable mention, as you will see), but he picks himself up, and continues running. Good. Fight!

Kilometer 31.4: We reach an amazing overlook of the Old City, from completely the opposite direction of Mount Scopus. The view is just spectacular. There is a strange wooden platform built into the cliff that kind of looks like a giant picnic table. I suppose tourists can walk up onto it and snap pictures while experiencing vertigo. It’s a lot like that scary-as-hell platform jutting out of the Grand Canyon (google “scary as hell glass platform grand canyon” to see what I’m talking about). Not for me. I’ll take my selfie from over here on terra firma, thank you very much.

Kilometer 31.6: Misting tent! Ohhhhhhh, fantastic!

Kilometer 31.9: We’re approaching the top of the lollipop turn. I’ve noted the runners ahead of me, and I’ve decided I want to beat them. After the turn, I note the runners behind me, and I decide I want to stay ahead of them. Just before the turn, the runners slightly ahead of me yell at a person behind me as follows: “Looks like that runner forgot his shoes at home!” and “Get that man some shoes!” I look behind me. Yep, barefoot runner. His name is Jean-Paul Mvongo. I decide I want to beat him (and I do!), because I can’t lose to a barefoot runner, and I decide I’m going to hunt down those insulting runners too, just to teach them a lesson (and I do!).

Kilometer 32.1: Oh look, the UN Observers headquarters. Done anything good for the world lately, UN? Hm?

Kilometer 32.2: Still laser-focused; I pop another salt packet at the 20-mile mark.

Kilometer 32.7: Food! Oranges and bananas and dates and pretzels! Oh, what a bounty! I stop to consume hardily. Then, as I pull away from the station, something happens that can only happen here: my foot is sticking to the ground. Why? A date has wedged itself between my toes. I’ve slipped on bananas in New York, but a foot-sticking problem? Only in Israel. Only at the Jerusalem Marathon. I clear out the waste, and rejoin the race, with a big ol’ smile on my face.

Kilometer 33.0: On a quiet stretch, I find myself reflecting. I’m having the time of my life, but I’m on the back stretch of the race now, and it’s going to end soon. I really don’t want it to end. I want to be out here for eternity, lapping up every inch of Jerusalem. When will I again have such a glorious opportunity? I text a summary of these thoughts to my wife. I decide against melancholy or lament, when I realize that I’ve enjoyed the trip so much so far. So I’m going to enjoy – to the fullest – all of what’s left of the race today.

Kilometer 33.4: We enter another small lollipop section. I get another good view of the runners ahead of, and behind me. There’s another barefoot guy, some more Vibram-shod compatriots, a man who looks like the oldest man in the race, and a guy whose head is bobbing furiously. I can’t let him beat me. I can’t let any of them beat me. I’ve conserved enough energy to produce a final kick to beat them all. I’m going to do that. They’re in my crosshairs. This is how we runners are sometimes.

Kilometer 34.3: We’re back on Hebron Road. Farther south we go into The Nothing, but these look like big, good, strong legs, don’t they (boy, if I get so much as a single friend who gets this obscure reference, it’ll be totally worth it)? This looks like a stretch that would ordinarily be very busy with cars, and the middle section we’re running on looks designed for trains and/or buses. Yet another transit system shut down for the race (or maybe this is connected to the one on Jaffa Road?). Wow.

Kilometer 34.7: At another water stop, I encounter more insanely energetic children racing around with bags, showing off their loot to each other (only later would it dawn on me that they were doing this for the deposit money, and I would also learn that several yeshivot send their students out to gather the bottles on behalf of the institutions).

Kilometer 35.0: We pass the neighborhood of Arnona. Mrs. B. lives here, with whom we lunched three days ago (notice a trend developing here? More to come!).

Kilometer 35.7: We turn around at the southern-most point of the race and I get a full view of my competition: my barefooters and minimalists, bobble-head, oldie (named Arii Kotov, 78 and spry!), a large crew with Sovev Emek 100k t-shirts, and countless others I now recognize by face. Taking the full view of my company, those I’ve seen along the course, and the runners I saw at the start, I realize something: this race is for the hardcore. This is my dataset: the average age seems to be 55, the t-shirts bespeak various ultras, there are very few women (my wife noticed this as well as she watched everyone come in. Indeed, 963 men finished, as did 156 women, a crazily lopsided ratio), and very few DNFs (14 out of 1134, or 1.2%). Conclusion: this race is not for the phony tough or the crazy brave (much easier movie reference), but for those with many miles on their legs, who take this seriously, have trained appropriately, and respect it for the grueling challenge that it is. This is a race most would avoid, rather than join. You know what, though? Presuming this race has hosted 1,000 runners annually since its inception, then I’m one of 5,000 on earth who have done it, and dammit, that makes me proud.

