Number 2… Tiberias, Israel.
Wow, that hurt! I was running well from the start, but it was a freak hot day in an otherwise mild Israeli Winter. They say it only reached 26 degrees, but with the sun beating down, it felt a whole lot hotter. The later the race got, the more I struggled with this one.
Let’s go back to the start though. In fact, the day before was the start, when Eyal from Haaretz Newspaper organised a lift up to Tiberias on the press bus. What an fantastic gesture and the reporters on the bus were all awesome too. We later went to the Pasta Party after picking up my race number. It was in the Golden Tulip Hotel on the edge of the lake. It’s a nice hotel and the whole event was very well organised. The pasta was plentiful and they had loads of bread and salad. I hadn’t eaten properly all day, so I really made the most.
The speeches were mostly in Hebrew, but the gist was that they were over the moon to announce that this was the biggest race they’d ever held. With 1500 competitors, the running festival had grown by nearly 40%. And 26 countries were represented (including Australia!) which makes it a truly international affair. This seems to be of huge importance to the race and Israelis in general, who were very excited to chat to us about why we were there. I guess it’s the lot of a small nation finding their way in the world. In just half a century, the Israelis have taken a small ex-British colony and built it into a powerful nation that is the home of Judaism worldwide. They are proud and deserve to be. They are clearly concerned about managing their global identity and growing tourism, so events like this seem to operate as an internal celebration of fitness and an external display of a peaceful, friendly destination. They even had Allen Steinfeld there, the president of the New York Road Runners Club. He was a nice guy and we grabbed some pics.
Daz pointed out that it was the 33rd running, the same week as my 33rd birthday!! That couldn’t be co-incidental….
I met Vig and Saul, friends of a gent I did some work with back home, Bradley. They were great fellas and we had the typical chat about what they were expecting to do, how they’d been training, that sort of thing. Another fella, Roy, was doing his first and he’d seen us in the paper, so that was kinda cool too. He even promised to take us out for a beer back in Tel Aviv! And we met Duby – he’d recovered from a brain stroke the year before and through the patience of his friends and his own determination, he’d trained to do his first marathon…He shouldn’t even be alive – what a hero!
We had a couple of cool runners in our room too, Josh and Uval. These guys were really easy going and Uval was looking forward to maybe breaking a PB. We all got up in the morning and had the typical nerves about what the day was going to bring. Having all run the distance, it was nice to be able to talk about strategy and not focus too much on how far it was to run.
Got down there with plenty of time, carrying down our backpacks and everything to stash at the Golden Tulip. A bit of a sight really, you don’t normally have runners show up to an event with their lives on their backs. But with a toilet stop and a hug from Daz, I got up to the start line and joined the throng. People were pretty pumped and because it started in one of the main streets (finishing at the next street down), there were loads of supporters cheering us to the line.
It wasn’t long before the countdown revved everyone up and as 9am struck the crowd surged forward to begin their journey. I tried to find an easy rhythm, sticking to the left so I could wave to Daz and the camera. It wasn’t long before I was weaving, looking to get past the slower pace groups. I was looking for 3:30, but settled on running with a South African guy named Julian who was doing the right pace – about 5:15 per km. Actually, I’d met Julian before at the Comrades marathon last year in Durban. You can’t miss this guy, he’s got awesome long flowing hair, is well tanned and built like he runs through walls for a warm up. Not only is he a lovely guy, but last year he ran 31 marathons and 14 ultra-marathons. I mean, he’s the guy I’d like to be some day. We chatted away and compared notes – it was definitely going to be a hot one, so conserve your energy.
Tiberias, as a town, is quite small. It’s kinda like going to an old resort town, like Cowes near Melbourne, or Brighton in England. The Tel Aviv guys say there’s no reason to be there, unless you’re Christian or running, but they all do say it’s a pretty place for a visit. I think they’re under-rating it. It’s a lovely area and the “Sea” itself, although much reduced by drought, is a huge expanse of water and really gives a wonderful aura to the hills surrounding it. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice this run was looking to be, as running near water is one of my favourite places to be.
About a km later a girl popped up next to me and said – “Go Aussie!” Haha, hey she picked me a mile away. Jaynee was a St Kilda girl, here to revisit the place she met her husband some 26 years before (at the Poriya Hostel, haha) and thought she’d just knock off another marathon in the process. She was even wearing a Fox FM t-shirt, which I thought was awesome. I met a few other guys too, who’d read the article and they were super supportive of my adventure. The Israelis are really supportive in general, being kind of abrupt people to begin with, but as soon as they get that you’re here to soak up the atmosphere of their country, they switch to trying to make sure you’re really enjoying yourself.
