I may not have the solution for peace in Israel, but going for a run may be – quite literally – a step in the right direction.
After several days of touring (and eating and eating and eating), it was time for us to burn some calories and fulfill the original purpose of our trip – to experience the Jerusalem Marathon series.
The day before race day, our crew of writers joined many others on the roof of the Mamila hotel for a press conference with Mayor Nir Barkat and several other race and tourism officials. The race is a big deal for Jerusalem, and 25,000 runners were descending on the city at that very moment. Some of the elite runners were invited to the press conference too – these folks who could finish a full marathon before I could finish a half. Here they are, with Mayor Barkat (also a runner) in the middle.
In addition to filling us in on the race details, the officials commended us for our courage and our bravery in coming to their city for this event.
Wait – my what?
I’d mostly put safety concerns out of my mind up to that moment. But here they were, telling me I’d been brave to make the trip. Oh what had I gotten myself into?
All those runners and volunteers and spectators – what targets we could be. But I also knew the security would be robust, and truly I didn’t feel brave or frightened. I just felt excited for the opportunity to run this race.
The race series includes everything from an 800 meter charity race, to a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. Neither Lee nor I were adequately trained for one of the longer races, so Lee signed up for the 10K and I the 5K.
Race morning dawned sunny but chilly, and I was grateful for our press passes that gave us access to a tent at the finish line. We also happened to be next to the merchandise tent, where everything with a race logo was half-price. Lee and I snagged some matching race jackets and bundled up.
But by the time the 5K was ready to begin, the sun felt warm and the conditions were race-perfect. I lined up at the start, with live music to my right, costumed characters to my left, and surrounded by thousands of others runners. There were individuals and families and youth groups. There were people dressed like me, and there were others wearing long sleeves, long pants and head coverings according to their religious customs. I heard many different languages, but all spoken with the same excited energy that is always found at the start of a race.
There were runners from 60 countries present, and even racers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We crossed the start line and began climbing the hills of Jerusalem, and I thought how wonderful races are for bringing people together. Races are a celebration of human spirit. Running is not a Jewish thing or a Christian thing or a Muslim thing. It’s not an Israeli thing or a Palestinian thing. It’s a human thing, and there we were, being humans together. Sweating and laughing and breathing and running together.
The police presence was obvious along the race route, but not in a threatening or unwelcome way. I love this pic by one of the other writers in our group, Dax of dirtyrunning.com. Their weapons were intimidating, but their grins told a different story.
The race was hilly and challenging. With the 5K though, you don’t really go far enough for an expansive vista, but oh how I wish I could’ve been in shape for the half marathon. I’ve seen the pictures from writers on our trip who ran longer races. Yes, the course was uphill and difficult, but when you run to the tops of those hills you get some magnificent views. The longer courses also take you through the Old City of Jerusalem. To run on those streets steeped with so much history must be a thrill.
I crossed the finish and was pleased to collect a finisher’s medal – not too many 5Ks give out medals, and this is certainly one souvenir I will cherish always. Then I saw Lee off for his 10K, and even got a glimpse of him later on the course near the finish line – he was one happy runner.
I totally understand why the Ministry of Tourism invited us on this trip. Jerusalem is in need of some good PR, of some displays of unity rather than the divisive images most of us see on the news. And if you’ve ever run a race, you know what happens when you’re on the course – there’s an instant camaraderie you feel with your fellow runners. Racing is an individual sport, but one that fosters a strong communal bond.
That’s just the kind of thing Israel needs. The kind of thing we all need, don’t you think?