17 October 2019

Event review: Jerusalem Marathon

April 2, 2013
Event review: Jerusalem Marathon

Jerusalem means many different things to many different people: for Christians it’s the city where Jesus once walked, for Muslims it’s where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven after his epic Night Journey, and for Jews it’s the city they always dreamt of returning to during their many years in exile. And now marathon runners too can lay claim to this fascinating place, thanks to the efforts of the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, a marathon enthusiast determined to put Jerusalem firmly on every runner’s bucket list.

Since its inception in 2010, when it had 760 finishers, word has spread about this amazing race, which now boasts almost 1,000 participants from 54 countries, so the mayor certainly seems to be succeeding in his mission.


Run with a view

I’ve run 38 marathons and two ultras around the world, and try not to do the same race twice where I can help it, and yet, having done the Jerusalem Marathon in 2011, I was determined to move heaven and earth to do so again. So what exactly makes this race so special? For starters, it gives you the chance to see areas of Jerusalem you may not otherwise venture into because the Old City is so jam-packed with must-do sights it’s hard to drag yourself away (the Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, Wailing Wall – every time you tick one off your list, you’ll find it’s replaced by five more unmissable sights!)

Secondly, you get big bragging rights: hardly a step of the course is flat and so the route can be described as breathtaking, in all senses of the word! And thirdly, the race is fantastically well organised, with lovely little local touches such as Medjool dates and Jaffa orange slices being served en route.

Festive start

Unusually, the race starts at 7am on a Friday to allow everything to be packed away by nightfall which is the start of the Jewish Sabbath. As we lined up at the start flanked by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and Israel Museum (home to the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls), we were entertained by bizarrely attired street performers who embued the event with a party spirit. There was an air of palpable excitement as the elite runners lined up at the head of the field: wrapped in shiny gold space blankets they looked like a row of statuettes waiting to be handed out at the Oscars award ceremony.


Just before the gun went off I bumped into a group of Japanese runners, one of whom was kitted out in a shocking pink kimono and who was giving a gorilla soft toy a piggyback in his rucksack. His friend Shin, a 64-year-old who’d completed the 56-mile Comrades Ultramarathon I’m currently training for no less than ten times, gave me a big hug before we set off – little knowing that we’d spend most of the race in each other’s company.

Conquering Jerusalem

As the Babylonians, Romans, British and many other nations have found to their cost, Jerusalem is not a city that can be conquered easily – its innumerable hills make sure of that. But the rewards far outweighed the effort it took to crest each hill – unforgettable views of the gleaming Dome of the Rock, the Old City’s ramparts and Montefiore’s famous windmill meant a lovely sightseeing surprise at every turn.


Most of the course is set in Jerusalem’s suburbs – the tiny lanes and alleys of the Old City are simply not built for hordes of marathon runners – but the race did include a short section inside the walls that for me was a course highlight, not least because there was a black-clad dancer in what looked like bondage gear gyrating on the ramparts just below the Tower of David (a city landmark). His contortions certainly distracted us from the tough climb we faced going up the ramp to the Jaffa Gate. At this point we were joined by several battalions of Israeli Defence Force soldiers, who have their own 10K race that shares some of the marathon route. It was exhilarating charging along the ancient city streets with them, passing through the Armenian Quarter and out of the Zion Gate past the graveyard where Oskar Schindler, whom Steven Spielberg immortalised in Schindler’s List, is buried.


Glorious finish

Having walked up all the hills, and run the flat and downhill sections, we were very relieved to finally spot the finish line in Sacher Park. My time of five hours 52 minutes was far from a personal best, but considering how many hills of biblical proportions we had to overcome, I’m still pretty pleased with it. After all, you don’t come to Jerusalem to do a good time, you come to have a great time. Do this unique race in this unforgettable city and, like me, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll become positively evangelical about it!


Good points

  • The route features awe-inspiring views – it’s almost as if the course was designed by the tourist board rather than a race director.
  • The race is big enough to make it feel like an occasion, but small enough to give you plenty of elbow room.
  • The free pasta party the night before at the race expo venue is the best I’ve ever been to and features posh pasta, totally gorgeous salads and even cupcakes for desert.

Bad points

  • You can’t escape the hills – but then again, like me, you can always walk them!
  • There’s not that much crowd support, but as most runners seem to have their earphones in, perhaps this doesn’t matter too much. Plus there are plenty of bands to keep you feeling upbeat.
  • There are several switchbacks. Some find them discouraging, but I see them as an opportunity to cheer on (and admire) the faster runners.

More info: The next Jerusalem Marathon will take place on 21 March 2014. There’s also a 4.2K, 10K and half marathon option. To enter, visit www.jerusalem-marathon.com
For more information about visiting Israel visit: www.thinkisrael.com

Lisa Jackson, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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