Kilometer 37.0: Where were we? Ah yes, we finally disembark from Hebron Road and rejoin civilization in Baka once again. As before, the change is stark. This neighborhood really is pretty and joyful. As soon as we enter the area, a band is blasting music, children are running around with balloons, and people are cheering. The first street I pass is Mordechai Hayehudi Street, which, now that I think of it, is me! How inviting!

Kilometer 37.3: The houses and buildings here really are gorgeous.

Kilometer 37.8: We skip past Derech Harakevet again, through a gaggle of high-fiving children and adults (okay, grownups! Finally getting into it!), over Emek Refaim, and on to Elazar Hamodai Street, where I look to my right, and hey! Resi! With whom, and with whom’s husband (okay, that phrasing cannot be right), my wife and I had that perfect pre-race dinner yesterday! She’s standing next to a curious-looking Maersk-sized structure made entirely of stone with a “dud” (solar water heater) right atop. It’s got a door and address and everything, and looks like it would be eligible for one of those Wacky Houses Converted Out of Containers lists that circle around every once in a while. It has an L-shaped knee-height stone wall in front of it that would violate at least 13 zoning laws in New York City. There are no windows (I’m telling you, this thing gets so stuck in my mind’s eye that as I write this, I’m checking out Google Streetview to have another look). This is not all that I notice. Next to Resi, on the stone wall, are two bottles of Gatorade. I say hi, and we exchange pleasantries. I point to the Gatorade and ask if I could have some. Yes, I can, is the answer, and she hands me one. Then, I’m overwhelmed with a craving to swallow the whole thing. This time, however - as opposed to when I swallowed Suzie’s water without asking – I mind my manners. I let my body language do the talking, which says, “Can I have the rest of this, please?” Resi picks up on the cue! She says “Kill it.” Oh, I kill it dead! I thank her profusely and continue on the way. Boy, that was a serious pick-me-up. Thank you, Resi!

Kilometer 38.1: Devorah! Reb Chayim’s wife! She’s seated across the street from her house, on a bench in front of a park. Her eldest (girl) and youngest (birthday boy!) are with her, and she has reverse osmosis water for me, and a bagel! Thank you! Boy, Elazar Hamodai is really quenching my thirst! I exchange further pleasantries (though I forget to have her top me up; no big deal though, 4k to go!) and I’m on my way. As I jump back on the road, I suddenly fall in with the 5:00 pace team. Cool, I’ll hang with them, then run ahead – while of course, beating out the other runners I’ve marked – and see if I can place comfortably under 5:00 hours for the day. I’ll be perfectly happy with that. I should note that, at this point, I’m in absolutely no pain whatsoever. No fatigue, nothing of the sort. This is the best marathon day ever.

Kilometer 38.2: The 5:00 pace group hits the foot of Kovshei Katamon Street, tries to continue up the hill, but the hill has other plans. It isn’t runnable. The lead pacer actually starts walking!

Kilometer 38.4: We hit another roundabout and the road goes even steeper! All of us look up. It’s so high it looks like it’s going to fold back on to us, Inception-style! What kind of psycho put this road here? And oh, the irony that the roundabout intersects with Rachel Imenu Street, because to who else are you going to pray to get over this? When I hit steep climbs, I usually use my hands to push off my thighs to keep locomotion going. For the first time ever, I find myself using both hands on both thighs simultaneously. I have trouble believing the elites kept running here. This is bonkers (later, I would check the road grade: 80 feet over the last .1 mile of the hill. That’s 15%. Do you know the maximum on most treadmills? Yep, 15%), but somehow, we…

Kilometer 38.8: …reach the top of the hill, and survive. Okay, here we go. 3k left, and it’s all downhill from here. I start cranking up the speed. There’s plenty left in this tank.

Kilometer 39.4: Just before a sharp turn towards a steep downhill, I note my first signs of the race. An assembly of children is yelling “Kol hakavod!” and they’re holding up handwritten signs that say…”Kol hakavod!” Ooh, creative! Or maybe they’re closed captioned for the hearing impaired? That’s all of it. Those are all the signs. I hadn’t seen any others, and I would see no more.

Kilometer 40.2: I complete a downhill-bombing run by zipping past several of the designated adversaries I’d marked earlier. I blew past bobblehead, oldie (indeed, I would learn that he was the oldest person in the race. Rock on, sir!), several Sovev Emek guys, and some of the barefooters. Just a few more to go, and I gotta drop the 5:00 pace group.

Kilometer 40.4: I blow away the 5:00 pace group. I’m now doing sub-8:00s, having conserved a mountain of energy. Anybody I target in front of me is meat. I have never felt so good.

Kilometer 40.6: Resi again! On the side, holding up a camera. Can’t stop now! Vibrams guy up ahead!

Kilometer 40.7: Bye bye, Vibrams guy! See ya later, Sovev Emek Man! I’ve turned on the jets. The watch now says I’m doing 7:40.