This was all early days though and their was work to be done, so I put my head down and just got some kms smashed. I’m not a big sweater, in fact one of the things I’m determined to do is take my nutritionist’s (the lovely Alison Walsh) advice and drink more, so that my muscles have some fluid to sweat out to help cool down. The first drink stop took a while to show up and they were handing over whole bottles of water, which seemed a little overkill. I downed half and trucked along to the next doing the same again. Normally I’d leave drinking till later, but it was toasty and I was sweating like it was a steam room.
I hadn’t even reached the 15km mark and a fella came bolting past me in the opposite direction. Apparently the leader had hit half way at a little over 59 minutes, which was a course record and in most half marathons will earn you first place and a wad of cash! The course runs from Tiberias, down along the lake and right around to the other side before returning the same way, so as an out and back, you get to see who’s ahead and how they’re feeling. It’s good when you see your mates, but a little disheartening when the leader is that far ahead… The weird thing was that there was no distinction or barrier between the runners heading out and the runners coming back – you literally just started running head first into oncoming (fast) foot traffic! It all kinda worked though and I didn’t see anyone get collected by a Kenyan steam train.
A lovely fella named Avraham came up by me and told me a little more about the history of the area. Apart from the Sea of Galilee being the place where Jesus had basically started his ministry, we were running below a cliff face that was the famed Golan Heights. This was the scene of some pretty horrific fighting between the Syrians (who once held the Heights) and the Israelis. Before the 1967 war, the Syrians were perched up on these cliffs, shelling the shit out of Tiberias and the nearby settlements. Basically the Israelis got fed up and took the Heights by force, along with a number of other territories. It’s still a pretty serious point of contention and historically significant to the growth of this very proud nation. And here I was just running along an ancient sea that’s the site of scripture and bloodshed. Ridiculous really, but I guess that’s why we came!
I tried to get some video and a couple of pictures, but then all of a sudden I was at the turnaround point and lagging off my pace. Time to step it up. I cruised back along the lake knowing that my pain point would come somewhere between 26 and 36km. I always hit a wall in that space for a few clicks, so I know just to hunker down and tick off those kms. But, it didn’t really happen… I hit 30km feeling pretty good and actually started to speed up and catch the 3:45 pacer that had passed me. As long as I could get to 35kms, I knew I’d be pumped up by the pending finish, so I guzzled plenty of water at each stop and kept moving. School kids lined the road at a few points and I got chatting to an ex-army guy called Yossi, who told me that the Army Running Club made up 150 of the entrants in the race – that’s more than 10%!
35kms went by without too much concern and I downed another GU to keep the sugar levels up and the energy flowing. That was only 2 for the race, which was possibly a little light on, considering how much energy I was using. They did have GU stops, but I had my own, so I just kept moving. Mistake… coz then it all went wrong… 36km was where I found that wall. It was kinda like hooking up a couple of truck tires to my ankles and trying to drag them home. I went through the list of everything I had done and could do to fix this. Maybe I’d not had enough GUs, maybe not enough electrolyte. I’d been pretty good about drinking and had carried my own too. I never doubted that I’d make it, but with 6 kms to go, normally I get a little charged. Perhaps it was just from the travel and the marathon from 7 days ago. Whatever it was, I’d been there before and know that all you can do is keep moving – running or walking. I walked a little, ran some more. Aimed for the next marker and ran till I passed it. I started playing see-saw with a guy in an orange top. He’d run past me and slow to a walk a few hundred meters past, I’d be running past him and only make it a little farther along. After a exchanging position a few times, I got a tap on the shoulder and a nod of the head as he passed me – “come on buddy, let’s get there together”. We ran along for a piece together, but it didn’t last. It’s the fleeting friendship of pain, but while you’re there it helps you forget you’ve got to get there alone..
I sucked it up while passing the 41km mark. I dumped a whole bottle of water over my head and tried to shake off the fatigue. God knows I wasn’t going to crawl across that line, so time to grit my teeth.A few hundred meters later and a photographer is taking my pic. I smile tiredly and wave, hoping to have a couple of good pics to buy later. The guy drops the camera and says, “Hey, are you Tristan Miller??” Haha, what?! I mean, yes, yes I am… “I’m Ariel, from the Associated Press. I’m going to take some photos and a reporter will find you at the finish.” (At this stage he’s running along next to me) Aaaah, ok, but I really just need to get through this last bit. “Yeah, no problem, I’ll just run near you”, he says while snapping away… He’s running, I’m running, the finish line looms and I’m trying to remember to get some footage. Video camera out, time to roll for the big finish….fail, memory card full.. Ahhh, what the hell, time to get this over with, so I stash the camera and just keep running down the chute to the end.
What a surreal way to end a marathon. I still found a little kick to come in looking less like the crippled runner I was only 3 kms earlier. Something about a finish line that’ll always give you a shot in the butt. There was a lovely reporter there, Diaa, who wanted to have a chat, but all I could do was look for water and wonder how the hell I was going to knock out 50 more…
Thanks for a lovely run Israel and an amazing cultural experience!