Reminiscing on marathon of a lifetime

All runners have a marathon destination we want to run.

I have run a 56km ultra marathon in Laugavegurin, Iceland, and the 56km Two Oceans ultra marathon in South Africa, and marathons in New York, Chicago, Boston and London, England, as well as Big Sur in California. Recently I was invited by the Israeli Tourism Ministry to visit Jeruralem and run its marathon.

Beacher Duff McLaren at the Jerusalem Marathon.

The Jerusalem Marathon takes runners on a route that tests not only the most experienced of runners, but also on a unique path through history, in the city so holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims around the globe. Participants run on the cobblestones of the holy and ancient city, through the beautiful neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, and through the modern city centre of Israel’s capital. The views alone are enough to take one’s breath away. The highlight for participants is the scenic route, which takes runners past such major historical, cultural and religious sites as the Old City and the Temple Mount.

The race this year featured a marathon, half-marathon and 10k, as well as two shorter races, and drew about 15,000 runners, including 1,500 from 50 countries outside Israel.

Arriving in Tel Aviv, I toured the old seaport of Jaffa, about 4 km outside of Tel Aviv. The next day we drove to Jerusalem and had to pass through some armed checkpoints to enter Jerusalem. Despite the presence of guns (all the soldiers carry them) I was not afraid and felt no tensions whenever we were out and about.

Later we had a walking tour of the Old City where we walked part of the Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross), and visited the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other visits included the Western Wall, also known as the wailing wall; Masada; the Dead Sea; and the City of David, where we saw a working archival dig – while it was intriguing to descend six metres underground in a passage a metre wide and about two metres high, the footing was a little sketchy and not something I would normally do the day before a marathon.

The marathon began at 7 a.m. The run heads downhill to start. Jerusalem is called the city of hills, so the downhill was quite a nice surprise. However, as soon as we turned the corner, the hills began.

Unknown to me at the time, there had been a terrorist attack the day before and that may have explained the 400 or so armed soldiers on route.

I met a blind runner from Detroit who was guided by an Israeli major, another from Italy and two others from France. Each of them had only one guide with them. I have acted as a guide for Achilles athletes but we usually have more than one guide.

Despite the relentless wind, the spectacular views distracted me from the rain, so it was not as annoying as it could have been. This post is written after the event and looking back at some of the pictures of me  you might think the opposite. I actually was laughing out loud at one point due to the intensity of the wind while I was running uphill.

The kilometres in the marathon went by quickly and was at 21 and 30 before I knew it. My initial race goal was 4:30 and with 5 km to go, thought I could pull that off, but then another hill appeared in front of me to spoil that plan. My final clock time was 4:36.

This was the trip of a lifetime and I recommend this destination race to all runners. The Ancient City combined with a marathon – what could be better?

Beach runner Duff McLaren was one of the Community Centre 55 Champions in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2011. The trip to Jerusalem marked his 51st marathon. For a more detailed account, search out McLaren’s blog Running Groupie online at irun.ca.


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