Weekly Update: Tel Aviv Marathon 2023

I have a complicated relationship with the Tel Aviv Marathon. It’s the largest local race, with 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon courses (Jerusalem’s Marathon doesn’t come close in the number of runners because hills. Runners don’t like them, in case you didn’t know). But it’s my least favourite local race, and there’s always something going on around it to make me dislike it more (bad organizing, heat wave, holding the race despite there being a global pandemic, etc).

The finish line

I was enrolled to run the 10k at the Tel Aviv Marathon in late February 2020, a few days before the lockdowns started. Everybody already had an idea of what Covid looked like, it was already a pandemic, and the number of sick people was rising daily. We were expecting the race to be cancelled, but the night before the race it was clear that the organizers planned to cram people into very dense corals, and just hope they didn’t get an outbreak. Anything but return people’s fees. My friend and I had a conversation that night, and we both decided not to run. The risk wasn’t worth it.

In late February 2021 there was no physical race – it was a digital (i.e. virtual) one instead. In late February 2022 the marathon returned in full force, but I was two months after completing my chemotherapy, and in no condition to run even the 5k course. I was running 3ks, which was great considering what my body had been through and the fact that I hadn’t been able to run for almost a year, and I had lost all my muscle mass and was working with a restricted lung capacity. I remember following this race on their site and on social media and feeling bereft, even though it was never my favourite race. I had no idea at the time that I’d be able to participate in the Women’s Race 4k three months later. For various good reasons I wasn’t sure I’d be able to race again.

Uncrowded part of the starting line

Last Friday I was set to run the 10k course in the Tel Aviv Marathon. Then on Monday I fell and hurt my knee on the way to work (the sidewalks and streets near my office are dreadfully maintained, and rushing across them is now no longer something I plan on doing). I took care of it as best I could, rested it as much as I could and wondered whether I could race on Friday, and if I set out could I complete the course?

The crowded part.

I woke up early, got race ready, took the train to the starting area, and walked to the coral. There were a lot of people there, and I don’t do well with crowds these days. I stood on the side, and once the race started, waited for most of the people to walk by (no running in those conditions – we were packed like sardines), so that I could start running too. About 5 minutes went by, I judged things to be safer and started making my way to the starting line when about 5 meters from the line they stopped us and had us wait for 10 minutes, as more and more people piled behind, and the crowds got thicker and thicker. Ostensibly this was so people could start in “waves” and “the route will clear up”. In reality, they had the original coral start late, and this was just a way to catch up by having half of the A coral start with about half of the B coral. The only way for me to power through was to look straight up at the sky for 10 minutes. My neck is still sore.

River of runners

But then we were finally allowed to run, and the magic of races kicked in. I can’t describe the adrenaline, the joy, the pure sense of life that racing gives me. It made everything disappear. I high-fived the kids that were cheering us on. I appreciate just how many runners (including myself) ran with pro-democracy stickers and flags. I enjoyed seeing the sheer variety of runners around me, and the feeling of belonging into a flowing river of runners moving constantly towards the finish line.

Just after crossing the finish line

It wasn’t my best time, but I did much better than I thought I could. My knee held up. I narrowly avoided a panic attack at the starting line, but I avoided it, which is the point. I saw a lot of people running for excellent causes, and just running for themselves. There was the kindness of races – people rushing to care for the marathon runner that collapsed in the heat, treating him until the medics (very quickly) arrived; people cheering others along, complimenting each other freely; kids cheering as loudly and boisterously as they could.

Try to find kindness around you this week, try to find joy.

4 thoughts on “Weekly Update: Tel Aviv Marathon 2023

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