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A Marathon that goes further – Jerusalem:
I’m in a world that I know from the stories of my childhood. Aged 4, living in Germany and just able to read, I confounded my mother by telling her that Jesus Christ was born in Holland. And, for that matter that Cinderella had rats to pull her carriage to and from the ball – not mice. Both those facts were indisputable because I’d read them in a book. The Ladybird Book of the Bible might just have suggested that Jesus was born in a land that began with H – but I strongly suspect it was the Holy Land, not that nearby rather flat country where we went to buy cheese and tulips. Israel, the Holy Land, has a certain mystic and if I’m honest I’m not entirely sure that the concept of the Jerusalem Marathon fits into my romanticized vision. But, who would refuse the opportunity to visit – and to take part if you want – in this very special run through some of the World’s oldest streets.
I soon discovered that the Jerusalem Marathon is really rather special. An inclusive event, there are several races held on the morning of the marathon. Essentially anyone who wants to run will find their niche. There’s the full marathon, a half marathon, 10k, 5k, family 1.8k and even an 800m run. The result is that if you happen to walk out onto the streets of Jerusalem on race day, you’ll find runners of all shapes and sizes following a spider’s web network of race routes.
We were lucky. This year it poured with rain the day before the marathon, the heavens descended the day after too. But, the day of the great race was fresh, cloudy blue skies and just enough of a breeze to make even me feel that I could have run a bit. I didn’t though, instead, I walked around some of the routes watching the runners and getting into the party spirit.
The night before, at the main hub of the marathon volunteers handed out badges and teeshirts. There was a massive pasta party to get everyone into the spirit – free for those running the full marathon and guiltily enjoyed by those like me who had no intention of even WALKING the marathon route. Then, an early night.
The roads through the city were all closed off by 5 am. Those running the full marathon who didn’t want to walk or jog to the start line had to be up early enough to get from our hotel to the other side of town. Scheduling so many races on the same day leads to a real party atmosphere, but also creates something of a logistics nightmare and each race had a narrow window for the start, with the Marathon itself getting going first of all. By the time I joined the crowds the elite runners had finished, though I’d actually spotted them running past the hotel window as I was getting ready for breakfast!
Walking around the city was surreal after the crowded streets of the day before. No vehicles at all other than a few ‘all-access’ motorbikes meant that it was a great opportunity to look at the buildings in daylight without concern for being run over! And, on the race routes, the whole world seemed to have come out to cheer on the runners. There were musicians and dancers, water stops and food stops. And a plethora of photographers.
Having spent a few hours the previous day visiting the Shalva centre, I was looking out for team Shalva. I’d already been told that theirs was the largest group of runners – with representation in every section. The Shalva Centre is a unique initiative in Jerusalem that has grown from a small support centre set up by Malki and Kalman Samuels to help their own child, Yossi and others like him into a massive enterprise that leads the world in the way it cares for children and young people with disabilities. Yossi lost his sight and hearing and was brain damaged by a faulty batch of vaccinations.
The Team Shalva marathon runners are a diverse group of over 600 from all over the world who participate in the Jerusalem Marathon in support of Shalva And, Shalva’s children, families and staff participate too in the marathon’s community run.
The disability track which forms part of the Jerusalem Marathon is a Shalva initiative and an asset unique in Israel to the Jerusalem Marathon. Having met a few of the people who work at the Shalva centre it’s obvious how much the kids value their involvement in the marathon. One of the staff told me she runs each year with the same child – and whenever she sees him throughout the year he reminds her that they will be running again next year!
Apart from the community value, the Jerusalem Marathon is an important date in the calendar for the whole city. The event raises around 20million Shekels for the Jerusalem economy and is an international landmark, with over 4,500 runners from 80 different countries.
The 9th year of the event, the marathon passes through many historic landmarks around Jerusalem, from the Israeli parliament through the Old City, along the walls, through the Sultan’s Pool, Mt Zion, the German Colony, Mount Scopus and more. As a spectator, I loved the atmosphere, the dynamic – and really appreciated the chance to see some of the heritage buildings of the Old City in a different light. Runners talked of the challenging terrain – it’s an event with plenty of hills. But, everyone was smiling at the end.
Next year, if I’m invited then I’ll come of course. And next year, I’ll run – not the marathon or even the 5k, but I’ll join the Shalva team. It’s something very special that I’d love to be part of. And for me, that makes the Jerusalem Marathon one that goes further than the 42km path that the runners tread.
I’ll be sharing more of my trip to Jerusalem – the food and the cultural heritage – in later features.
The 10th Jerusalem Marathon will be held on March 20th 2020. For registration, further information about the various races for 2020, accommodation and the accompanying events for next year, check the website https://jerusalem-marathon.com
I stayed at The David Citadel Hotel, a stunning hotel in the city centre, overlooking the Old City wall.
I was a guest of the Israel Ministry of Tourism
I flew to Israel from London Heathrow with El Al Airline
For more about the work of the Shalva Centre, check their website – http://www.shalva.org/
If you can’t wait till next year or make it to Jerusalem, on 24th March this year, Deborah from the London-Unattached team is running the London Landmarks Half Marathon – find out more.
Thinking of running yourself? Why not pin this post for later