Sorry, but I have to add this: the results are here and I did it in 4:05:22! Not that the number has any significance or is in any way special. I believe if this marathon had not been the unfolding running drama that it was, I would have finished it under 4 hours. But what makes me so excited is that there actually are results. For the last two days I could not find my times and I thought that the 50 minutes late start disqualified me in some way. But no, I was not disqualified and the results can be found here. And as an extra bonus there are even some race pictures. If I ever want to become member of the 100 Marathon Club, now I can officially prove I’ve done it, Jerusalem will count to it. It gives me some strange piece of mind.
Yes, the Jerusalem Marathon was a very special one… but for the wrong reasons. The 37th marathon of my running career should become the first that brought this nightmarish feeling to reality, when the foreboding of having missed something very significant thickens, to the point where it hits you like an ice shower once you realise it is too late. The runners information page had been slightly confusing, especially when you read it on your small phone screen, paragraph of paragraph of minor relevant information in search for a clear indication of the start time. The section “Warming Up” said we meet at 7am for gathering, warming up and briefing for a race start at 8. So on the day, when we arrived just after 7am we took our time, stretched, went to the loo and eventually moved towards the start. Instead of focussed fellow runners in eager anticipation we found happily mingling families at, what seemed to be, a rather unorganised and relaxed marathon grouping. The feeling of something is not quite right started to form, even when taking into account potential alien customs and Jerusalem ways of life. Next to us appeared a similarly confused and increasingly bewildered Chinese runner and at some point we decided to find and ask someone who looked remotely official. The questioned individual gave me a look as he experienced an encounter with a white-gloved four-fingered Mickey Mouse asking for the next train to Disney Land. We learned that the race started in fact at 7, the clock was now showing 7:50. It must be the runner’s equivalent to a good Christian boy who just realises the rapture happened and he was left behind. I had several responses to choose from: Hit the messenger and hit him hard, have an emotional meltdown throwing my hands in the air screaming WHY??!! off the top of my lungs or, the runner’s response to all problems, start running. We started running, surrounded by kids and encouraging responsible parents, completely focussed on the task to bless their offspring with positive early memories of sport events. We tried to find our way constantly dodging out of control running youngsters. I promise though, the thought of wishing for a baseball bat to help clearing my path did not enter my mind even once. And the fact the this 5k fun run, or whatever that was, made it nearly impossible to have confidence that we are actually following the marathon route did only affected my running moral a little bit. Probably because there was not much moral left in the first place and the only thing that kept me going was the lack of better alternatives. Eventually, when the 5k was over and I had done not more an extra 500 metres that were not part of the marathon route, I could focus with all my imagination on making me feel like actually running a marathon. By this point I was running by myself. The slowly moving fun family masses got our small group of post apocalypse marathoners separated. This is were the many years of watching The Walking Dead paid off: despite all opposing forces, despite feeling abandoned and scared, I found the strength to carry on. (I am sure Glen would have done the same, if this whole baseball bat mess thing had not happened.) And so the marathon turned out to be a survival run in several stages.
Not long after running in solitude Jean-Paul caught up, a barefoot runner who got delayed because he accidentally had joined the half marathon and noticed his mistake 4 kilometres in. He had turned around, went back to the start and tried again. Jean-Paul turned out to be a former professional football player, now personal fitness trainer who cured his hip issues by running barefoot. He was good company, but did not like the hills too much and was panting around kilometre 14 more than it is healthy and fell back shortly after. I then saw, stopped and high-fived my new Chinese friend from the start. The U-turn of the route made us run in opposite directions and it turned out that he had got completely disorientated, had returned to the start line and as a result was now 20 minutes behind me. Slowly but surely I caught up with more and more of the slowest runners, which gave me a bit of a boost. Probably a morally questionable boost, but hey, in situations like these you need to take what you can get. The part of the race that goes through the magical Old City was about to come and I pictured having an awesome experience running it all by myself through the narrow alleyways surrounded by friendly and encouraging spectators cheering me on. What did happened was that just before entering the Old City, a horde of countless fast and fresh 10k runners joined the marathon route. As a result I felt almost hunted down and swept up in this not ending stampede of what could easily have been the super fast zombies from the World War Z movie. Nothing can prepare you for a moment like that and the only memories I have of this Old City section are vage fragments of being brutally herded along overcrowded, narrow lanes, trying to stay up-float fighting not to allow myself to fall and being trampled to death. This stage of the run stopped as sudden as it began, when the 10k split from the marathon course, leaving me slightly traumatised but with an hardened will to survive. My legs started to complain about the constantly hilly terrain, a long forgotten knee pain started to make a comeback and some muscles got more and more into this limbo state of cramp or no cramp. What did help was the increasing number of runners I was overtaking and that satisfying feeling of being a sort of an underdog (in my own little pathetic narrative), getting closer and closer to the Jerusalem Marathon medal against all odds. And it happened as it always happens when you don’t stop moving forward: you reach the goal. A deep wisdom for life lies in this simple marathon truth. Of course by then my inner drama of managing the flaring-up knee pain and the constant thread of being attacked and brought down by nasty calve cramps, was hidden behind a big smile and the relief that the odds of not finishing this truly special race have been beaten. By the way, after revisiting the information page later at the hotel, in an attempt to make sense out of all of this, it turned out that the “Warming Up” race that started at 8 was a completely different event some days before the marathon. The different date mentioned somewhere hidden in between the paragraph should have given me the clue.
I am in Jerusalem and tomorrow I am going to run the marathon here. Still not sure what exactly it is, that makes this place feel so special to me: Is it its unparalleled history oozing through every aspect that makes this city, the countless annotations to faiths and believes that have been and are shaping the world (including my own) or the diversity of people and backgrounds that seems to mix and blend and stand out all at the same time?
Whatever it is, the thought that tomorrow roads will be closed and thousands be welcomed to celebrate their passion for running and that I can be part of this give me goosebumps. It will for sure one of the very special marathons, I can feel it in the air. 😉