Kilometer 41.2: Okay, into the park for the stretch run!

Kilometer 42.0: Runner down! Another shin-grabber! Oh no, not again! I’ve got my mind on the finish, but I rush over to help, when several medics get there first. Okay, under control. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was finishing a race!

Kilometer 42.1: A volunteer hands me a small Israeli flag. Nice touch! I tuck it into my vest so it waves around nicely, and hop up onto the long blue ramp/platform/runway that barrels towards the finish line, with barricades and hollerers on either side all the way to the end zone. My wife has texted that she’s hanging out on the left side. Ah, there she is! I wave and blow a kiss and motor to the…

Kilometer 42.2: …capstone of a glorious, wonderful day. I finish in 4:55:26, and the energetic and multilingual emcee hollers my name in a delightfully euphonic way: “Marrrrr-teeen Bawwww-deck!” I love it. I love it all.


The credits aren’t rolling yet, so don’t go anywhere. There’s a bit more to tell.

The camera captured a great picture of me crossing the finish line, with my hands up, triumphant. The camera also captured me with my arm out to a volunteer. It’s clear my body language is saying, “Give me my damn medal!”

More of the cadence from Full Metal Jacket immediately comes to mind:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Pin my medals upon my chest.
Recruits: Pin my medals upon my chest.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Tell my mom I’ve done my best.
Recruits: Tell my mom I’ve done my best.

I did do my best, and my mom likes when I give her a shout-out, and I did not die in the combat zone (wink!).

The post-race amenities were fantastic, as opposed to the intra-race amenities (14 water stations, 4 energy drink zones, 5 water closet breaks are not enough): there were tents in abundance where you could get stretched or massaged, ice cream being handed out, beach chairs to relax on while watching the runners come in, plentiful bathrooms with piles of extra TP, gobs of water, and a healthy dose of happiness.

I took advantage of almost all of the above. I forewent the stretch/massage and enjoyed everything else. Security had laid out this part in an accommodating, but in a bit of a confusing way (intentional), so I couldn’t figure out, initially, how to get to my wife on the other side. There’d be time for that. Meantime, I got some ice cream, relaxed in the beach chairs, and enjoyed the moment.

Eventually, I made my way around to the other side, reunited with my (partially sunburned) wife (she’d been hanging out here for three hours!), waited for Elie to roll in with his buddy, and began to make our way to a hardy lunch in Ben Yehudah. Before we made it out, though, two fascinating runners crossed the finish line.

God is Love

We saw a big man – maybe the biggest in the race; on the order of 6’3”, 250, at least – step on to the blue runway, immediately turn off to the side, and vomit. He then bucked up, and continued to the finish line. He was holding a giant flag, emblazoned with the words “God is love.” He also wore a t-shirt that said the same.

A volunteer tried to hand him a medal. Instead, this guy – I would learn his name is Raef Guirges – handed his flag to the volunteer, then got down on his knees, kissed the ground multiple times, crossed himself numerous times, put his hands out in prayer, and continued the kissing, crossing, pleading routine, before getting up to reclaim his flag and claim his medal.

That was something to see. What a display of gratitude. I’m happy I saw that. Way to go, Raef, and whoa, quite a presence you have on the web! A 50-stater too! Impressive!

Runner Up!

Know who else we saw zip towards the finish line? The first shin-grabbing runner-down for whom I got help! I made sure to find him after the race. I walked up to him and had this conversation:

Me: “Hey, I saw you go down back there, and called over help for you. Are you okay? That was a great finish! What was your injury? Shinsplint?”
He: “Oh, thank you for getting me the help, but it wasn’t a shinsplint.”
Me: “What was it then?”
He: “You wouldn’t believe it. I dislocated my toe!”
Me: “Wha wha whaaaaat?”
He: “Yeah, the guy you called over? He helped me take off my shoe and we yanked it back into place.”
Me, picking my jaw up off the floor: “Whoa, that is insane, and you finished the race. Awesome, dude!”
He: “Thank you! And thank you again for the help and for following up with me.”
Me: “You are very welcome.”

While trying to get over what I just heard, I got my medal inscribed on site, then Facetimed with our children to relay our wonderful news, then slowly moseyed to a delicious, heaping meal before heading out to Har Nof for Shabbat and enjoying, figuratively and literally, a day of rest.

What’s Next

As I mentioned above, this race was on my bucket list, to be completed decades out. I certainly did not expect it to happen so early, but it did. I sent the energy of my desire into the universe, and somehow I got this response.

So I’m putting the same energy out into the universe once more.

I want to run the Tiberias Marathon; I want to run the Tel Aviv Marathon; I want to run the Eilat Marathon; I want to run the Sovev Emek 100k; I want to run the Sea to Jerusalem 144k; I want to run around the Kineret, just for the fun of it.

I will it; it is no dream.

Our trip had a purpose. Please give if/what/when/how much you can. Bless you!: